Pros and Cons of Running With Music

The debate between allowing music/earphones during races is a controversial one.

I personally need music when I run. It allows me to push myself farther than I would without it and helps me sometimes to “disassociate” from running when I feel discomfort (let my mind wander so that I don’t focus on the discomfort I sometimes feel). I mostly disagree with what I read about why some races and runners don’t think runners should listen to music.

In 2007, USATF, the governing body of distance races in the country, banned the use of portable music devices in its sanctioned events.  Officials at the Twin Cities Marathon that same year disqualified 144 runners.

The basic argument against music includes the following points:

-Earphones can be a distraction to runners, especially if they are running with or near car traffic. This can make running more dangerous and can be a liability for races.

-Music can also distract you from signals your body is telling you, like pain. It can also prevent runners from focusing on important elements of form, like foot strike and cadence.

-Some runners (many times experienced or elite runners) believe that music detracts from the purity of the sport, or as an article in Runner’s World claims, “unplugged purists think being aware of your surroundings is an elemental part of the sport”

While I believe that these are valid points, I think they aren’t always true. I think it’s important to take the pros and cons of running with headphones in context.  Running with music is appropriate in different contexts and settings. I typically run my long runs out near Shenandoah National Park so there is less traffic. Music inspires me to run farther and indeed better. I typically choose songs with fast beats so that I can match my cadence to the beat. I also believe that runners can simultaneously focus on running form and listen to music.

But I have to acknowledge that sometimes running with music is either unsafe or not allowed. If I have to run on a street with heavy traffic I either turn my music down or off until I get to a less dangerous area. I’ve also run numerous races where headphones aren’t allowed (and although I thought that these races would suck, they actually weren’t that bad!). Most of these races have been triathlons. It just doesn’t make sense to take the time during your last transition to put on an ipod and earphones.

The few running races I have participated in without music weren’t awful…I just think they weren’t as good as they could have been with music. When I ran the Decker’s Creek Half Marathon in June 2010 in Morgantown, WV, my ipod shuffle died about 3 miles in because of heavy rain. At first I was frustrated. I hadn’t been feeling that well that week and was actually running with a low-grade fever (101 degrees). And I had 10 more miles to go without my beloved tunes! But after a few minutes I found the sound of the rain through the trees soothing (it was really pouring)! It wasn’t until mile 12 that I felt like I needed the music again.

At the beginning of the race before being bused to the starting line. You can tell I don't feel well

Finishing the race strong in 2:02 with a fever and no music

So my ultimate opinion on the subject? I think it depends on the setting and on the runner. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I don’t know anyone who could tear me away from my ipod shuffle. I love how it lightly clips onto my waistband and makes it so easy for me to change the song/volume without looking.

If you choose to run with music, like me, for heaven’s sake please don’t turn the volume up too loud. There are so many studies coming out that show the danger of loud music on our hearing. The “Deaf to Danger” article in Women’s Health Magazine goes into this issue.

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2 Responses to Pros and Cons of Running With Music

  1. Carina says:

    I’m generally no headphones. I wouldn’t wear them in a race b/c I’d rather be able to hear when someone wants to pass me, hear spectators, etc. And I don’t wear them when running outside — I don’t run on streets with lots of traffic often, but I think streets with only a couple cars are almost better for me to be w/o headphones b/c I’ll tend to run more in the road to avoid the slope, so I need to hear what’s coming since I’m not expecting it. But for the times I run on a trail that’s completely closed to vehicles, I’ll sometimes do headphones, but even for track work or something I find I’m more focused on hitting my times w/o music. But I wear headphones 100% of the time on a treadmill. Just too boring not to!

  2. Pingback: Rock My Run | Let's Go on a Living Spree

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