Running Sucks. Reading Doesn’t. How audiobooks transformed a reluctant runner’s routine.

By Heather Job, publicist for Listening Library

One of my favorite jokes to make, when people tell me they’ve taken up running, is “What are you running from?” One of my other favorite jokes to make, when people tell me they’ve taken up running, is “You can’t run from death.” People don’t tend to think these jokes are very funny, but I stand by them.

Fitness junkies will tell you that working out is the best—that you get used to waking up early and pounding the pavement because the endorphins are better than a hit of caffeine. I don’t have that experience; exercise makes me feel sweaty and tired. Hitting snooze a half dozen times makes me feel tired, but at least I’m not sweaty.

Braggy mid-run Instagram photo:
I was listening to Gemina.

Despite this, I am a runner. I don’t enjoy running, but I periodically remind myself that I’ve only got one meatsuit, and I should probably put in a little effort to keep it operational. The nice thing about running is that the gear needed is minimal, you don’t need a gym, and if you plan your route well and live in a cute neighborhood, you can post braggy mid-run Instagram photos to make people think you’re the sort of person who not only jogs regularly, but genuinely enjoys it.

The bummer about running is how slowly the time passes as you go in a pointless circle around your neighborhood. Music makes the whole experience worse. Every song is just a way to mark time. Depending on your pace, two or three songs will have gone by—from “Africa” to “YMCA”—and you’ve only made it a mile. Another song comes on and you spend the next three minutes thinking not about the road ahead, the park you’ve set as your Instagram goal, or even what you’re doing when this barbaric exercise is over, but about how close you are to the end of this song, the start of the next one. Time goes by in cruel, punishing three-minute increments.

Might I offer a suggestion?

Running sucks. Reading? Reading doesn’t.

Earlier this year, I got it into my head that I was going to run again. I hadn’t gone on a run in at least six months, so I was fully expecting to limp my way across Astoria, wheeze through Socrates Sculpture Park, and hobble my way past the Museum of the Moving Image before collapsing on my steps and texting my roommates to carry my broken body to the couch, where I would order enough Vietnamese food to keep me in a food coma for the rest of the weekend.

But instead of putting on my running playlist, I put on an audiobook, Illuminae, a full-cast space opera whose print edition is written as a dossier of surveillance video, chat logs, and other highly visual elements, a package I had seen buzzed about for years and always thought was just too much for someone like me, who has historically only read sci-fi when incentivized by grades or elementary school reading contests.

With Illuminae in my ears, on my first run in six months, I made it three and a half miles to the park and back without stopping, slowing, wheezing, or limping. I didn’t collapse at my door—I almost shot straight past it, looking down at my run tracking app, surprised that I felt so energized. I could have gone another mile and not hated it. Finally, those endorphins!

Audiobooks rule!

When you run to an audiobook, especially to one you’ve never listened to before, you can’t count your time by how many tracks have played, or by how far down your playlist you are. You may have an app chirping stats at you every 5 or 10 minutes, but in between, you have no way to gauge how long it’s been, or how far you’ve gone. It’s just you, plot, and voice, and your feet hitting the pavement. (Or, if you’re the sort of person who talks back to stories, like I am, you might hiss expletives under your breath when things get tense.)

Audiobooks are a great way to kill time on your run, but they’re also a great way to lose track of time on your run. And when you come in from the sidewalk, sweaty and mid-chapter, it doesn’t feel like you’ve wasted the thirty or forty or sixty minutes you spent running in a giant circle. You were reading, and that’s never a waste of time.

Audiobook Suggestions for Aspiring Runners Who Hate to Run:

Illuminae

Audio is a great way to explore genres that might not appeal to you in print, as the format can make them more accessible. The Illuminae trilogy, with its full cast, soundscape, sound effects, and cinematic writing, is like a radio play or a blockbuster movie—perfect for keeping up the pace.
Listen to an excerpt Illuminae

Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Read By: Philip Church

Grasshopper Jungle is a profoundly weird book (in the best way) that asks the question: what if the end of the world involved six-foot-tall, murderous praying mantises? Narrator Philip Church delivers the tale with matter-of-fact bluntness, balancing a bizarre story with teen honesty.
Listen to an excerpt Grasshopper Jungle

Talking as Fast as I Can

With her fast-paced chatter and goofy anecdotes, Lauren Graham’s memoir is a fun listen that will help lend your run the authentic feeling of pounding a treadmill while your cheekiest friend tells you her exploits, sitting on the weights bench near your machine and waiting for you to finish up so the two of you can go out for drinks already.
Listen to an excerpt Talking As Fast As I Can

Kill the Farm Boy

Kill the Farm Boy is pitched as being in the tradition of Monty Python, and it certainly lives up to the expectation! Offbeat and irreverent, this listen will have you running in your pathetic circle and thinking about how this particular journey might fit into your own personal quest as an unexpected hero.
Listen to an excerpt Kill the Farm Boy

Kicks

Audio non-fiction gives you two things to feel superior about: 1) you’re LEARNING something, for FUN, 2) you are a BEACON of HEALTH, you wore ATHLETIC SHOES today and not just to go to the grocery store! The trick to non-fiction listening on your run is that you don’t want to pick a topic that’s too heavy or depressing. It’s already a bummer that you’re on a run, don’t make it worse! An audiobook about something interesting, but more based in pop culture or humor is a good fit to put some spring in your step. What better place to get started than a book chronicling the history of sneakers?
Listen to an excerpt Kicks

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