Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Intel: Running with music?

Q: What do you think about running with music?

A: Like most things, my opinion on this has evolved over the years. When I first started running regularly back in 2007 I went to great lengths to have something to listen to while I ran. I had a 1st generation iPod Nano, an arm band, and an assortment of different headphones that were quite a production to assemble and strap on to myself. I would also spend a considerable amount of time preparing playlists and searching for just the right music to take along (check out PodRunner for free, downloadable BPM tracks). It was quite an ordeal, but it served me well.

At some point - maybe when I started running more often with others - I stopped listening to music while I ran. Over time I came to realize that being inside my own head wasn't such a bad thing, and I went a long time without giving it a second thought. Well, that's not entirely true. I'd see other people out running with their ear buds plugged in and judge them a tiny bit. Don't they realize how much about the running experience they're giving up by tuning out, I thought? And don't they realize how unsafe it is to block out the sounds of cars, cyclists, and unleashed dogs? No, I'm not proud of myself, but it's the truth.

For years I rarely listened to music while I ran. Exceptions were made a couple of times per year. Sometimes I'd do it when I had no choice but to run inside on a treadmill, while other times I'd do it as an experiment. That's right, I'd sometimes pull out all the things and take them for a trial run, to see if anything had changed. It hadn't. I didn't hate it, but the next day I felt no compulsion to do it again.

Enter marathon training, summer of 2013. This is where the loop closes and I start occasionally listening to music on my runs. Going into the training cycle I knew there would be a lot of long, solitary runs to get through. Yes, I've had the good fortune to train with a number of people, but the reality is when you're ramping up the mileage it's inevitable you'll find yourself alone in the dark for two hours on a Wednesday morning.

Once I made my decision I did some research. Most importantly, I wanted some headphones that 1) allowed me to hear outside noises, 2) wouldn't fall out of my sweaty ears, and 3) sound half way decent. I found all that in the yurbuds Inspire Pro and haven't regretted my decision to get them for one second. They live up to the hype, fo sho. I also knew I wanted an MP3 player that didn't make me feel like my blood pressure was being taken while I ran. I chose the iPod Shuffle, which clips onto my waist band and allows me to easily change tracks or the volume. It, too, has been a solid performer.

So, where does all of this leave me now? Well, for starters I think listening to music on a run is a personal decision. One that needs to be carefully considered, especially for safety reasons. If you can remain alert in your environment and listen to music at the same time, go for it. That said, I do think there are some other things that should be considered if you decide to flip the switch around other people.

1. Use headphones or at the very least make sure  those you're with don't mind listening along. I've run with people that played music through their phone without headphones, oblivious to the fact that others might not want to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd or Miley Cyrus. If you're all on the same page, great. Otherwise, don't be a DJ.

2. If you're using headphones - even if it's on a closed race course - you should keep the volume to a reasonable level. It can be very distracting and irritating to someone passing by or being passed. Further, you should know where your fellow runners are, so as not to step in front of them. I can't count many times I've been cut off because someone listening to music didn't realize I was there.

What do you think? Listen to music or the voice in your head? Can you think of other supporting arguments for either side of the issue? And have I missed any other caveats for when people elect to run with music? Sound off in the comments.

This post is one in series that addresses comments and questions I routinely hear from both new and non-runners. This series - posts will be tagged with the "Intel" label - is not intended to delve deep into running subjects, but simply to provide informative, concise responses that sometimes entertain. I am not an anatomy professorparticularly accomplished runner or legend of the sport. I'm just a guy that runs often, races frequently and enjoys sharing what he's learned. You can contribute topics by emailing me using the link on my Google+ Profile or by posting in the comments below.


  1. Like you I have bounced back and forth... I have found that I am a beat/tempo runner for sure... and therefore have a running song playlist on my iPod to keep the beat count high... if I am going to run at night or before sunrise I DO NOT run with music to improve situational awareness... thanks for the recommendation on earbuds... I will have to check them out!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Scott. A word of caution about the yurbuds. The included caps run large, so if your ear hole is even normal size it can be a snug fit.

  2. I do both. I tend to long runs with others, so no headphones. But I also enjoy using them sometimes. In addition to music, I have listened to a few audio books and podcasts.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Matt. It's just music for me. I'm afraid if I were listening to a book I'd be concentrating too hard and might lose track of what's around me.