5 Reasons to Turn off the Music

 To run with or without music? That is the question runners have been debating since the dawn of the walkman. You probably won’t be surprised to know that I am firmly in the anti-music camp for the most part. But this post isn’t about trying to convince you why I’m right because let’s face it, of course I am!

I’m kidding! No, this post is about sharing my observations about why if you run with music, you might be missing out on something great, underperforming or putting yourself in harm’s way.

Before I get into that, I do have an exception to my no music rule. I do run with my iPod on the treadmill, but not all the time. My latest music obsession is DJ Scene podcasts–they are INCREDIBLE for those treadmill runs when the internal motivation is lacking for the day! About half the time I don’t listen to anything on the treadmill, preferring to listen to the gym sounds or zone out deep in thought instead. (See, I am so hardcore that I can run on a treadmill at the YMCA with no entertainment other than the old guy walking 2 miles per hour on the treadmill in front of me!) But I never ever run outside with music.

My no-music tribe must be a small minority because every time I run at the park or go to a race I am surrounded by a sea of people tuning out the world. As I listen to birds tweet (my kids whining) or the rhythm of my stride most others are listening to their latest iTunes download. There’s nothing wrong with that, but perhaps you music-lovers might consider these 5 reasons to go music-less on your outside runs.

1. You’ll Miss the Owl Hoots or the Stream Trickle: So many times on my runs I’ve heard something amazing. When I run up the gigantic hill from my house to the park I love to hear the trickling stream that runs right along the road. I love music, but the sounds of nature are so much more delightful.  This is especially true when they’re a little unexpected, like the turkey I heard gobbling before I saw it dart across the road one morning. I never would have had that experience if I was jamming to DJ Scene.

I love the sound of this little stream. It relaxes me as I huff and puff half-asleep up the mountain.

2. You Won’t Be Able to Hear Me Cheer for You: One thing I love to do is to go back out after I finish a race and cool down back along the course. Sometimes I will see someone trying to finish strong and will run with them the last half mile and try to help them reach their goal. So often I am about to cheer for someone and then notice the headphones and don’t bother. Sure, maybe you don’t care if I cheer for you. That’s ok. I’m not sure I’d like me cheering for me at the end of some races either! But if you might like to hear cheers from me, the spectators or your fellow competitors, ditch the music at the next race.

A megaphone vector image created using Inkscape
If you keep coming to races with your iPod, I’ll just bring one of these and make sure you hear me! Image via Wikipedia.

3. You Won’t Be Able to Hear Me if I’m Announcing I’m Passing You with My Gigantic Stroller: One time I was running at my local park. I was pushing my stroller and I announced I was passing a lady. I didn’t see the tiny earbuds in her ears. As I was passing she turned and looked at me shocked and yelled at me for not announcing I was passing. I totally scared her because she did not hear me coming up behind her or announcing I was passing. She’s lucky she stayed on one side of the path or she would have collided with my gigantic stroller and three people!

This is my stroller. It’s rather large. Image via www.bobgear.com.

4. The Music Will Drown out Your Mantra: If you’ve been following this blog for a while you know how important I think mental training is. I don’t think you can run your best if you’re distracted. Sure, sometimes I have a killer tempo on the treadmill because I get so into my podcast, but other times I have to turn it off because I can’t focus and get the job done. It depends on the day. More often than not I have a hard time running the paces I’m supposed to be running while listening to music and I can’t practice my mental training exercises. I can’t do my counting or dig out my mantras that are buried under all the sensory overload.

I suspect Ralph here is not practicing his mantras. Image via www.examiner.com

5. You Could Die: DIE! I tell you! Ok. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people running on major roads in dark clothes going with the flow of traffic at dusk with headphones on. HELLO! Or I’ve seen people running alone on isolated park trails while listening to music. Sure, the likelihood of something happening is slim, but why take that chance? Music while running on busy city streets or country roads or in isolated areas is just dangerous. When I run on the roads near my house there are lots of twists and turns and rolling hills and the only way I know a car is coming is if I hear it. It scares me just thinking about taking away that sense.

Movement within a roundabout in a country wher...
Not a good place to run with headphones! Image via Wikipedia.

Yeah, I know I’m  a fuddy-duddy.  I guess it’s the mom in me talking.

Are you a run-with-music person or a run-without-music person?

This post was originally published way back on April 6, 2012.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Most of the time, I run without. I’ll sometimes run outside with them for a long run or easy run but usually if I do, it’s on the treadmill like you mentioned. I only tried running a race with the headphones once just to experiment and it was actually a huge distraction and definitely made it hard to focus. Although I did run that 22:04 PR, ha. Sadly, when I see headphones, I think not serious about running. But I have read that some pros train with them so it’s probably just a stigma.

