Running With Headphones:

I’m a bit of a music snob. When the mp3 player came out I never thought it would catch on. “Lossless audio compression my ass”, I used to say. But as headphones got worse and worse and standards became lower and lower (to the point where listening to music through a mobile phone speaker on a bus has become acceptable) I became more and more wrong. I have never bought an iPod. I refuse to pay money to a company that has made billions out of selling mp3 players but never put any of that money into improving the sound quality and upgrading the standard headphones that come with them. I told you I was a snob.

I own a Zune and listen to music regularly while on my training runs. Like many others, I have an armband (a stretchy one made by Nike) that carries my mp3 player. Now there are a couple of questions that I’ll try to answer in this post. Firstly, is listening to music good running decorum? Secondly, if you do listen to music while running, what type of music do you listen to?

Firstly:
This is actually a widely debated subject in the running world. There are hundreds of different pros and cons of listening to music on the go. I’ve listed just a few here and you can make up your own mind.

Pros: –

  • Motivation
    Runs can be long and, depending on where you run, a little boring.
  • Keeping rhythm
    Some people base their foot strokes on the tempo of the beat they’re listening to. This is a very good method of keeping to a strict pace.
  • 2 birds with 1 stone
    It doesn’t have to be music you’re listening to. You could be catching up with the week’s news, listening to a football match or learning another language while reaping the rewards of a running session.
  • More energy
    There’s nothing more uplifting than hearing your favourtie tune and that can reflect dramatically in your running.

Cons: –

  • It’s unsafe
    Being unable to hear traffic, other runners or strangers in the dark is a serious disadvantage.
  • Missing out on your running community
    If you live in London then this won’t apply to you (because nobody talks to anyone else down here) but keeping your headphones in alienates you from fellow runners.
  • Timing
    For those that have a good sense of rhythm listening to music can throw you off your stride or affect your breathing patterns.

Here’s where I stand. I completely agree with the timing disadvantage. One thing I’ve noticed when I’ve run without headphones is that I can regulate my breathing by counting how many steps I’m taking. At the beginning of a run I’ll breathe in for 3 steps and out for 3 steps. As the run progresses and the intensity increases I’ll shorten that to 2 steps. This has meant that I’ve not over-done it in the early stages and achieved a good overall time. If I’m listening to music that goes out the window. I can play the drums (like a god) and the music I’m listening to really affects my rhythm and ultimately my breathing. Working hard at uni

Running with headphones in can be unsafe but only if you have the spacial awareness of Stevie Wonder. Just turn the volume down a little bit and if there is someone lurking in the dark waiting to grab you then chances are you can run faster than them anyway! The most danger I’ve ever been in from running with headphones in was when I was on a treadmill and caught the headphone cable with my arm. It pulled my mp3 player from the little holder in front of me and I nearly broke my neck trying to jump over it as it shot out the back of the treadmill, smashing into it’s component parts. Thank god for shock testing.

I love getting away from it all and blasting out some tunes on my training runs but I completely disagree with listening to music during an actual race. This was actually banned in some races in the US, albeit for the wrong reasons. I will definitely not be sporting an mp3 player during the London Marathon. If half-a-million people can take the time to come out and give their support then I’ll damn well listen to them. Heck, there may even be a bit of music as you go round. During the BUPA London 10k there were some awesome Banghra drummers at 3k and 7k, at the Finsbury Cancer Research 10k there were 2 guys with a digery do and a djembe and at the Nike Human Race there was a band playing at 2k (they sucked but that’s not the point). But to not give the supporters the courtesy of your attention is bad form.

Secondly:
I won’t spend too long on this because I’ve rambled on for too long but which songs you choose while training is crucial. If you haven’t heard of Nike+ then it’s basically a chip that you place in your shoe that syncs with your mp3 player. You can set it to play your ‘power song’ when you reach a certain time/distance to give you that extra boost to complete your training (along with a load of other nifty features). Unfortunately it only works with iPods (damn me and my laurels!). The reason I’ve plugged Nike+ so hard is because of their current top-10 list of power songs (some inspiration for your playlists here) that consist of songs like ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (awesome) and ‘Firestarter’.

I’m not going to embarrass myself too much by revealing my playlist choices as my music taste is somewhat eclectic (stretching to anything from Simply Red to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) but I do have one suggestion. James Bond theme tunes. When Tina Turner broke into the bridge in ‘Goldeneye‘ during my run back from Canary Wharf I’ve never run with more determination or vigour…

Enjoyed this? Check out the Headphones for Runners reviews.

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3 Responses to “Running With Headphones:”

  • Phil:

    I always find a bit of Queen is good accompanyment when you need a boost – Don’t Stop Me Now is particularly encouraging, though overly optimistic at times!

  • kirstie:

    2 things:

    1 – you’re right about nobody talking to you in london. on saturday i ran round greenwich park and blackheath smiling (although in the later stages, possibly grimacing) at people i passed. how many people smiled back? None. Not a single one. Big difference from Scotland…

    2 – i always run with my ipod and recently invested in the nike+ sports kit. it’s fantastic, the best thing i have spent my money on in a long time. i highly recommend it!

  • Ian:

    I’ve been reading your blogs and they’re excellent!

    An alternative to the Nike+ kit is the miCoach which also has a heart rate monitor and (as with Nike+)a stride sensor; the diff being that you can attach it to any type of trainer.

    The miCoach system is better then the Nike+ one as well far more detailed (if you’re after a more comprehensive training system).It actually creates your training schedule for you (based on an initial training run) and is therefore geared towards the individual, as opposed to regular training plans.

    The one drawback is that the unit capturing the information is actually a phone (albeit an mp3 player as well) and can feel a little cumbersum on the arm.

    For me though it has helped immensely with my motivation whilst out on the long runs; I used to go off too fast and the system has helped me be more sensible when running allowing me to run further and faster then ever before. The Nike + is ok; but give me the miCoach any day.

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