I run by myself a lot. Yeah, I train with a group and we start at the same time, but we’re a wide range of paces so while we are out there together, I’m often not running alongside other people much of the time. And I’m okay with that. Sometimes I really like the solitude and silence, especially those early mornings before the sun comes up. But other times I want a distraction. Since I generally reserve music for races, I long ago started listening to podcasts during my solo runs.

The iTunes podcast store offers such a bewildering array of choices, it’s difficult to find just the right thing. Good podcasting goes beyond someone with a mic and a topic–to hold my interest, the host(s) must be engaging and capable of discussing a given topic with insight and depth without rambling on too long or simply following a script. Plus I’m easily distracted by accents and speech inflections and I will absolutely turn off a podcast when the speaker’s voice takes me out of the story.

I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error over the last six years–my playlist has not remained static as I find new podcasts and discard others. But at the moment, in no particular order, these are my (non-running) favorites.

  1. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is a weekly news quiz hosted by Peter Sagal with a rotating panel of smart, funny people. Each episode is about 50 minutes long and makes me literally LOL. I sometimes even shout out answers to the limericks or Lightning Fill in the Blank. I love this show so much that when they came to Austin for a live performance back in May, I snatched up tickets (they sold out Bass Concert Hall in about an hour) to see them in person. Because it’s current events-based, I don’t let this one get backlogged, but since it’s only one episode a week, it’s not difficult for me to stay on top of it. Plus I’d listen to Peter Sagal read the dictionary, so I look forward to these every week.
  2. Revisionist History is relatively new to my rotation, and while Malcolm Gladwell’s voice is just on the edge of weird, the topics are so interesting the sound doesn’t take me out of the story. He deconstructs what we think we know about well-publicized events, kind of like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” but on steroids. Seasons 1-2 sucked me in with several great topics–the Toyota acceleration problem, McDonald’s french fries, and several related to Civil Rights history–and  Season 3 continues to set the bar high. I particularly enjoyed the one on an important semicolon and another on Brian Williams’ memory. Episodes are around 40 minutes long.
  3. I started listening to Stuff You Should Know when I was training for my first half-marathon. Josh and Chuck have published roughly two episodes per week for a decade, so this archive alone is enough to keep a person occupied for dozens of cross-country road trips. I started more or less at the beginning and was caught up for a while, but because I rotate through several podcasts, I started to fall behind in late 2016. Even though they make even a mundane-sounding topic interesting, I currently pick and choose based on the topic these days. Some recent favorites cover gerrymandering, the Max Headroom incident, P.T. Barnum, and the Unabomber. Most are between 45 minutes and an hour, although some go a little longer. It took me a while to get used to Josh’s voice, and both hosts inadvertently use verbal filler like “bascially” a little too often, but as with Revisionist History, the topics are interesting enough (and Josh and Chuck engaging enough) that it doesn’t bother me.
  4. The West Wing Weekly revisits, you guessed it, the TV show “The West Wing.” The hosts, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway, are professionals–Josh was on “West Wing” for the second half of its run, and Hrishi is a musician and podcaster. Both are funny, articulate, and insightful. Each episode of the podcast covers one episode, in chronological order, of the TV show. They also bring in guests from the show–Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff to name a few–and have recorded live episodes as well. Each episode is 50ish minutes, with the live shows going a little longer.
  5. I’ve done my share of binge-watching ESPN’s long-running series 30 for 30, and now they have a 30 for 30 podcast too. They only publish about five 30ish-minute episodes per season, plus several short 30 for 30+ shorter bonus episodes, so it’s easy to stay caught up, but they’re so interesting I am left wanting more. Season Three is all about Bikram Choudhury, the man behind Bikram Yoga; previous episodes explore Dan and Dave of the 1992 Olympics, the year Wrigley Field got lights, the Madden video game, Tonya Harding, Lebron and the hoodie photo, Dennis Rodman, and Bobby Knight. One time they highlighted a story from E:60 called “22 Harvest Street,” a harrowing tale of two college football players who were kidnapped and tortured. It was riveting, and horrifying. A sports nerd like me can easily get lost in these stories–perfect for long runs.

And these are some of my favorite running-themed podcasts, also in no particular order.

  1. I read Ali on the Run’s blog for a while before I tried her podcast, and I’m glad I did. She’s funny, genuine, and professional. And brutally honest about being a runner with a chronic illness. Episodes are usually about an hour.
  2. As with Ali, I read Another Mother Runner before subscribing to the podcast. I can’t relate to some of it–my kid is a teenager and a lot of the Mother Runners have little kids, and I struggle a little with the hosts’ accents and inflections. But several episodes have been interesting and informative, so I continue to pick and choose occasional episodes by topic or title. Most are about an hour long.
  3. I train with Rogue, and their Running Rogue podcasts are frequently informative and entertaining. Chris and Steve are not professional broadcasters, but they are genuine. Steve has no filter so he makes me laugh, and while I can’t always relate to them (Steve coaches the fast folks including Chris, who is a 2:45 marathoner) I get the training pieces since as a Rogue, I’m literally following their training plans. Episodes are about an hour, but I usually skip through the first 30ish minutes where they recap some professional running news–race results, predictions, that kind of thing–and get to whatever the topic is. My favorite episode is probably Episode 16 on women and running–they are clearly enlightened men not afraid to discuss periods and anatomy, but they’re so awkward at it, it was kind of cute.

And that’s about it right now. I am subscribed to several more podcasts, but either they haven’t published new episodes recently (like ESPN’s college football podcast) or the jury is still out on whether I’m going to keep listening.

What are some of your favorites? Any recommendations?