New Essay on Underdog! And My Weirdass Workout Mix

Earlier this week, Underdog published my essay ‘Hold on to the songs that make you cry’, where I laid out my reasons for keeping a playlist of every song that has ever made me cry, ever.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Underdog is the place to yell about everything you love, no questions asked. One of my personal sanctuaries in the wake of our perpetual lockdown, they do deep dives on everything from fanshrines to COVID info art campaigns to creepypasta. Previously, Underdog published my essay exploring how Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy shaped my relationship with place. You might also get a kick out of essays on the rapturous joy of Haikyuu (by one Jam Pascual) and the ways that internet friendships transcend continents and fandoms (by one Mandy Cruz).

This new essay was such a treat to work on, as I’ve never really written about my mixtape-making habits before. I am insanely envious of anyone who can do it well, and I religiously study any bit of media that offers up advice on this delicate art.

I considered then that maybe as a supplement to my new piece on Underdog, I should dig up another one of my mixes and talk about it. When I asked Mandy, she suggested talking about my workout playlist, since, as she said:

”… u r the only person I know who like did work outs to folk/acoustic music”

I immediately panicked:

“doesn’t that make me seem like a lame duck or somethign”

A quick sample of some select tracks on this hour-long mix: “I’m Writing a Novel” by Father John Misty, “Kentucky Pill” by Johnny Flynn, “Another is Waiting” by the Avett Brothers. Also included (not technically a folk entry, but a weird choice for a running mix nonetheless) is “I’m a Cuckoo” by Belle and Sebastian.

I remember putting this playlist together in 2014 while I was still living in the Ortigas area, shortly after our university had opened its sports building. On the highest level, there was an indoor running track, and, since I wasn’t particularly athletic outside of university drumline practice, I realized that it might do some good to actually put in at least an hour every week, a practice that I kept when I eventually taught at the university.

The general principle behind this playlist is that I wanted it to stand in for a coach that was both unrelenting and understanding to me as an average runner. It doesn’t seem like it now, but I recall wanting the arrangement of the playlist to flow and ebb in energy. Starting with “Simple Song” by The Shins was supposed to warm me up (thanks in part to the music video which features a lot of running in slow-mo), so that by the time I hit the Misty, I was ready to take a breather. Cue Bastille’s “Flaws.” When Belle and Sebastian dropped after that (yet another running-centric music video!) I picked up the pace.

Mandy started to go on these runs with me at some point, putting in hours to fill in extra credit for PE. I told her about my running mix and she decided to try it herself. In adjacent lanes, I suddenly found myself turning into the unrelenting, understanding coach I envisioned, telling Mandy we still had it in us to keep going, at one point even using the song lyrics of “Nakauwi Na” by Ang Bandang Shirley as motivational quotes.

Kahit sandali lang, basta’t makasama ka

Kahit mamaya-maya lang ako’y uuwi na

Kahit walang katapusan, hindi ka iiwan

Basta’t makasama ka ako’y nakauwi na

I think I miss that indoor track because it was the first place that made me think that exercise could actually feel like the music I liked. Most of the time, working out felt very impersonal—if it wasn’t a requirement, it was a display of virtue, and if it wasn’t a display of virtue, it was something that kindled vanity. I couldn’t relate to any of those things when my legs were ready to collapse or my lungs had nothing in them. I just needed something to convince me that running was as good as they sang it was.

To this point, the unconventional running track that seemed to make the most sense was David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Noah Baumbach used the song in Frances Ha, backing Greta Gerwig as she bolted like a maniac down a busy New York street, as though she were no different from the buses and cars that zoomed right past her. When I saw that scene for the first time, I wondered if physical exertion could ever really feel that liberating, if I could somehow get inside that scene myself without having to be a Frances Ha. On my mix, “Modern Love” comes quite early—track no. 4—approximately the point when the warmup stops and the real running begins. It was when I’d look around one more time to make sure that I was the only one up on that lonely track. I flew off the ground after every drum beat; I went as fast as I possibly could.