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On Running Without Music

March 6, 2012

First off, when I checked the temp on my phone this morning before I went running, it was 25 degrees. So I had to wear tights. Boo. At least it was a lovely run on a beautiful morning.

I don’t run with music. Ever. Well, at least not in the past two years. I used to be a devotee of always running with music. I’d make the best playlists and blast them into my ears to drown out my footsteps and distract me from my run. I love music and listening to my ipod while running was a time for me to enjoy different bands and jam out. I had my ipod on my arm during every single race, every single run, every single track workout. It made me pretty anti-social at all of these, and kept me in my own world during running. I always wanted to become a runner who didn’t run with music, but didn’t think I had the mental power to run without the constant distraction that was my music.

Then, two things happened. First, I did a Ragnar relay in May of 2010 and didn’t feel comfortable running with music. The course was on open roads, and for my own safety I wanted to be as aware as possible of any traffic. Therefore, for my three runs, I ran sans ipod. I was nervous it was going to be difficult completing my runs that way, but it really wasn’t. I got to enjoy the changing scenery and the cheers of my teammates and other runners. I mean, I could actually hear what people were saying to me while I was running! But, my longest run during the relay was about 6.5 miles, and I couldn’t imagine myself running anything longer without music, and I was planning on continuing longer runs with my ipod.

The second thing was the 2010 Brooklyn Half in two weeks later. I had planned on starting the race without music and turning it on after the first mile or so. I had it strapped to my arm with my headphones wrapped around my sports bra strap—a good look for everyone. Shortly after the start, however, Amy came up behind me and started chatting and running with me. She kept with me for the entire race, even though I tried to get her to go ahead. I still feel bad about the slow race I was having that day and the fact that I held her back. But, I was having such a nice time talking with her, that although I kept wanting to, I never did put my headphones in and listened to music. Running that entire 13.1 miles with Amy by my side essentially forced me out of my running-with-music habit, and made me realize I wouldn’t go crazy running with just the thoughts in my head.

And today…I would never go back. Running without music has made me a better runner. I now listen to my breath, which should be hard if I’m doing speedwork, or quiet and slow on a long run. I was running with a coach once last year, and he commented how I was breathing really loudly, and that if I focused on quieting my breath, I would find my running easier, which I did and do. Running with music I would have never been able to hear the audibility of my breath and learn to breathe in a calmer manner. I can listen to my footsteps. I can hear if they’re plodding and heavy or light and peaceful. I can hear how my steps change when I switch from the roads to the trails. Running without music helped me switch from a heel-plant to a midfoot-plant, because I was able to really use my mind to focus on where my foot was hitting the ground. It also made me able to focus on improving my posture while running, standing up straighter and relaxing my shoulders. When running with music, you often become too involved with what you’re listening to, and get distracted from what your body should be doing and can tense up all over. Running without music has improved my ability to keep a steady pace. I can tell when my body is moving fast and when it’s moving slow better, and I am much better at keeping even paces, when I used to fluctuate significantly over a single mile. Running without music is more of a release than it used to be. I use my runs to think through my problems, figure out my schedule, contemplate difficulties that are going in my life, and work out my constant stress.

Most of all, running without music has made me mentally stronger when I run. I don’t have the constant distraction of music, and if I am having a few difficult miles, I have to find an inner source of energy and strength to keep going. I am able to overcome tough spots in races easier than I used to, and I feel good knowing that I did that without the crutch of my ipod.

I don’t want this to be taken jab at everyone who does run with music, because I know it does have it’s benefits, and running with music is so fun. But, for me personally, it has changed my running, totally for the better. So, if you run with music, try a run or two without. It might just help your run.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. btam permalink
    March 12, 2012 8:47 pm

    Ragnar – was that like 10 years ago? And when did you become a midfoot-plant-er? I’m forever heel-strike-r.

    • Betsy permalink*
      March 12, 2012 8:49 pm

      So long ago, right? Sad. I want to do another one. Can you pay for my entry? We can do an ultra!

      I transitioned over the past year. Took a long time, but I am a solid mid/fore-footer now. Heel striking feels weird.

  2. March 21, 2012 12:39 pm

    When I’m running outside, I also love listening to my footsteps and breath, and just enjoying what’s going on around me. It’s also a safety thing, about being aware of my surroundings — here in Germany you’re likely to get run over by a speeding bicycle if you’re not paying attention. 🙂

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