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Home / Blog / The Weekend Warrior on… ‘earworms’

The Weekend Warrior on… ‘earworms’

Martyn Brunt considers the motivational benefits of a good tune and, on the flip side, the curse of a bad one…

Martyn Brunt prepares for Ironman Lanzarote (in his garden)

During my first stab at Ironman Lanzarote, in 2008, I was cycling past Famara beach where the golden sands were being blown into my face with enough force to strip flesh. Despite having all the sex appeal of an acne-covered phone shop assistant, I decided to distract myself from this misery by trying to chat up a 20-something female triathlete riding nearby by talking about the music that goes round in my head while I cycle.

My music taste hasn’t changed much since I was a sulky teenage two-tone tit, so my song choices immediately made my drafting-partner aware of just how old I was. However, she clearly had a sense of humour because she retaliated by saying that she’d got Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M stuck in her mind. The upshot, of course, was that SHE passed that song on to ME and I spent the rest of the ride with “Brown girrrrl in the ring fa-lala-lala”, on an endless loop in my brain.

This phenomenon is known as ‘earworm’, and it can be a blessing or a curse depending on what song gets stuck in your head. But music can also be very motivational, so I suspect you, like me, try hard to get certain songs in your mind while you’re racing or listen to a carefully selected playlist on your headphones while training.

The trouble with earworms, though, is that they just need to be catchy to worm their way in, so 20 minutes of listening to Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC can be undone by hearing just one bar of I’m Sexy and I Know It – and I can confirm that having that ‘song’ stuck in your head for an entire 12km cross-country race is very upsetting, as well as a crime against the Trades Description Act.

There are some massively irritating songs out there, so it would take a mean-spirited scumbag to point out what they are and plant them in YOUR mind while reading this column, wouldn’t it…?

– Aaaaa-gaaa-do-do-do…
– Blue, da-ba-di…
– Paparazzi by Lady Gaga
– That pervy one by Robin Thicke
– I Should be so Lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky…

Only once have I ever used earworms as a weapon, which was of course on my long-suffering friend Neill, who tried to plant the Club La Santa theme song in my head just before my second go at Ironman Lanzarote, and I retaliated with the first song that came to mind. As this is a family magazine I genuinely can’t tell you what it is, but this was so successful that not only was Neill tortured by this track for the whole climb up Mirador del Haria, where he couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable if I’d kissed him on the cheek, but he’s now tortured by it EVERY time he goes up Mirador del Haria – and he goes to Lanzarote a lot!

As I’m currently training for my third crack at Lanzarote I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what songs I want to get stuck in my – and others’ – minds during the race. Regular readers will know that I don’t enjoy the Canarian Ironman very much and the only reason I’m doing this race yet again is because my friend Joe (a man so old that his first taste of open-water swimming was on a ducking stool), is doing the race to celebrate his birthday. This means I’m putting myself through all this training merely out of a begrudging sense of obligation, so in revenge I’m therefore plotting to unleash Gangnam Style and Dancing Queen on Joe and others.

Despite my sulky reluctance and a loss of form so severe that the only people I can beat on a bike are to be found in the smoking area outside my local hospital, it will be nice to head off to a location where it doesn’t pee it down every five minutes. And anyone out there doing big miles on their bike at the moment will know that while the sunshine, tweeting birds and blossom on the trees may fool you into thinking it’s warm enough to go sleeveless, it definitely isn’t, and there isn’t a single one of us who’s headed out in shorts that hasn’t bitterly regretted this decision just a few metres from the door. Still, Ironman training waits for no man and I’m currently doing enough miles to take me all the way to Amarillo. In fact, I know a song about that…

For more of Martyn’s musings, head to our Blogs section

Profile image of Jamie Beach Jamie Beach Former digital editor


Jamie was 220 Triathlon's digital editor between 2013 and 2015.