The man who keeps Kentucky running to the beat

Meet DJ James Hummel and get your requests ready for the race 

When you think of running, what comes to mind? Shoes? Fuel? How about the music that keeps your feet moving? That is DJ James Hummel’s department, and for the fifth year in a row he’ll be at the KY History Half Marathon finish line to keep you moving to the very end – so well that you may even be inclined to dance after you’ve put in those hard miles. 

Elizabethtown resident James Hummel is all over Kentucky during race season, keeping runners motivated with his sense of humor, gift of encouragement and sweet stash of music. “I have a passion for people and see an energy in people,” he said.

Hummel has worked as an entertainer and DJ for about 33 years, but only in the last 10 has he ventured into spinning race tunes and he’s not looking back.

“The atmosphere at races is number one for me,” he said, adding that if you walk into a race and there isn’t good music playing you immediately feel something missing. “I like seeing the people’s reactions to the music and the things I’m saying – whether I’m encouraging them, or they’re laughing at a joke or singing along to a song. I like seeing it hit that higher level.”

Right song for the right moment

His secret to taking the atmosphere of a race where it needs to go is simply the people there. The stories of all of the runners and the interaction with him keep him motivated. His natural ability is simply being able to engage and tune into those around him. And he has a great stash of music. 

“It’s not hard for me to engage people and encourage people and to feed off the energy that they are giving off,” Hummel reflected. “I have a passion for people and see an energy in people. I think a lot of other DJs are just trying to get their show in, and get it done. I don’t want to walk in with a plan; I want to walk in and watch it develop.

“I like to play the right songs for the right moment for the right mood,” he added. “If a guy comes across and he’s in a kilt, I want to have that perfect Celtic song to showcase him. For the ladies who are walking and smiling – I love the Aretha Franklin remix of Respect just to get them to engage.”

Some of knowing what keeps runners moving is based on what he’s learned himself while putting in his own miles. The music keeps him moving, too. 

He joked that his “professional running career ended” when he became a DJ for races. “Funny; I was never a runner. I just used running as a stress relief and a way to disconnect and find myself again. I had a natural ability to run, and although I’m not incredibly fast I’ve been running since high school.”

For his running, Hummel said he usually plays songs that are 180 beats per minute. 

“It has to be upbeat music when I run, and I’ve trained my body to run in tempo,” he said. “I’ll listen to some 80s and 90s remixes, and I love Celtic and worship music. But it’s got to have a good tempo.”

Though his running is limited these days, he said he loves the half marathon distance most because “it takes you close to your limit, and it’s not easy to do. You get swag, medals and shirts, and it’s a challenge.”

On his bucket list is a full marathon and the Dopey Challenge in Disney but he joked that

James Hummel has an affinity for colorful running shoes!

it’s only for the medals. 

There’s nothing like that finish line feeling when the right song is playing, and you see the volunteers holding medals and water. That’s his favorite, but it’s also a source of pressure for Hummel when he is working as a DJ. 

“I try to be conscious of what I’m saying, because sometimes I’ll encourage someone on the microphone, and then they stumble and fall right at the end,” he quipped. “I start asking myself, what if I had not talked to them and encouraged them, maybe they wouldn’t have stumbled and fell!?”

He noted that he’s seen some “crazy stuff” at the finish line, whether it’s people posing or wearing outfits or just being engaged with the people next to them. Sometimes people crawl or cartwheel across the finish line.

“My favorite is when a little kid runs out to their parent, and the parent is just about to die but then they somehow pick up their kid and start sprinting to the finish with their kid in their arms,” he laughed. 

The best moments are the triumphs.

“When I did the first full marathon I ever worked as a DJ, it was the Horse Capital, and I saw all types of people and body types making that 26 miles,” Hummel said. “I don’t care how big, small, young, old – you can do a marathon. There are no excuses. I remember almost just breaking down and going, ‘Wow look at these people and what they accomplished!’ It was a bit overwhelming to experience that. That was really, really cool. It gave me a new outlook on runners and people and why they’re out there and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

That is precisely the energy Hummel feeds off of when he’s playing music or when he’s saying encouraging, funny or informative words for runners and fans. 

He also loves taking requests and said he’s played everything from Baby Shark to Barney, but usually he won’t play something if it’s too slow or has inappropriate or nonsense lyrics. For themed races, he’ll find what he can to fit the genre — like Christmas music — if it still has a good beat, and often he finds dance remixes of classic songs. 

“I love to play Jock Jams Stadium Anthems because they all have higher energy remixes, and then if people are crossing the finish I’ll find an upbeat Chariots of Fire remix, or the Rocky theme song or Motown remixes. I play anything that people identify with, and it is never the same. My playlist always changes.”

Get ready for that musket fire

Get your requests ready for the KY History Half, and Hummel will play them if there is nothing explicit and they’ll make people run faster. He looks forward to playing them. 

He’s also looking forward to seeing Mel Hankla fire his musket to start the race.

“The gun is my favorite part. That musket is awesome!” he said. “I look forward to that, and I always talk about that and tell the runners ‘that gun is loud, so cover your ears.’ And it’s neat that you have historic characters dressed up. I just think the way it’s run is fantastic, and the medal is always good. But the highlight for me is that gun going off.”

That moment would also be approved by Kentucky’s historical figures, of whom Hummel rattled off a hysterical list to play DJ. 

“Well there is Thomas Clark. Dr. Clark was instrumental in saving numerous records of the history of Kentucky from being destroyed….so he’s saving records, you know I’m all about saving that vinyl,” he joked. “Or there’s a guy named Garry Wills, a Lincoln scholar, historian, professor and Pulitzer Prize winner. That would be my guy. Or Bob Edwards, [the former NPR radio host]; he’d be kinda cool. And of course there’s Daniel Boone. Those explorer guys, they knew everything.”

He said they’d probably play songs like “Hit The Road, Jack” because they never stayed in one place. Or “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson, or John Denver’s “Take Me Home.”

And of course they’d play “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Get your requests ready for James at the KY History Half!

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