Music & Marathons: Is It Worth the Risk?

Our society is completely plugged in these days. One of the big "hot debates" in the running community is whether or not runners should run with ear buds, listening to music as they cover their miles.

September 3, 2015
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Our society is completely plugged in these days. From cell phones, to laptops, to tablets, to TV’s…it seems we cannot function for long periods of time without some sort of electronic distraction. One of the big “hot debates” in the running community is whether or not runners should run with ear buds, listening to music as they cover their miles.

Running purists will say that the musical distraction completely takes away from the enjoyment of running.

Runners who really want to enjoy the sport, but secretly still hate it at the same time, will tell you they absolutely need the distraction in order to keep going.

And then there are the rest of us, who are caught somewhere in between. Those of use who love to hear the spring birds chirping or to have a few quite minutes away from the kids/work/life…yet can’t last five minutes on a treadmill without some tunes.

You may be reading this and wondering to yourself “well, what difference does it make anyway? If you want to listen to music, listen to it; if you don’t, then don’t.” And you would be correct, if it weren’t for one huge factor:

Safety.

In fact, safety is such a concern when it comes to running with music, that countless race directors have actually started banning the use of ear buds in their races. They take the safety concern so seriously that often times runners spied wearing ear buds on the course will either be pulled from the race or disqualified.

So what’s the big safety deal?

For starters, the list of things you might not be able to hear while plugged into your tunes is long: traffic, dogs, trains, someone approaching from behind, emergency personnel, bicycles, skateboards, the rumble of an approaching storm, sirens…you get the idea. Being plugged in makes you completely oblivious to your surroundings, which could result in injury to yourself and others. In a race situation, you might not hear someone yelling “on your left” as they try to pass by you, or EMT’s or other officials trying to get through on a bicycle to an emergency. Again, this might not only cause or contribute to injury, but it might really anger some of your fellow runners.

Don’t be that guy (or girl).

Now, on the other hand, there are definitely some compelling arguments as to why music might not be so bad after all.

Tunes can drown out the sound of your own breathing, something many runners will cite as a major distraction when they are trying to push themselves.

Music might help you pass the time while putting in a number of miles on the often boring treadmill.

Motivational lyrics might help you push a little further than you might have thought you were capable of.

So, what is a music loving runner to do?

1) Learn to run WITHOUT your music, even if only for some of your training runs This will teach you to be independent of the music, and allow you to still have the mental fortitude to push through tough miles and finish a race if ear buds are not allowed. Or even if your iPod battery dies.

2) If you INSIST on running with ear buds, practice running with only one bud in, and the music turned to a low-moderate level. Make sure you are able to hear and stay aware of your surroundings.

3) If the race rules say no ear buds, then be respectful of your fellow runners and the race director…and leave the ear buds at home.

Bottom line, safety truly is the most important factor in the “to wear ear buds or not to wear ear buds” argument. Think about the big picture before deciding if ear buds are worth the risk for each particular run or race. I think we can all agree that a boring, quiet run is still better than no run at all.

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