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How I Cut 1:57 Off My Average 5k Time By Tweaking My Playlist

[Note: This post originally ran December 2012 back when iTunes was still a thing. You can skip down to the bottom to find the current best option for running based on BPM as of September 2015]

I’ve rarely run with music. In general, I always thought it was too much trouble – where to stash the iPod, cords getting tangled, getting tired of it and having to run with it for a while – but last week, I updated all my music to store the song’s Beats per Minute.

I ran to the playlist with the highest beats per minute…and shaved 1:57 off my average 5k time and nearly set a personal best…without even trying. Here’s how to set it up and use it on your runs…

What Is BPM?

BPM is simply how many beats are in 1 minute of a song – otherwise known as the tempo, etc.

The beats literally act like your own personal coxswain, or a Marathoner’s Metronome – keeping you on pace with the beat of the music, rather than your own feel or judgement, which can be clouded by tiredness, weather, etc, etc.

Here’s a chart to convert BPM to mile time (via the now defunct katieRUNSthis)…

12:00 min/mile = 05.00 mph = 130 bpm
11:30 min/mile = 05.22 mph = 135 bpm
11:00 min/mile = 05.45 mph = 140 bpm
10:30 min/mile = 05.71 mph = 145 bpm
10:00 min/mile = 06.00 mph = 150 bpm
09:30 min/mile = 06.32 mph = 155 bpm
09:00 min/mile = 06.67 mph = 160 bpm
08:30 min/mile = 07.06 mph = 165 bpm
08:00 min/mile = 07.50 mph = 170 bpm
07:30 min/mile = 08.00 mph = 175 bpm
07:00 min/mile = 08.57 mph = 180 bpm
06:30 min/mile = 09.23 mph = 185 bpm
06:00 min/mile = 10.00 mph = 190 bpm
05:30 min/mile = 10.91 mph = 195 bpm
05:00 min/mile = 12.00 mph = 200 bpm

Tip: Running at half rate also works well. For example, 80 bpm can be used for 8 min/mile. You just run double pacing.

So, want to improve your time? Just get a faster playlist.

How To Organize Your Songs By BPM

By default, most MP3 files are not tagged with BPM statistics – even though they can be. And that’s where BPM Analyzer software comes in.

There’s a ton of spamware out on the Internet – but two options that I found were MixMeister BPM Analyzer and BPM Counter. They are both free, but you do have to watch out for fake download links.

BPM Analyzer and Converter
Pretty Straightforward

BPM Analyzer is definitely easier to use. You just install it, select your music folder, and go off an leave it. However, it is a bit inaccurate. I totally found myself sprinting to Sarah McLachlan a couple times. In fairness, the inaccuracy is really in just telling half-beats apart from whole beats (80 BPM from 160 BPM) – which isn’t too big of an issue.

BPM Counter is much more accurate, and lightweight program, though you do have to mark it to “mark ID3 tag with BPM data” and unlike Analyzer – it can’t read subfolders, so you have to click it along through your music subfolders, if you have your library setup that way.

BPM Counter
More Accurate, but Complicated

You can grab BPM Counter here and BPM Analyzer here.

Now that your songs have been tagged – you need iTunes to recognize the tag.

The problem is that iTunes is…well…iTunes. In theory, you just be able to Select All Songs, then Get Info – and *poof*

But I had to open each song at a time – if only for a split second. A nuisance, but the goal is basically to get iTunes to reopen the file, so that it refreshes the info.

iTunes BPM Selector

Now all that is left is to right-click on the top bar, select and sort by Beats per Minute.

You can also create a Smart Playlist (Menu –> New –> New Smart Playlist) that will pull songs within a certain beat range. Sync it – and go run.

Other Options

Running playlists are a huge topic, and plenty of people have compiled really quite enormous lists of songs. And of course, Spotify has tons of running playlists.

jog.fm is a great tool for running music
Check out jog.fm

And a really neat app – jog.fm will do the whole process automatically from your library for you on your mobile device.

Jog.fm also has a really cool music search feature on their website so you can buy new running music easily. Check it out here.

The Best Option Ever

In September 2015, Spotify came out with Spotify Running. It’s a custom app within Spotify that allows you to set your target BPM and select a music genre to run with.

It’s perfectly in sync. Everytime you feel like wavering, you just circle back to running with the beat. It’s like being inside a video game. It’s like having a personal pacesetter that only costs $9/mo.

Here’s the ad –

Either way, give BPM playlists a shot – even if only for your speed days.

By Nate

I'm Nate Shivar - I live in Atlanta and love exploring the city, outdoors, books & Internet. Read about me, my Now page, or my work.

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8 replies on “How I Cut 1:57 Off My Average 5k Time By Tweaking My Playlist”

What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely useful and it has
aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & help
other customers like its helped me. Good job.

Wade! I’m not sure if you’re a spammer, but if you’re not – then I’m glad you found it useful. If you are – be sure to get a better sentence spinning program…I also stripped the URL. Peace!

Awesome – thanks Emilie! Glad to have a real commenter – glad you found it useful :) I have to deal with a lot of spammers, and occasionally like to mess with them for fun :) Happy running!

Finally! Back into running after a long hiatus and needed to find exactly this. Lots of near misses with apps that offered playlists made up of music I would never listen to. Now I can easily build my own. Thanks again.

Great to hear Bruce! Glad you found it useful – Happy running!

Timely guide to doing this.

Just to be clear–the only way to set up a smart playlist in iTunes that will work, after running one of the analyzer programs, is to open each song individually? (That’s sort of a deal-breaker…)

Thanks Jon! When I did it – I just ran the Analyzer program, then in iTunes just selected all the songs, then did Get Info to “refresh” the info, then did the Smart Playlist. I think the update to iTunes should do it automatically. Either way good luck!

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