Dorothy Beal: Working Out With Music

Music can provide motivation. What gets you going on the run?

There are a few hotly debated subjects when it comes to running and the use of music is definitely one of them. When I first started running I felt strongly against the use of music while running but the older I get—and the more I run—the more my views, much like my taste in music, have changed.

There are pros and cons to both sides and I honestly don’t think the answer is black and white! What works for some doesn’t work for others and everyone has their own comfort level as to what they feel is safe and what isn’t.

I’ve run marathons without music and I’ve been happy. I’ve run marathons without music and wished the entire 26.2 miles that I had some of my favorite songs on repeat. I’ve run marathons with music and loved it. I’ve run marathons with music and hated it.

When I started running marathons, music of any kind was against the rules. I’m a stickler for following the rules so if it said NO music, I didn’t run with music. As more and more races began to allow the use of iPods and such, the more I considered running with a little extra motivation in my ears. When you’re tired, your favorite song may just become a lifesaver. It can help get you to the finish line when you thought you were ready to quit. I do believe are very real benefits from music, but I strongly believe it’s important to consider safety first.

As a runner who has had a close run-in with a very angry motorist while running with my three kids, I always err on the side of safety when considering running with music during training runs. This means when I’m running in a place that is secluded that I don’t use music. When I run in the dark, I don’t use music. When I run very early in the morning (4 – 6 AM), I don’t use music. When I run with my children in the running stroller, I won’t use headphones but instead I use the speakers on my phone and place the music in the stroller for all of us to enjoy. This way it’s not loud enough or so distracting that I’m unaware of what’s going on around me. But, I get the benefit of a little extra motivation on those hard stroller runs.

On a treadmill I use music. Always. Even when watching a movie while running on the treadmill I feel that I need music to distract me and help the miles pass. When I’m outside running, I ask myself, “Is it OK if I am distracted or do I need all of my senses fully functioning?” If I feel safe, I use music but I always keep it at a level where I can still hear what is going on around me.

When it comes to what I will recommend to Danielle on race day this December, I will suggest she runs her first marathon without music so she can fully experience all the marathon has to offer. I will also recommend that she does some training without music so she gets used to being alone with her own thoughts and is able to dig deep within herself during the hard moments in the race. For future marathons, if she feels like she could have used it during her first marathon in Honolulu, then I’m all for using it if the race allows!

If you want to see some of my favorite recent songs to run with, check out the July issue of Competitor Magazine. You’ll find suggestions from myself and other runners like Kara Goucher!

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit

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