Why You Should Reconsider Running with Music
“It’s frighteningly ironic that while we live in an age of so-called “social” media, the experience of running a road race is not social at all.”
Malcolm Gladwell is a polarizing dude. He’s either a great equalizer, vulgarizing complex scientif ic concepts for the common reader, or he’s a snake oil salesman who is distorting the science for his own gain. His recent pronouncement that runners who listen to music while they run are “soft” is less ambiguous. If you do listen, well, he’s ripping into you, it’s pretty obvious. Gladwell’s way of putting it wasn’t very nice, but I do agree with him that there are more compelling reasons to run without music than with. The reasons to avoid listening to music (or podcasts, except The Shakeout, of course) when you run are social, safety- and training-related.
It’s frighteningly ironic that while we live in an age of so-called “social” media, the experience of running a road race is not social at all. I was standing as a marshal at a half-marathon this summer, cheering people on as they passed – trying to be social – and maybe one out of ten runners heard me say their name (it was helpfully printed on their bib, by a socially-minded race director). The rest had their ears plugged.
Sure they probably “shared” their experience with their friends online, but the actual 21.1k was not social at all. I do about half my runs with other people. It would be rude to listen to music and ignore them. A race can be a slightly different scenario, but considering that the bulk of runners are working towards completing the course and sign up with friends to do it together, why are they listening to music?
It is true, however, that running is used by many as precious alone time. But if you really want to benefit from being alone, you need your mind clear. Some of the many benefits of running can come from being in nature. Blocking out the sounds of the wind in the trees or the song of birds kind of ruins that moment.
Of course, if you are in the city, you should keep your ears free for safety reasons. If you’ve got headphones on, you are less aware of your surroundings, not only aurally, but your focus can be pulled away from the task at hand: running down a sidewalk, trail or road. You may miss a pedestrian, root or a car that appears suddenly in front of you. It’s not worth risking an injury just to get motivated by Bey’s new track. The idea that rocking out to some tunes can help you push farther and faster may be true, but the question you should ask yourself is: do you need to be pushing yourself to run faster on your day-to-day runs? If you’re training for a goal race, you probably have workouts to do, so your easy runs should be easy. You don’t want or need to go faster. Listening to music often actually baits you into screwing up those precious and all-important easy days.
Now during your workouts you might want to push, but you also want to be aware of your splits, and focus on connecting the feelings you have to the pace you are running. This is a vital part of training. More than t he physiolog ical t ransformation that takes place, you are practicing understanding your body and how to get it to do what you want it to do. If you are too busy zoning out to music, you won’t be ready to race. Don’t let music become the emotional crutch you require just to get through a tough workout or race. There may be some rare occasions where running with music is not a bad idea. The treadmill is a good example. There’s no need to worry about safety, there’s usually no one else around (I don’t know too many running groups who meet up for treadmill runs). And since your body runs a bit differently on the treadmill anyway, it probably doesn’t matter if you aren’t listening to your foot falls on the belt.
Other than that, while I wouldn’t call running with music “soft,” I would say it’s potentially dangerous, rude and inefficient. And that’s reason enough not to do it.