For as long as I can remember, I told people "I can't run." But in March of 2009, I decided that this was no longer an option. From my first 5K to my second half marathon, I've endured my highest highs and lowest lows as an official Runner. This year I want to embrace running for something beyond times and distances.

Running is so much more than merely getting out there. I want to get out there and love it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


No, not the controversy regarding the fact that I FINALLY ran yesterday...the first run since the Half...ouch :) I'm talking about the controversy surrounding listening to music during races, or even running in general. Yesterday, while researching the volunteer opportunities for Milwaukee's Lakefront Marathon this October, I stumbled upon the story of one of the runners from last year getting DQ'd for wearing headphones during a couple miles of the marathon (against the rules if you're an elite runner racing for the cash).

I then stumbled upon See Dane Run's blog where he discusses his personal distaste for running with music. What struck me, however, was that he used to like to listen to music on runs...that he "understands the allure." This got me thinking about the gray area inside the two opposing groups, To iPod or Not To iPod?

I've mentioned my running music story before over at Mag's blog, but to recap: because my old iPod pussed out on me, and because of running in the city at night, I stopped listening to music on my runs. And after the first couple times, I didn't even notice anymore. And I wasn't any faster or slower without the music either.

I do love music, however. At work, I'm usually headphones-on, and I'm that girl you hate who rolls her eyes when she has to take them off ;) I exchange new music with my indie-loving coworkers, but I love everything from Pink Floyd to the Dorsey Brothers, from Fleet Foxes to the Presets, from Simon & Garfunkel to Jay Z. Thus, I wondered if I'm supposed to be equally obsessed with listening to music while I run. As you know, I got my new iPod, loaded it up, and even made a specific playlist for my Half. This race, however, was actually an interesting test and confirmed a few things I was starting to realize about running and music:

1. It can be distracting, but in a bad way, oddly enough. While I loved the music when I first started, and I loved singing along to parts of songs that totally amp me up (looking at you Lady Gaga), which DID give me a burst of energy, I have to admit that for the last 3-4 miles of the Half, the music started to annoy me. Like parts of songs I wasn't as into made me more frustrated than usual, if that makes any sense. And when that happened, I kinda lost focus on the race itself.

2. MOST of my small handful of races have been iPod free. And I do remember how I liked hearing the variety of breath patterns and pattering of running shoes and along the pavement. It felt like a race rather than a training run. Don't get me wrong, the Half felt like a race. But I was definitely in a little cocoon-like iPod "pod"...aware of my surroundings, but focused more inward to the music, as opposed to outward at the race.

3. While I made sure I thanked/waved/smiled/thumbs up'd almost all the volunteers at the Half, I didn't necessarily hear their cheers with my music on. Normally the races I run aren't that packed with spectators, but if there are spectators, I'd hate to look like I was ignoring their praise with my earbuds planted firmly in place. They took time out of their morning to cheer us on, the least we can do is be grateful and give them a nod of appreciation, right?

4. Maybe I am loosing out on an opportunity to be quiet and one with my thoughts when I listen to music. I certainly remember appreciating sights and sounds when I'd run without it. In fact, I'd often try to look for funny observances that I'd relay back on this blog when I'd run sans iPod.

With all this said, however, I will admit a gray area. There are runs you just don't feel like doing and music definitely helps give a much-needed boost. I also admit that podcasts are a cool way to learn while running. As I've mentioned previously, This American Life has opened my eyes to a lot about our world, which is never a bad thing! Especially when you've got two hours of running ahead of you. Music can be a distraction from pain and I did use it to escape from the havoc inside my body during the 14 mile training run.

At the end of the day, I guess you just have to go with how you're feeling. While I think it's important to experience a musicless run from time to time, especially if you're a. running in nature (to experience those unique sounds), b. running in the city (to be safe), and c. running in a race (to appreciate the runners and spectators around you). I also think music can help during training, especially if you have to run the same route over and over and need SOMETHING to liven the experience.

I encourage you to read the comments at Dane's blog to see what a lot of other non-music runners have to say on the topic. It definitely made me think about leaving the iPod at home more often...especially for races!


  1. Wow! This sorta ties into my ADD issue with running conversation we had yesterday! While I don't program my iPod for runs - since I only run for 20-30min, it is annoying when you're just not feeling the song. And sometimes a song that really got you going the day before is annoying the next day.
    My mom, besides not even owning an iPod, wouldn't want to for her bike rides b/c she loves the sound of nature and all that for her hours-long rides!

  2. EXACTLY! Some days I've run with my iPod it'll be like the worst run of music and I just get annoyed trying to forward to a good song. NOT good when you're trying to run??? Haha! So yeah, you won't see my iPod with me at the race tomorrow :)

  3. I used to think I wouldn't be able to complete a run without music. Now, I don't even worry about. I feel safer without the music in my ears. Mostly I realized the same thing you did, I didn't NEED the music to push further, I was too focused on my breathing and the sounds around me to care. Plus, I could hear when I cyclist or another jogger or a rapist was behind me. hehe.
    I still LOVE LOVE LOVE my music, and occasionally I listen to it while running, on the treadmill.

  4. Yeah running on a treadmill requires music I think ;) Today I didn't bring my ipod on the 5K I raced, and while I blew chunks at running (not literally thank God), I enjoyed the pitter patter and cowbells along the route ;)