As a runner, I’m often asked: “What do you listen to when you run?” Answer: nothing. I don’t wear earphones or carry devices when I run.
I have several reasons for this. The first is an instinct for self-preservation; while running on streets and roads I find it safer to hear what’s going on around me, such as traffic, shouts of “Fore!”, falling pianos and the like. Another reason is that I don’t want to carry and fidget with stuff when I run. Not only do I not wear a GPS watch when running, most times I wear no watch at all. In road races a simple stopwatch does me fine; they normally tell you the distance beforehand and even put it into the name of the event, so there’s no need for me to measure it myself.
But perhaps the main reason I don’t listen to anything while running is that I enjoy having random tunes popping into my iBrain. This is especially the case for my Sunday morning long runs during marathon training, when I’m going at an easier pace and have the luxury of letting my mind wander. Actually, it’s not so much my mind wandering or moving as my mind being a stationary blank backdrop where all manner of stuff flits across like clouds on a summer sky.
Covid restrictions have put paid to my regular autumn marathon for the last two years now, so I haven’t been doing 15–20 mile Sunday long runs for a long while. For my first-ever marathon, back in 2004, I can remember one of the tunes that regularly soundtracked my long runs that summer; ‘Chewing Gum’, an electro-pop single by a Norwegian singer called Annie.
‘Chewing Gum’ is a fine example of the ’00s boom in brash, outward-looking chart pop which peaked with the fantastic singles Girls Aloud made with the Xenomania writer-producer team. It was co-written and made by one of Xenomania’s peers, Richard X — also responsible for another highlight of this period, the electrifying soundclash version of ‘Freak Like Me’ that relaunched the Sugababes. What all these singles have in common is a pure joy in creating swaggeringly confident, grindingly catchy tunes jam-packed with hooks. On top of all that, ‘Chewing Gum’ is actually even funny: “Well, hot dog, I’m a chewing machine / It makes me smile and it keeps my teeth clean”.
Surprisingly, ‘Chewing Gum’ didn’t do well in the charts; it only got to a middling no. 25 in the UK, its spiritual home. Perhaps the vogue-ish compression and nagging whistling hook got on people’s wick; it’s not a track that has any space to breathe. I still love it, though.
Here’s the excellent video for Annie’s ‘Chewing Gum’, which takes a nice dig at any lazy sneers about manufactured mass-produced pop. Thank me when this pops into your head and you still have another ten miles to run: