Monday, February 24, 2014

Should You Listen to Music When You Run?


Okay, I suppose it’s a little more complicated than that.

I should start by clarifying that I’m going to be talking about distance running here, not other types of running. If you’re just running for a few minutes to get your heart rate up, listening to music probably isn’t that big of a deal.

But as a distance runner, the issue of music was a HUGE focus of mine when I started out. I read tons of debates online between runners discussing its importance. (Side-note: reading internet arguments is not a productive use of anyone’s time.) I’ll try briefly to outline the two sides here. I should note that I have at separate times been a staunch supporter of both these arguments.

Pro-music: Music helps to motivate me! The tempo helps me pace myself, and I enjoy running more when it has a soundtrack. Also whatever, I’ll do what I want!

Pictured: me, arguing this side

Anti-music: Music is distracting and dangerous! You aren’t as aware of what is around you, which makes you more vulnerable, and you can’t pay attention to your body when you can’t hear yourself run. TRUE RUNNERS don’t need music to stay motivated! Also whatever, I’ll do what I want!

Okay, I might have this attitude kind of a lot.

To put this on my running timeline: I started out listening to music and loved it, but then my headphones broke and I started running without music and loved it. So my advice will be pretty strongly colored by this experience, but I think it’s pretty valid.

Music can be a nice set of training wheels when you start distance running. One of the big obstacles when I started was self-perception; I just felt silly exercising. I’ve talked about this before. But having the right music pumping in your ears can transform you from struggling and embarrassed to LITERALLY Batman.

How you will feel finishing a run after listening to The Dark Knight soundtrack

Or you can listen to something fast and energetic. And I’d just like to take this moment to thank Katy Perry and Firework for supporting me through those first few runs.

And guys, this is the least embarrassing of my music choices.

But this is a double-edged sword; if you listen to something energetic, or anything that takes you out of the run, you can fail to heed your body’s signals. Yes, Eye of the Tiger will improve your pace for a solid, heart-pounding four minutes, but you might spend too much energy without realizing it. And distance running is all about pacing yourself.

So no matter how attached you get to your music, I strongly suggest that, for at least one run, you take out the headphones and see what you notice. Because there are things about your body to listen to that music covers up.

First, you need to hear your footfalls. Not only is it important to hear your feet to maintain a steady pace, but you also need to hear how loudly your feet are hitting the ground, because they shouldn’t be hitting it that hard. Your feet should land underneath you as you run. If they’re hitting loudly, they’re probably landing in front of you, and you’re losing momentum with every step.

Second, and this is less tangible: you need to hear yourself and the world around you.

In a way, you need to paint with all the colors of the wind. 

Part of why I, and I suspect others, got so attached to music is because it allowed me to forget I was running. Much like running on a treadmill, this is counterintuitive. You have to face exercise without any ornamentation to learn to love it. It’s so much easier to make exercise a habit if you acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Otherwise, your relationship with running is built on a lie. Here's a new, terrible metaphor. Music while running is like maintaining a relationship with someone purely through their Facebook timeline. People don’t put the bad parts on Facebook, but the bad parts are what create deep connection. You would never really know the person if you only connected with them that superficially. You need to face the bad runs, the hard runs, the great runs, all of it, in order to truly love the sport.

So let’s figure out a TL;DR version. If you’re starting out running, consider music like training wheels: useful, but only at the beginning. Getting rid of the music is a great way to better understand and appreciate distance running. So consider it if you ever need extra motivation.

Or do what you want. I couldn't blame you.

No comments:

Post a Comment