Some people can just run. No headphones, no music, just...go. I wish I could do that, but sadly, I can't. I need the distraction, otherwise I'll start thinking about my breathing and before you know it, I've psyched myself into hyperventilation. Plus, it helps to have something to think about other than "ohgodohgoditHURTS."
Up until a few months ago, though, it never occurred to me to use music as a tool for something other than distraction. That's when I stumbled upon the 150bpm playlists on Spotify. Here's the trick--if you sync your breathing and your stride with a song that has a 150bpm rhythm, you will run a 10 minute mile. Want to run a 9 minute mile? Then you want songs with a 160bpm rhythm. Having tried it, I can tell you it definitely works.
I'm sure you don't have a few days to spare to sit and vet your playlist with a metronome; that's why there are websites like jog.fm. You can also search Spotify for "150bpm" and you will get a ton of playlists.
Sometimes you need pacing, though, and then sometimes you need motivation. Times like my race last week, when I was pushing uphill in my last half-mile, skipping song after song in a desperate attempt to find one to carry me to the top, wasting precious breath cursing because I couldn't. Times like that you need a song that lifts you on a soaring chorus and drops you into a free fall, the kind of song that releases that chilly flood of dopamine that, for me, anyway, is just as effective as adrenaline.
Below, I've posted my new 5k playlist. It's designed to play in order, escalating in intensity; I've broken the songs down into a hot sauce classification so you can see the steps. The more tired you are, the more kick you need. If you plan to make one of your own, though, this is my recommendation: don't just go for songs that are fast. Go for songs that make you feel something. Emotion is a powerful physical motivator. Just make sure the cumulative song lengths match approximately with your mile times.
Mild (steady songs with a good beat, nothing fancy):
Ready Aim Fire—Imagine Dragons
Came Back Haunted—NIN
Medium (stepping up the beat as well as the emotion):
Locked Out Of Heaven—Bruno Mars
Trouble—Robots Don't Stop (aka Robot Koch)
Raise the Dead—Rachel Rabin
Muy Caliente (this is where the songs go that make you catch your breath. Go for the throat.):
Bottom of the River—Delta Rae
Everybody Wants To Rule The World—Lorde
Say Something—A Great Big World