To run with music, or not: it’s one of those highly personal preferences. For me, it’s been a transformation from doing every run to a playlist, to now, mostly going without. Though, I never say never. There are certain times I’ll plug in to some of my favorite songs on the run.
There are several reasons why I weaned myself off running with music. First and foremost is safety! I live and run in Manhattan. Often times, I run alone, fitting my workouts in at random hours between personal and work obligations. Whether I’m running in Central Park, along the streets or over New York City’s various bridges, I like to have all my senses about me. Between cars, cyclists, and people, I need to know if someone is nearby, trailing from behind or turning a corner. There have been enough times I’ve nearly been struck by vehicles or bikes when I’ve had the right of way. The best way I can be alert and prepared is to be able to hear what’s around me.
Beyond the practical world of safety, the sound of my footfall against the ground and the sound of my breathing provide a lot of insight about how I’m feeling on a run. Long distance runners, by nature, are trained to push past discomfort and fatigue. The way I stay on top of keeping my easy and recovery runs exactly that—easy—is by listening. When I’m tired, my feet hit the ground heavier than usual. When I’m pushing too hard, my breathing becomes heavy and labored. These are sounds I’d be too distracted to hear with music.
My favorite reason for going without music, however, is the alluring, meditative rhythm of my feet hitting the gravel on the trails. With life as hectic as it is, I enjoy reserving my runs for my thoughts. The long run is a great time to sort through things weighing on my mind, or for getting lost in beautiful moments. I’ve run through some very serious life changes; and I’ve come to terms with many of them while logging thousands of miles on the run. Ultimately, even if I don’t have much on my mind, I’m entertained enough by people watching as I tick off my miles. For me, I often find music more of an intrusion than a welcome diversion.
So when do I listen to music while working out? When I’m in a safe environment like the gym or the physical therapy clinic, running on a treadmill. It’s then I’ll treat myself to a music break while running. If I’m going to run for an hour or more staring at the wall, I feel a little music can help pass the time.
On rare occasions, I’ve made an exception on the track, picking some music that motivates me to run fast. I don’t do this all the time, but once every few months or so. It’s usually a judgment call if it will help me knock out the workout closer to plan. If I’ve successfully pushed myself through enough challenging workouts to benefit myself physically and mentally, then I’ll have earned the rare speed session with music.
My advice to anyone training for long distances is: if you feel you’re being responsible running with music, if you’re being safe, if you’re tuned into the feedback from your body, then by all means enjoy it. However, don’t discount the benefits and allure of the unplugged run. You may be surprised how wonderful a quiet run can be!