Running with music – right or wrong?

Running with music, right or wrong? I Googled the topic and there’s a whole lot of discussion. It took me a while to figure out my own position and I put it down here for the record. As a rule I do not listen to music when I run; but as a tool, music has a strategic role in my long races.

Here’s my thinking, shaped by my experiments and observations…

Music and Safety

I like to hear my  environment so that I can be aware, stay safe, and be respectful to others that I share it with. Yawn, what an old fogey, right? I know, but hey, I started running as a veteran, it goes with the turf. For what it’s worth Central Park in the summer gets real busy with runners, pedestrians, cyclists, horses and cars. You need your wits about you.

Connecting with your surroundings

I enjoy being anywhere outdoors, urban or rural. For me being outdoors involves all my senses so hearing my surroundings is an important part of being in a place.

Music’s impact on pacing

It turns out that listening to music plays havoc with my pacing. Mr Brightside, Born Slippy (NUXX), I Predict A Riot; I just want to turn the volume up, pick up the pace, yell at the gods. It’s hard to execute training runs when I listen to music.

Music and gadgets

Monster iSport Sensitivity earbudsListening to music means more stuff to faff with, to charge, to carry, to fail and to distract. Trial and error got me to an acceptable configuration. I use an iPod Shuffle, the perfect running companion – feather light, tiny, has its own spring clip. Eventually i found the Monster iSport Intensity earbuds. They fit well, are comfortable for long periods and transmit ambient sound.

With all this in mind I arrived at my own rubric…

  1. I don’t listen to music when I’m around traffic, roads and pedestrians
  2. I don’t listen to music when I run somewhere new
  3. long runs without music is good mental training
  4. Music is a tool I use to good effect in distance races

Music as a tool

I used music as a strategic tool for the first time in the NYC Marathon last year. It was my first serious race with a mission to go 40 minutes faster and I had a music plan which began with a half marathon playlist.

For the first 13 miles I didn’t use music though I did have the earbuds in as a symbolic show of seriousness. Doing so was a prompt to stay in the middle of the road and avoid getting caught up in the energy of the spectators; to focus on my race. Secretly I was listening to the crowd and using their energy but giving nothing back in return. Selfishness. But by doing so I felt present in the moment.

Then, making the left turn on to the Queensboro bridge I fired up the tunes. It’s the halfway point and where it gets tough for me. From here on in I’m using the music. It’s not as pure a run, but hey, if I’m targeting a PB effort then I’ll use the tools available to me.

So when it comes to fast halves and big marathons I’ve added music to my toolkit, just like the water bottle, gels, salt pills and few sheets of loo roll.

Do you have a marathon playlist? Wanna trade tunes?


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