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AMR Aid Station: The Pros + Cons of Running with Music

Last weekend I ran the Daufuskie Island Half-Marathon, off the coast of South Carolina. There were fewer than 150 runners; I felt like the only person without earbuds. You could say, Well, that’s because it was a tiny race. Of course runners need to listen to music to get through 13.1 quiet miles. (There was also a two-loop marathon and a three-loop ultra. Faint!)

But the same thing felt true in New York City’s 50,000+ New York City Marathon, despite the fact that the use of headphones is “strongly discouraged.” Everyone, it seemed, had headphones.

(Years ago, race organizers tried to outright ban the use of headphones in the NYC marathon. Runners revolted. And the ban proved just too hard to enforce.)

Don’t worry, this is not a manifesto against running with music. Nor a prescriptive FOR it, for that matter.

running with music
Daughter Nina, then 6, with her Boston Bear at the 2011 Boston marathon.

I have run a few marathons with music, notably the 2011 Boston Marathon, which I ran during the unmooring surprise-divorce year. My playlist was full of angry Alanis Morissette, Courtney Love, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam. Sadly, I also ran both my daughter’s and my iPod minis through the wash. And I am just not motivated enough to create a new playlist and take my phone on the road. (Lazy runner/DJ!)

“Do you run with music?” A runner mom acquaintance asked me the other day. “I can’t get out the door if I don’t.”

Yep: 60% of runners run with music, according to Running USA’s 2017 National Runner Survey.

Music is, in fact, study-proven to get you out the door.

The famous music-running researcher Costas Karageorghis, PhD, of London’s Brunel University published a study in The Sport Journal in 2008 reporting that “music has the potential to elicit a small but significant effect on performance.”

Karageorghis notes five key ways music helps: “disassociation, arousal regulation, synchronization, acquisition of motor skills, and attainment of flow.”

That is to say, music is distracting enough to make running feel 10% less hard, especially on a treadmill.

running with music
Evidence of running with music in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Hey, that's a hard marathon! I needed all the help I could get.

The right music can pump you up before an event or workout OR calm you down if you’re over-anxious. (Science proves what you already knew.)

Matching the beat of your preferred music to your footfall helps you attain and maintain a specific pace, according to a 2013 Dutch study published in PLOS One, which is why 160-180 BPM (beats per minute) is recommended for fast, hard efforts and 130-150-ish for easy runs.

Spotify has BPM playlists. Podrunner offers super-specific 45-minute-plus lyric-free electronic dance music from 120 to 185 BPM, as well as varied workouts. Techno doesn’t turn me on, but I’ve used Podrunner’s mixes as an effectively mindless way to lock into a pace on tempo runs. It works.

What about the safety issue?

There is no one-size-fits-most answer to that question. It’s a personal calculus based on familiarity with your surrounding environment multiplied by common sense. A common recommendation is to run with just one earbud so you can “hear” with your other ear. AfterShokz’s “bone conduction” headphones send music into your brain through your cheekbones, leaving your ears uncovered to hear your surroundings: The new, lightweight AfterShokz Trekz Air has gotten rave reviews.

I do confess that runners with earbuds in the New York City marathon annoy me. The race is SO crowded, and it’s frustrating to try to get around an oblivious earbud-plugged runner weaving in front of you. But then again, pretty much anything in the end of a marathon is annoying when you’re glycogen-depleted and just trying to get one step closer to the finish line: Why are those people cheering me on? SO annoying!

If you DO run with music—always, sometimes, during races—you are in the really good company of marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who has said: “I put together a playlist and listen to it during the run-in. It helps psych me up and reminds me of times in the build-up when I’ve worked really hard, or felt good. With the right music, I do a much harder workout.”

These days I put the headphones in mostly to do solo long runs. The rest of the time? I enjoy the quiet.

Running with music
So pretty! And so quiet! Daufuskie Island, SC, Half Marathon (and marathon and ultra). See you there next year? I won't wear headphones! xoxo

 

HOW ABOUT YOU?
DOES RUNNING WITH MUSIC PUMP YOU UP—OR DO YOU PREFER QUIET?

14 responses to “AMR Aid Station: The Pros + Cons of Running with Music

  1. It is very true that “There is no one-size-fits-most answer to that question.”. Though there seems to be no downside of listening to music on a treadmill.
    Here are a few running songs of all times, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, Thunderstruck by AC/DC
    Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen…

  2. When I’m out for my solo practice runs I mostly have podcasts or tunes in my ears….surprisingly I have run one or more half marathons with my headphones around my neck. The vibe of the crowd or the music on course was enough to keep me powering on.

  3. I almost always run early in the morning, in the dark, and don’t listen to music then. I love the feeling of being outside, in solitude with the world as it wakes up. On a treadmill, though, I need LOTS of LOUD music, plus maybe the TV, plus lots of intervals – basically any and all distraction possible!

  4. I run with my dogs so I run without music. I want to hear the little clicketly clack beside me (one runs off-lead) so I know they are there. I also want to hear others when they are trying to pass. Once when I was running, a lady’s dog ran with me for 1/2 mile before she realized the dog was gone! (The dog saw me behind them and doubled back to me.) I yelled and yelled and finally, when I caught up, told her she might want to lose the buds or at least turn them down!

  5. I did a challenge in the fall where you run without listening to anything and see how it goes and I liked it! Since then, when not with a running buddy, I enjoy the solitude. I also run early mornings so like being more alert to what is around me.

  6. Tish— I got married at that lighthouse in the picture! My parents used to live on Daufuskie Island, and I’ve done many long runs around the island. Sadly, my folks moved away three years ago, so we haven’t been back there lately. I can’t believe Daufuskie now has a marathon!

  7. I prefer podcasts when I’m training. But during races I prefer to go without because I don’t want to distracted by one more thing. I have witnessed and experienced music failing to play, earbuds falling out etc and it’s much easier not worrying about anything but my run!

  8. I listen to podcasts for every runner except for when training with a partner or my team (or on the treadmill when I turn to Netflix!). But for races, I sometimes like to pull out music. I usually use music for 5k and 10k races where I need to run hard – it motivates me. I’ve only used music for one of my marathons, because it was a smaller race, and I knew I would be alone. But I had technical issues for the last 10 and ran those without tunes, and I think it was for the best!

  9. I mainly listen to podcasts on EE runs(AMR and Armchair Experts are favs!). On harder workouts or in races I really need that extra boost of a carefully calibrated playlist. But…I do run with just one earbud in so I’m aware of what’s going on and can respond to others and my environment.

  10. I listen to podcasts on my training runs. I play it by ear (so to speak) on race day. I have a running playlist full of songs that make me want to dance but I see what the vibe is from the race itself before deciding. Either way, I wear AfterShokz and am always prepared to chat with fellow runners!

  11. If I am running with my she-pack then no headphones are needed. The constant conversation keeps me going. But if I am running alone then a certain podcast with a couple of chatty ladies keeps me going!

  12. Since I started heart rate training, I only listen to podcasts while I run. However, I have a rule that my Monday recovery runs are silent runs – nothing in my ears. It’s definitely a different experience – and I would recommend it on occasion. I also find that I prefer to race without any music or podcasts.

  13. I can go either way. I’ve been running more without music-my next race (Ironman Boulder) absolutely forbids it so getting used to using my own thoughts to get me through. i ran my first marathon without music-too much to see in the Chicago Marathon! I like podcasts too-more for the company and something interesting to think about.

  14. Pumps me up!! There’s nothing like listening to Lady Gaga or 90s novelty rap to get you going! And I have the trex aftershocks and I LOVE them!!!

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