The Five Best Podcasts for Running

A long time ago in a kingdom far away, I could only run while listening to music. I was adamant on the point: no music = no running. But then I signed up for a trail race and music wasn’t allowed. I forced myself to learn to run in silence. And while that was fine for that specific race, it didn’t cut it for longer runs. As I became drawn to longer and longer distances, neither silence nor jams kept me entertained for hours on end.

I first tried audiobooks and while those are great, they’re pricey. After purchasing a handful of books, I realized that my running habit was going to break my bank account! That’s when I discovered the world of podcasts and never looked back.

You see, I almost always run alone. And as my training runs grow into more hours than I care to think about, I realized I needed company inside this brain of mine. That’s the beauty of all of these podcasts: they’re not motivational. Rather, they’re entertaining and/or interesting so that I feel as if I’m in the middle of fascinating conversation. When I’m three hours into a slog, I appreciate a feisty debate or hot topic that captures my attention so that I’m not focusing on the pain in my feet.

Yanno?

Serial

Running Podcasts

Let’s start with the most popular podcast in recent memory: Serial.  When the first season was released last year, I ignored the hype. I tend to be a late adopter and wasn’t really interested in this podcast that everyone was talking about. Murder? Not exactly easy listening!

Thankfully, the first season was almost over by the time I tuned into the first episode. I say thankfully because I was immediately enthralled with the story of Adnan and couldn’t wait until the next episode. I found myself running an extra hour…or two, just so I could listen to the next episode!

If you haven’t heard of Serial, never fear. The first season focuses on the 1999 real-life murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was convicted for the crime and has been in jail ever since. But– BUT!–that’s where the podcast begins. Host Sarah Koenig walks listeners through the facts, the case, the trial, and the story in an episodic fashion that reevaluates whether Adnan really committed the crime. She never arrives at a conclusion but most of listeners developed opinions on whether Adnan was a criminal.

Season two just began and while totally different, I am almost more interested. Again, Koenig is hosting the show in an episodic fashion, but this time the story focuses on Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who walked away from his post only to be captured and held hostage by the Taliban for five years. His recent rescue under the Obama administration was a hot topic since many believe we should have left Bergdahl over there since he was a deserter. Others are more interested in the logic of why Bergdahl walked away from his post because he claims he had good reason. Either way, it’s a fascinating story and I’m intrigued. Sadly, Koenig recently announced new episodes will be airing every-other-week so I’m stuck eagerly anticipating new episodes for 14 days. Le sigh.

Radiolab

Running PodcastsRadiolab touts themselves as a “show about curiosity” and I think it’s an accurate description. It’s not episodic like Serial, so each 45-50 minute episode is one story in its entirety. The topics cover the spectrum but really focus on the realms of science and philosophy.

Case in point: a recent episode focused on addiction in all of its forms. It starts with a reporter who has an alcoholic boyfriend but then spirals into a discussion on whether addiction can be combatted with a drug versus the traditional moral and spiritual therapeutic methods. Again, the hosts don’t give you an answer or a conclusion; rather, they provide a whole bunch of factual and anecdotal information for you to mull it over on your own. And quite honestly, I’m still pondering some of my favorite episodes!

Invisibilia

Running Podcasts

My best friend recommended Invisibilia when I bemoaned the lack of fresh podcasts in my lineup. I only began listening to it last week, but I’m already intrigued.

Hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia centers around the invisible forces that control human behavior: emotions, beliefs and ideas.

I did a three-hour run this past Monday and one of the episodes I listed to was called Fearless. In it, the hosts explore what would happen if we could eliminate fear from humanity. Would you rather be fearless or fearful? They even introduced a woman who has a rare disease called Urbach-Wiethe disease. Known as SM, this woman literally is unable to feel fear which is why she is anonymous to everyone other than the scientists researching her condition. Without an ability to feel fear in traumatic situations to trigger the appropriate survival reactions, she could end up in a lot of trouble. Apparently there are only 400 people in the world with this condition, so it was beyond fascination to listen to.

This American Life

Running Podcasts

It’s an NPR classic but I love This American Life! Each week’s hour-long show has a theme, and within that them there will be a pertinent stories or “acts.” Other than that, topics seem to be free range– but always interesting.

The most memorable episode for me was a two-parter from February, 2013. It was about Harper High, a school in Chicago that has experienced an absurd amount of gun violence. A few of the NPR reporters spent five months at Harper, learning about the culture and atmosphere: How can so much violence exist in one school? How do students navigate a world of football and prom combined with funerals and blood? It was hard to listen to at times, but it’s also an in-your-face acknowledgement of the world we live in.

Of course, not all of the episodes are so serious, but they are equally researched and memorable. It’s definitely worth a look.

Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

Running Podcasts
Wait….is another NPR podcast but this one is likely the most lighthearted of this group; it’s a game show!

