Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!

Daft Punk & Music for Expeditions

Music for cycling, music for running, music for aerobics even – is well marketed. But what about music for Alpine cycling, ultra running and extreme sports such as offshore sailing, where the accomplishment is largely mind over body?

In the course of my ventures to date, music has played an important role in shifting my mood. Yet it is during the expeditions where I experienced prolonged periods of solitude that my top ten tunes became a list of the weird and wonderful!

For each the following expeditions my brother loaded the music selection. Thanks again Jasper!


My first solo stint was the ‘Faraday Mill OSTAR 2005′ (Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race) , where I spent 28 days racing single-handed from Plymouth, UK > Newport, R.I, USA. Then spent 29 days alone sailing back from Mattapoisett MASS, USA > Plymouth UK.

During these periods, I stuck in the headphones in order to:

  • Relax – before napping
  • Escape – be transported
  • Forget – drown out the sound of the storm
  • Remember – the support of volunteers, friends and family
  • be reminded – to seize the day!
  • be motivated – to put on those wet foulies, get up on deck and shake out more sail…
  • be entertained! 

While U2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’ Shantel’s ‘All I want… is a room somewhere’ and the club anthem, ‘Let’s get this party started,’ each had good air time, my absolute favourite was the talking song –  Baz Luhrman’s Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen), in which there are many phrases that were quite fitting for an ocean crossing! ‘Floss…’ ‘Be kind to your knees…’


The  Route du Rhum 2006 was up next. This had me racing for 23 days alone from St. Malo in Northern France > Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

On this occasion,

  1. Lazy Boy’s Underwear goes Inside the Pants (see below) became my most listened to tune, followed by
  2. Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles (which I now can’t listen to) +
  3. Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’

By now I was noticing a trend. What I enjoyed listening to on land was not at all what I wanted to hear at sea. Ambient, background, mellow, classical and jazz were now entirely missing from my most-played, with songs rich in lyrics, songs with built-in stories and spoken songs creeping in, in lieu. Gone were the instruments and in were the people with interesting voices!


During the Atlantic Rowing Race 2009-10, Mick Birchall rowed while I slept and vice versa. As a result, we spoke very little. Our time at sea was 73 days from La Gomera in the Canary Islands > Antigua in the Caribbean.

Without much more than the occasional visit from birds, whales, dolphins, fish and boats, my musical choices closely chart my emotional journey.

In the first few weeks, I took motivation from Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of ‘You Only Live Twice,’ (1967 James Bond Soundtrack) and the lyrics;

Make one dream come true, you only live twice.

Half way across and at my lowest (hopefully ever), in severe physical pain with tendonitis in both hands, I was cheered along by (dare I say it out loud) Thomas the Tank Engine Night Train! (Please note that this was not some re-connecting with my inner child thing. It was my brother who liked Thomas the Tank Engine as a child.)

Later, when my rowing partner and I were struggling to relate to each other, I was reassured by the words from Deborah Cox’s disco (!) anthem, Beautiful U R,

Don’t never let nobody bring you down girl
Don’t never let nobody tear your world apart
Look in the mirror and see who you are
Beautiful U R

Finally, Freestate by Depeche Mode became my homecoming fave. This was in part due to the rhythm which matched the wallowing shove of the waves and the metronomic forward slide/stroke action of the rowing.

Freedom awaits
Open the gates
Open your mind
Freedom’s a state

Land! People! After 73 days at sea, it was hard to take it all in.

Now I am curious to hear about your experiences! What did you think you would listen to and what did you ultimately end up playing on continuous loop, during the expedition you went on? The race you ran? Drop me a line!


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2 responses to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!”

  1. Graham K says :

    Sticking with a previous theme …

    Marathon des Sables – third stage.

    I was having a bit of a “moment” in the dunes when I was emptying my shoes of sand for the ???th time that hour and the heat was trying to cook me leaving me trying to figure out how to get the morale up a bit. I had loaded my wee ipod shuffle for this very moment with a selection of Martyn Bennet tracks. Martyn mixed traditional pipe and fiddle tunes with samples and a killer bass line – nobody had ever done anything like it before (or since in my view). Sadly he lost his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and died way too young at age 34. During his battle he kept recording – in comparison I was just on a beach holiday.

    Pour a whisky site back and check out the following …

    I was lucky enough to be at that gig :-)


    ps – long Scottish hill runs tend to have a alt country soundtrack which makes Martyn Bennet seem mainstream !

  2. Nick Cherry says :

    Good eclectic mix. I’m going to take some of that on.

    I listened to this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjSgSHiYn1E, on loop for nearly five hours while running between Salisbury and Winchester cathedrals a few weeks ago. I can’t listen to it anymore

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