Bring up the subject of running with music to any group of runners and you’ll likely get opinions that run the gamete. It’s definitely one of those issues that runners feel strongly about—whether pro or con—and it often seems to divide the running community.
When I first started long distance running 10+ years ago, I was a student at West Point. We were not permitted to run outside with headphones, so I got used to running without music. I trained for and ran my first marathon during my senior year—all without music.
Over the years, I began to rely on music more and more. For the last 5-7 years, I have had music for almost all of my runs or races. There are obviously instances where I do not listen to music—mostly when it comes to safety. Anytime I am running on trails, if it’s dark outside, if I’m running with my boys in the stroller or if I’m in an unfamiliar place, I leave the headphones at home. I am definitely more aware of my surroundings when I run music-free and in those instances, safety trumps comfort.
But music slowly went from something that was nice to have and keep me company to something that I was dependent on. Those times where I forgot to charge my iPod or couldn’t find it resulted in moments of panic and I would often postpone my run until it could be found or charged. It became a security blanket that I felt so attached to.
However, about five weeks ago, things began to change. For the first time, the music I was listening to was distracting and I felt I couldn’t concentrate during a tough interval workout. I decided to turn the music off and continue on with the workout. The following weekend was my first 5K and I opted to skip the music again—it was the first time in years where I didn’t race with music (where it was allowed). In both instances, I found that I really enjoyed the quietness, felt more in-tune with my body and my breathing and was able to focus MUCH more than I have in years. Since then, I have skipped music for all of my workouts and am slowly working on leaving it home for the easy/recovery/long runs.
But I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for running with music. I leave it up to the runners I coach, including my sister, the cadet participating in the 26 Strong program with me, as to whether or not they want to use music when they run/race. You should do what works best for you and helps you perform your best in training and on race day.
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.