Delta Rae bassist Grant Emerson sets goals like the rest of us, and in 2018, running a sub-3:30 marathon is at the top of his list. It’s a doable target, considering his current PR is 3:52. But unlike most of us, the 33-year-old Nashville resident is on the road touring 75% of the year, so training in a planned and consistent way can be tough.
Fortunately, Emerson has natural drive — and a love for running that came quickly. He first hit the pavement in earnest at age 16. “I was bored, I was chubby, and I was hopeful for the potential of romantic possibilities,” he says. Jokes aside, the high-school junior soon noticed running brought stress relief and quiet. “It was like therapy,” he says.
Around the same time, Emerson also took up music, playing bass in a band. “It was about self-expression and, with running, too — about finding non-verbal ways to express myself,” he says.
He wore the “most obnoxious-colored flats (he) could find” and joined his school’s cross-country team. When training, he ran holding a Discman spinning run mixes he’d burned himself. “Listening to music really helped motivate me,” he says. “Getting beyond a mile seemed like climbing a mountain at first. Music helped me handle whatever sort of punishment my coaches were dealing out. Back then it was mostly 5Ks.”
As his music career grew, so did Emerson’s miles. “I started doing distances in new places; somewhere unfamiliar and out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I’d run 30 minutes in one direction and turn back — and realize I ran 6 miles. It grew into a daily thing — running outside and seeing new cities and beautiful, natural landscapes. I didn’t want to turn around, so I kept running.”
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He began tracking his runs, too, and would find routes in new cities based on other runners’ maps. It wasn’t long before Emerson realized he could run nearly as far as he wanted. “I could run 16 miles and then 26 miles,” he says. And so, at age 30, he decided to run his first marathon. “It’s probably a normal thing, when people turn 30 and have something to prove to themselves … This was my thing to prove. I also read “Ultramarathon Man” (by Dean Karnazes), and “Born to Run” (by Christopher McDougall), and those books inspired me to keep going.”
Emerson began squeezing long training runs into his travel schedule. “We were in Connecticut finishing our second record, and I’d get up in the morning and run 16 miles before we started tracking (recording),” he says. “A hard thing about traveling is having enough time, as well as access to enough food and water to go on a run that’s over an hour long.”
Now Emerson has three marathons under his belt, and is eyeing more to improve his PR. But he’s also interested in tackling ultra-marathons, too. These days you can usually find him in the woods or on flower-lined trails, completing his standard 8-milers. “Now it’s because that’s an hour — 8 miles or so, at a non-professional pace,” he says. “An hour is sometimes all I can get.”
Last summer Delta Rae stopped in 60 cities. “We were in a different city nearly every day,” Emerson says. “So for me, running was my alone time. I’m thankful for it. It’s also the exact opposite of sitting in a van for 6–12 hours each day. I cherish it.”
And music still plays a huge role with his runs. “Wherever I am, listening to music helps me keep a fast pace and push,” Emerson says. “It gives me the extra energy I need. It’s not just motivating; it helps with cadence, too. I can look at my run maps and tell if I was listening to a podcast interview or music.”
Emerson keeps a running playlist that features 103 songs, and has been regularly updating it since 2013. “It’s about 7 1/2 hours long, always on shuffle, so I can run for a week and not hear the same song twice,” he says.
Here are 11 motivating songs he pulled from his playlist especially for readers, all of which add up to about a 5K workout.
“Run,” Delta Rae
“No Roots,” Alice Merton
“Out of My Mind,” The Killers
“New Rules,” Dua Lipa
“Los Ageless,” St. Vincent
“Noise Pollution,” Portugal. The Man
“I Moved South,” Delta Rae
“La Camisa Negra,” Juanes
“Sand,” He is Legend
“Ghetto Superstar,” Pras Michel, Mya, Ol’ DB