Listening to music while running: Necessary motivation, or dangerous distraction?
I remember one day, back in my early days of running. I was living in Whistler, and I had planned a run after work around Whistler village. I had taked my running gear to work with me. After work, I was getting changed into my gym gear, and realized I had accidentally left my ipod at home. So home I went. There was no way I was running that day, not without my music. Lesson: It’s easy to become reliant on music when running.
Fast forward 18 months, and I very rarely listen to music anymore. But I can remember a time when I spent just as much time creating my running playlists as I did actually running to them. I had to make a playlist that was over 4 hours long to get me through my first marathon. I get that music has its place. I know how motivating music can be, particularly in the early days of running. But there comes a time that I believe it can become a dangerous distraction. Like early in the morning, or at night. Music prevents you from hearing what’s going on around you. You might not hear traffic, or somebody approaching you, if you have headphones in. It reduces your awareness of your surroundings, and increases your reaction time. If you’re running by yourself, it’s a safety issue. And if running with friends, their company should be enough.
During last year’s Melbourne Marathon, I carried my ipod, and turned it on for about 10km between kilometres 30 and 40, when I was really feeling bad and needed a little bit of extra motivation to get me through. But I turned it off for the last couple of kilometres, because at this point I was coming back through the crowds, and it was nice to hear encouragement from the crowd, and instructions from the race marshals, and just enjoy some of that big race atmosphere.
I agree that music can be motivating, but it is important not to become reliant on it, or let it compromise safety at any point. If you must run with your tunes, consider only having one earphone in – so you can still hear what’s going on around you. Or try saving it for when you really need it, like the back end of a long run, or a run on the treadmill. If you run with music all the time, perhaps try ‘running naked’ (naked from technology, that is) maybe just once a week. You might even like it. You may find yourself tuning into the sounds of your body, your breathing or your footfalls, or concentrating on your running form instead of trying to skip to the next good song.
Earphones also reduces our opportunity and ability to interact with other people. So many times I have passed other runners (or they have passed me) and I have shouted encouragement, or commented on their awesome running top, only to notice they have earbuds in and didn’t hear a word I said. I have also done a couple of races where ipods/music was banned.. such as the Hunter Valley marathon. This was actually a big deal for some of the runners, so that really highlights the importance of not becoming reliant on running with your music. Your running shoes, clothes or sportsbra may be necessities, but your headphones aren’t.