Whether dashing down the track, crossing the country, or going the distance at a marathon (or beyond), runners have used music to inspire, to pace — even to distract. From state champs and record holders to Olympians, some of the area’s elite runners sound off on what works, when it works, and what to avoid.

Jonathon Coffman
Herculaneum High, class of 2020; four-time all-state cross country finisher

Jonathon Coffman

Music on: When I run by myself.

Music off: When I run with my team or I have to do repeats.

Faves: I have a couple of go-to songs: Red Lights by Tiësto and Poker Face by Lady Gaga. If I hear something I like, I add it to my playlist and take something else off.

Safety tip: Even with one ear out, I’ve caught myself not hearing cars and getting surprised. That’s a red flag to turn down the music.

One last chorus: I’ve used Aftershokz on long runs. They go behind your ears, so you can stay aware of what’s going on around you.


Rik Denicke
Ultrarunner, registered the Fastest Known Time on the 230.8-mile Ozark Trail: four days, 11 hours 8 minutes

Music on: Driving to the trail, some song will get stuck in my brain because it has a good cadence for the terrain.

Music off: Other than what’s stuck in my brain, I don’t bring music. I like the connection with nature — hearing footsteps and knowing whether it’s a raccoon or a deer.

Faves: Lately, it’s been Tycho. Some of the music is ethereal, some has a more driving beat.

Safety tip: Some ultrarunners use headphones. If they’re not aware of me, I yell. Respectfully. They slow me down for a minute or so, but they always move out of the way.

One last chorus: On a sunny day, I can pull reggae or the Grateful Dead from my brain. If it’s raining and dark, maybe some ‘90s grunge.


Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter
Three-time Olympic medalist, three-time world champion, 100-meter specialist; associate head track coach, Missouri State University

Carmelita Jeter

Music on: The only time I could use music was on the bus before a meet or on a longer weekend run, which really was just a 20-minute jog. For my runners, it’s the same: I want them to use music to get into a zone.

Music off: For all workouts and drills. You have to be in sync with yourself. Music can alter your rhythm or performance.

Faves: Wherever my mind was that day. If I was mellow, I’d listen to Aaliyah or Whitney Houston or Mary J. Blige. If I was more aggressive, it would be Jay-Z or Tupac or Young Jeezy.

Safety tip: One ear out. You don’t want to be in the zone on the street.

One last chorus: Music can be an extra motivator before competition. But if the meet starts at 1, the headphones are off by 12:30.


Colleen Quigley
2011 Nerinx Hall grad; 2016 Olympic steeplechaser; 2019 USATF indoor mile champion

Colleen Quigley

Music on: During easy runs by myself. It makes the time go by fast.

Music off: With teammates and for pace work. You wouldn’t want to miss the coach yelling at you.

Faves: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B. Anything with a “you go, girl,” vibe.

Safety tip: The new AirPods are soundproof. I don’t use those, so I can stay aware of what’s going on.

One last chorus: If I’m running to yoga or to do errands, I use a Koala Clip on the back of a sports bra. It’s a great way to run with your phone. I can’t stand carrying it.


Mona Vespa
President, GO! St. Louis and recreational runner

Music on: When I’m on my own, doing longer distances.

Music off: With friends. I appreciate their company. We started running in an era when music wasn’t portable.

Faves: Anything with a good running cadence. Or podcasts. I really enjoy running to podcasts from The Happiness Lab.

Safety tip: Run opposite of traffic when it’s practical. And always be aware of your surroundings.

One last chorus: Once upon a time, USATF banned headphones. Now, they’re “strongly discouraged.” I agree, but I like to put a positive spin on it by reminding our runners to enjoy the race, which they’ve trained so long and hard for. I remind them they have to be able to hear what race officials are saying. I can’t tell you how many people have missed a turn because they had both earbuds in and couldn’t hear.

Author: Kathleen Nelson is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.