  2. I disagree with you but I don’t think you’re wrong. 🙂 I think running with music is an individual thing and unless there is a safety concern (like needing to hear traffic noises or risk of torching your iPod in a lightning storm) then the right decision is what works for the individual.

    I love music and I love running and I love putting them together for my solo runs. For fast runs it helps me stay motivated. For easy runs I will often use my iPod to listen to podcasts.

  3. I saw a collision between a wheelchair racer and a runner at the Cleveland Marathon. People were screaming at the runner to step aside, but he couldn’t hear them. At another marathon my friend Liz was in 2nd place with a mile to go and the lead runner took a wrong turn and could not hear the volunteers yelling at her. She lost the race. I think that llistening to music is great if you double your awareness of your surroundings, but what usually happens is just the opposite which increases your chances of something bad happening. It’s just not worth it. Plus, most serious runners I know are so focused on form, pace, stride, and speed that music tends to interfere with all of that.

  4. What about non-music?

    I’m a podcast listener (nerd). I like running without phones but if I’m feeling like I want a deeper escape or if my podcasts are just really backed up I’ll crank up RadioLab or The Moth while I run around Brooklyn…

  5. I’m not fast, but I don’t run with music, for the reasons you list. On my last run, I heard the wild turkey roosting in a treetop before I saw it. In the last week, I’ve also heard woodpeckers and loons, as well as bazillions of songbirds. Wouldn’t want to miss that!

    I ran a 10 mile race a couple weeks ago. The 5K racers started 15 min later and the fast ones were catching up to us by mile 2.5 or so. I watched two earbudded runners nearly get run down by the lead cycle and the fast 5Kers despite the lead cyclist (and quite a few runners) yelling at them to get out of the way.

  6. I am both. No music for trail runs, pavement runs under ~4 miles, or races, but for longer pavement runs (or, god forbid, the treadmill! ahh I hate it!) I usually listen to tunes, or podcasts (RadioLab all the way!! 🙂 I actually am surprised that headphones seem to be so popular at races… I like to soak up the race vibe, and be aware of people around me if it’s a crowded race.

    1. I’m with you, Rachel! My podcasts are really fun to listen to when I’m doing my own thing but at a race I just don’t get it.

      What’s crazy is that I saw a lot of headphones on 50k runners on the trails at Bear Mountain last week! I know 32 miles is a long time to be running, but it still really surprised me since I feel like headphones can be really distracting on trails – to the point of being dangerous!

  7. I’m with you, Rachel! My podcasts are really fun to listen to when I’m doing my own thing but at a race I just don’t get it.

    What’s crazy is that I saw a lot of headphones on 50k runners on the trails at Bear Mountain last week! I know 32 miles is a long time to be running, but it still really surprised me since I feel like headphones can be really distracting on trails – to the point of being dangerous!

  8. I vote with!

    I have a favorite station that I wouldn’t have time to listen too unless I was running. Also when “my song” comes on I get a burst of energy to energize me wherever I am on the said run. I keep it low enough so hear the vehicles pass or the police since I run really close to an expressway.

    I have run without music. When I need to really work something out on the pavement. But I notice those runs take longer because they aren’t regulated by the beat.

    That’s my see….

  9. I most always have music, but there are a lot of times I just have one ear bud in. I don’t want to get hit by a car, or a biker…or anything. Sometimes if I’m at the park doing speed work I put both ears in and enjoy!

  10. On my tempo or speed runs I don’t listen too music – I think it distracts me from focusing on my pace. But long runs? Sometimes the only thing that carries me through at the end is 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman (I listened to it on repeat during my last 2.5 miles yesterday). Music can be a huge motivator for me.

  11. I also think it is highly individual. I run with music when I have to run on the treadmill because it helps me make it through the monotony. It is different when I am running outside though. I don’t need any extra noise. My runs are the time my mind is 100% free and I have often found I do some of my best thinking/processing during runs. So no extra noise needed. That said, I always love hearing music/bands during races as it fires me up. I don’t think there is one right way – I think it is finding your way (provided you are also safe and smart).

  12. I mostly listen to podcast while running or walking or riding my bike. And I wear only one headphone so I believe I can be somewhat aware of my surroundings. If I’m at all worried, I don’t wear headphones at all and either run without music or just let it play quietly without focusing on it through the headphones.

  13. I agree with the no music running too. I have ran with music but not for a long time now. It’s mostly you’re last point. It’s too dangerous. I run a lot of country roads..running facing oncoming traffic..safer. But even with this I do not know how many times i’ve had to stop upon hearing traffic only to find a car coming around a corner tight to the edge. Without hearing it would be a death trap. When I see people running with headphones on, esp on country roads…I honestly think to myself they are either stupid….or have a death wish.