Jeanne wrote an article about running with headphones over at Complete Running that I wanted to respond to. She is trying to understand some local running clubs that are mounting campaigns against the process. One of the the things that she brings up is how it relates to deaf runners:

What do deaf runners do? If part of the argument against wearing headphones is that you can’t hear well enough while wearing them — not even with only one earpiece in, turned low — to be cognizant of what’s around you, well, it seems to me that deaf runners face a real dilemma.

Most deaf people are not 100% deaf, and can hear some noises. I have spent a lot of time running with deaf people (I went to RIT, which hosts NTID, the largest technical deaf school in the country) and for the most part, they get on just fine. If they are about to run through an intersection with a car coming, or they keep going after everybody else is turning, you just tap their shoulder or throw rocks at them.* One of my friends, who became deaf towards the end of his time at school, now lives in DC and has had a lot of trouble with not hearing bicyclists coming up behind him. He has started wearing a shirt that says “Deaf Runner” on the back to warn people behind him that he may not respond if they try to let him know they are there.

Still, after reading so much about the perils and the non-professionalism of running with headphones (on one running discussion board, someone asked the cogent question: “In what other sport do you see people training while wearing headphones?”) and the general disdain in which those who do use headphones are held (a runner friend tonight told me he thought it was “assinine” to run with headphones), I figured it was time to give this issue my full attention.

On the topic of headphones and safety: Most people who wear headphones get on just fine. Dawn points out in the comments how it’s like talking on a cell phone in a car; some people can handle it safely, some people can not. However, it is more dangerous to run with headphones than without, just as it is more dangerous to run when you are deaf than when you are not. Adults can make a decision about how much risk that they are willing to take, and as long as the risks that they take are not perilous to me than I do not really care.

When I was in high school, I was hit by a car once. It did have to do with my stupidity, but I was not wearing headphones. My not assessing a risk properly and a woman driving way too fast combined to make both myself and the car less than happy campers. It is not an experience that I really want to repeat. I prefer to leave behind anything that can distract me from knowing at every moment exactly who and what is around me and coming up on me. Some people, though, need to get hit by a car before they think that it can happen to them.

Or does this campaign stem from a general feeling that the wearing of headphones is cheapening the sport? Or that by using headphones you’re just distracting yourself from the very thing you need to be paying attention to — namely, your body and its reactions?

On the topic of headphones distracting you from your body, I’d never really thought of it like that. The reason that I hate listening to music while I work out is because the music influences the workout. Rather than getting my own rhythm, I am moving to the beat of the music. I prefer to set my own pace.

I can certainly see how it does distract you from your body, though. I love communing with my body, examining each and every ache and pain, watching my surroundings, listening to my heart beat. I just really enjoy the act of running. I don’t need or want any distractions.

I’m not simply distracting myself from what I’m putting my body through, I’m also giving myself a little reward by getting to listen to a book, or favorite podcast, or music. This is my time, and I love that I can entertain my mind and push my body at the same time. I hate to give that up.

As for the entertainment value, I value the time to think and prefer not to be distracted. Sometimes when I am hurt and treadmilling it at the gym or if I’m on an exercise bike I will listen to podcasts and such (talking, not music) because I absolutely hate doing anything other than lift weights or swim indoors. I can certainly appreciate the multitasking, however. If people can listen to their music or talk shows without posing a danger or inconvenience to those around them, then I think that they have every right to listen to it and it does not bother me.

If somebody is wearing headphones, though, and blocking a trail or making it more dangerous for myself in some way, then I am going to call them on it.

In the comments, Anne brings up another point that I had never thought of before.

One thing I’ve noticed is how “the iPod” has reduced the amount of socializing during organized races. You simply don’t approach someone wearing earplugs or headphones because there’s the assumption he or she would rather listen to music than you.

I have to admit, while I have seen this at races, I have not really noticed it or been cognizant of it. When I go to a race, I naturally gravitate towards the other people that are there for similar reasons as myself. I am there to compete, and the local racing scene in Southern Maine is pretty good. There are 3 very large local teams that are quite competitive, and a couple of more teams that you see at a lot of the races. I have made some good friends at races, and we all get together and chat before, during, and after the racing. While I do tend to ignore strangers in headphones, there has never been a shortage of new people for me to meet and socialize with.

*Note, I only threw rocks at a deaf teammate once, and that was because we were taking a side trail while he was already 70 feet up the side of the next mountain. He was almost fully deaf, and couldn’t hear us yelling to him; being a much better runner than most of us (at the time) we opted to try getting his attention with the only means we had at our disposable. They were small pebbles thrown just hard enough to reach him or land in front of him so that he’d turn around. I do not actually condone throwing rocks at anybody, whether they can hear them coming or not. It was a good run, though.