Becoming a runner: Music or no music?

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When I first started running five months ago, I could run three blocks at a time before I needed to stop and walk (I’m not kidding). At that point, everything needed to be just right — shoes laced, sleeves up, hat on, keys tucked into my pocket. And of course, the music had to be blaring. The right kind of music. Loud, thumping, high-energy music.

Then one day when I was just about to hit the mile-mark, my iPod crashed and I panicked. Fortunately, just the day before, a friend told me that he cannot stand the distraction of music while he runs and that he instead focuses on steadying his breathing so his pace can follow.

I thought he was crazy, but there I was 24 hours later with all of my other running elements in place — except for music. So I gave his method a try. Not only did it work, I cleared my goal of running a mile and felt doubly proud of myself for actually enjoying the silence.

I like knowing that I have and can run without music. However, a brand new player and a slew of homemade playlists have helped me surpass many more goals in the months since I ran to the tune of my own breath.

On the cusp of five miles at a time, I am on the treadmill for much longer periods of time. My energy rises and falls, my pace changes, and my motivation can take a turn over the course of the hour I’m warming up, running, and cooling down. I love it that an M.I.A. or Santigold or Kid Sister song can crank my pace up a notch, that Ke$ha cues me to hit the hills setting, and that a little John Legend helps me ease up before my final push. I’m unashamed (sort of) that a Miley Cyrus or Beyonce or Owl City pop song pulls me out of feeling like I just cannot go on any longer. I look forward to feeling like a warrior when I’m lip-synching every single raunchy lyric along with Eminem or Amanda Blank.

Working out is my time for many reasons — stress relief, tending to my own body, centering on goals that are mine alone.  But it is also one of very few opportunities I have to get completely caught up in my own music (even if that includes “Party in the USA”…shhhh).

Other runners like my friend are very happy to go music-free when they are hitting the path or streets or treadmill. Me? Today, I can deal with my sleeves falling and forgetting my hat. But I still need my music. If my iPod runs out of juice or I’m running with a friend or some other unforeseen exercise event occurs, I know I can roll with it. But as long as it’s going as planned, I am amping up my training, and my new music player plays nicely, I will keep turning up the volume.

A Review by Editor:

I am an avid runner, who runs 6-10 miles a day. I NEVER EVER wear a iPod during an outside run because of how unaware it renders the person who is wearing it. In the past 3 years I have seen a woman hit by a truck that she did not hear coming because she was wearing headphones, (no charges were filed against the driver) and have twice been “hit” by women who were running while wearing headphones. One ran straight into me while I stood stock still in the middle of the sidewalk, unsure of which way to go to avoid her, and I was running a few feet behind one woman, getting ready to pass her when she decided to turn around.

She was so startled – what if I had been someone less well intentioned? She would never have heard me behind her and would have been an easy target for any predator. I volunteer for a group that puts on races and we have banned headphones because we have had so many issues with racers going way off course because they cannot hear the directions that are being shouted to them, and with racers dangerously veering into traffic on courses that are not completely closed. Many people are livid about the ban, but then try to blame us when they get hurt or lost because they were wearing headphones. I feel very strongly that headphones should not be worn when running outside!

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