Thursday, December 15, 2011

Running and Listening to Music

When I first began running, the idea of running without a pair of headphones was unthinkable.  At first, music -- fast, simple beats -- was necessary to keep my adrenaline up.  Plus, with music blaring, it was easy to ignore my body's protests that it was tired.  Later, as my runs grew longer, the music was a way of helping me conquer the boredom of long, slow runs along the same path.

Then, a strange thing happened to me while I was running a 50K this summer.  The same tracks that had kept me company for the past year sickened me.  So I pulled out the headphones, and tuned in to the sounds of the river and the trees and the birds.  And suddenly, I felt alive.

While the rules of that 50K allow runners to run with music, so long as they stay aware of their surroundings, many more crowded races do not (though the degree of enforcement varies). The argument is that, in a crowded race, you need to be aware if someone is trying to pass you, or if race staff gives directions.

But even on my daily runs, along empty routes, I'm discovering the joy of running without music.  Without music I can focus on my breathing, my form, my heart rate, and the many other facets that make up the act of running.

Which isn't to say that music has no place for serious runners.  In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami describes the relationship of music to his daily runs in this way:
Sometimes when I run, I listen to jazz, but usually it's rock, since its beat is the best accompaniement to the rhythm of running.  I prefer the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, and Beck, and oldies like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys.  Music with as simple a rhythm as possible.  A lot of runners now use iPods, but I prefer the MD player I'm used to.  It's a little bigger than an iPod and can't hold nearly as much data, but it works for me.
Where do you stand?

Related posts:
Race Report: 2011 New River Trail 50K


  1. Out for a run tonight thoughts of a very similar post I had planned tonight swirled through my mind. Maybe I'll still write it, but at least I'll comment more thoroughly here.

  2. Definitely room for another post on the topic.

    And - I believe that headphones are against the rules at Burlington.

  3. strongly discouraged, but not against the rules. as of today, i plan on running with them. we'll see.

  4. I alternate between going with and without tunes. Typically, I use music to:

    1. Keep my energy levels up
    2. Drown out traffic

    Recently, I've been running without music on my morning runs, when the air is still and there are less cars out on the road. I agree that there's something magical about it. However, later in the day when the cars take over, I'd rather groove to the beats than listen to the relentless drone of traffic.

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