Each week, a panel of three comedians, journalists or actors come on the show to be interviewed about various topics. They’ll also participate in some type of game based on that week’s news. If they win the game, an at-home listener gets the famous voice of Carl Kasell on their voicemail.

It sounds silly and a bit tongue ‘n cheek, but it’s really entertaining. The regulars are witty and intelligent which makes for some good humor. Depending on the “famous” guests, I’ve found myself literally laughing out loud while trotting down a trail!

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18 Comments

  • Reply lisa @ early morning run January 27, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    I don’t run long enough at this point to need podcasts but I have heard of more and more runners lately who swear by this distraction! I will say that I love “Wait, Wait…” and think it would be perfect for running. Highly entertaining, informative but not too deep. Great list!

  • Reply 3Up Beth January 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Just what I didn’t need: more podcasts! Just kidding, I already listen to “Serial” and “This American Life” but I’m really curious to check out “Radiolab” and “Invisibilia.” I listen to a fair number of podcasts on my solo drives but some favorites are “Death, Sex, & Money” (really really recommend!) and “Call Your Girlfriend.”

    • Reply heather January 28, 2016 at 6:16 am

      Thanks! I am ALWAYS looking for new ones!! (Especially with our month-long road trip quickly approaching too!)

  • Reply Art January 28, 2016 at 7:06 am

    The podcast universe is SO deep with good shows, you’ll never get to the bottom. It definitely seems that you’re an NPR person, as all of the podcasts you mention are NPR pods, but they’re all also very good! I haven’t started Serial season 2 yet, but I’m going to get on that soon. A good “long run” podcast, if you’re into history, is Hardcore History. These run anywhere from 2-4 hours and really are like audio books for the amount of research and information present in each one, and the topics are all over the map of interesting historical stuff, and they’re not at all dry recitations of dates, but the most thorough descriptions of events and people I’ve come across.

  • Reply Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine January 28, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Podcasts are straight up glorious for solo long runs. I’m kind of (well past) addicted at this point. You’ve got some great mentions here, and I have to agree. I think I like season 2 of Serial better too! Time will tell. 🙂 Recently I’ve started listening to The Simple Show and The Budget Minded Traveler too. I kinda like those so far! It’s nice to mix up the content.

  • Reply Lindsey January 28, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Surprised you didn’t mention the Dirtbag Diaries – one of my favorites!

  • Reply Patrice January 28, 2016 at 10:09 am

    We love podcasts for all our road trips!

    I think one that you and Will would both enjoy is Mtn Meister. The host is great at what he does and each week is a different interview with explorers. He’s done 150+ interviews, but some of our favorites include: Melissa Arnot, Dave Hahn, Conrad Anker, Shelton Johnson, Peter Metcalf and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few.

  • Reply Laura January 28, 2016 at 11:10 am

    I love listening to books while I exercise. I download them from the library so they are free. You only need the overdrive app on your phone and you are good to go. One of my favorite podcasts is Happier by Gretchen Rubin. It is a collection of short podcasts about how to make small changes in your life to be an overall happier person! I highly recommend!

    • Reply heather January 29, 2016 at 6:53 am

      I forgot about that! I’ve never tried it but I’ve heard that from people before; thanks for the tip!

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  • Reply Samantha Chen January 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Nice choices, I listen to all of these except for Invisibilia, will have to check it out. Another one I really enjoy from NPR is Planet Money, they are short podcasts about 20 minutes each, check them out!

  • Reply Christine @ Love, Life, Surf January 29, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Oh there are so many that I love! I’m totally hooked on podcasts too. This American Life and Serial are two of my favorites. I also love The Moth, Good Life Project and Unmistakeable Creative.

  • Reply Amiee January 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is seriously the funniest thing I’ve ever listened to! On Being and RadioWest are my other faves too. And how about an actual running podcast for running 🙂 Ultra Runner Podcast has some great interviews and motivation.

  • Reply Bruce February 1, 2016 at 7:40 am

    CBC Radio is the Canadian version of NPR. There are a number of good podcasts here are some of my favorites. As It Happens is a daily quirky news show very different in that they do phone interviews with people from around the world. Ideas is podcast delivering the best in contemporary thought many different topics. Under the Influence is an excellent show about sales and marketing. Quirks and Quarks is a program about science. For comedy The Debaters, Laugh out Loud or The Vinyl Cafe. Podcast Playlist is a show that looks for the best podcast on the net. Go to http://www.cbc.ca click on Radio and click on podcasts for the full list. All these podcasts are broadcast on CBC Radio in Canada or on the CBC website, take a look at the radio program schedule. Enjoy

  • Reply Link Love February 2, 2016 at 3:43 am

    […] //As Boston training amps up, I’m looking to get some podcasts to listen to.  I’m starting with these 5 Best Podcasts for Runners.  […]

  • Reply Sandra Laflamme March 1, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    A great list of podcasts for sure! I may need to give Serial a re-listen!

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