(Full disclosure: As I was pulling together this list, I realized that my podcast rotation is VERY white. I’m fixing that, but if you have specific recommendations for podcasts hosted by people of color, please share them in the comments.)
I’ve spent the past two years accidentally becoming a distance runner. It started as an easy way to fill out my calendar of new things, but eventually I somehow found myself signing up for multiple half marathons, then registering for this year’s NYC Marathon.
I like my running how I like my writing: solitary, with little outside interference or distraction. (I recommend Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to anyone who feels similarly about either or both pursuits.) But as the length of my training runs and races creeps steadily toward 26.2, I’ve found that one form of running companionship I’ll readily accept is podcasts. Here are a few of the trusty friends I take along when I hit the road. (I’ve linked to mostly show websites below, but all of these are available on iTunes if not other places.)
5K: On Books
Let’s get this out of the way: I hate 5Ks! Shorter races are crowded, and I prefer to run a longer distance at a slower pace than a short distance at a quicker pace. By the time I’m at the starting line, I’m totally on edge from spending half an hour listening to the emcees’ excruciating banter while a never-ending stream of people fills the corral. (Life hack: Blaring Steve Winwood through my headphones as I’m inching toward the starting line seems to take the edge off.)
Anyway, podcasts! On Books is… what it sounds like. A podcast about books, where the host, Chris (along with the occasional guest) gives you enough info about each book to decide whether to read it. And if you decide not to, you’ll still come away having learned something from the episode. This is one of those podcasts where you end up getting something out of every episode, even (especially?) the ones where you didn’t think you were interested in the book at hand.
Start with: Episode 3, which covers Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.
Bonus: Chris’s voice is sex on toast.
10K: Go Bayside!
In this podcast, comedian April Richardson, maybe the most effortlessly cool person alive, invites her hilarious friends over, one at a time, to watch every episode of Saved By the Bell. Nostalgia-fueled, funny, and at times vaguely academic in its critique of life at Bayside, this is maybe my favorite podcast ever.
Start with: Episode 1, and listen chronologically. April knows everyone, so don’t be surprised when Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti rolls up to watch the episode where the gang competes in a Battle of the Sexes over a $10K inheritance. Also, some of the funniest episodes are the ones with April’s high school bestie Millie De Chirico. “Class Rings,” with Paul F. Tompkins, is another favorite.
15K: My Favorite Murder
If we’re friends, there’s a high probability that you already listen to My Favorite Murder. But in case you’re unfamiliar, MFM is a true-crime podcast hosted by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. Each week, Karen and Georgia each share a murder they’ve researched, with minisodes in between dedicated to listener emails with hometown murders and other weird or funny stories. Karen and Georgia have fantastic comedic chemistry, and listening to this podcast is like hanging out with your funniest friends.
Start with: Episode 8: Eight is Enough Murders.
Half Marathon: Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette
Real Talk Radio is a new obsession of mine. On each episode, Nicole interviews an artist, writer, entrepreneur, or other interesting, creative person. The conversations are deep and rewarding (presumably for the participants as well as listeners!), the roster of guests is among the most diverse I’ve seen across all measurements, and Nicole pays the people who create and appear on the show, with more money given to guests of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. I get smarter and more grounded every time I listen.
Start with: I actually can’t make a recommendation. They’re all so good!
Marathon: Casefile True Crime
Casefile is meticulously researched, compassionate toward victims, and committed to understanding the motives behind horrific crimes. For a podcast about murder, it’s also eminently soothing, thanks to its mellifluous-voiced anonymous host. (Can you tell I’m into voices?) Most episodes start with background detail on the geographic setting of the murder, allowing you to come into the story with an understanding of the sociopolitical climate in which the crime occurred, and the related challenges in solving it. Episodes tend to be lengthy and/or multi-part, making them perfect for long runs
Start with: Case 53, a five-part series on the recently captured East Area Rapist. You could queue this one up at the starting line and still not be done with it as you cross the finish.