AudioIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, March is the month of Music and other audio topics. This week I would like to start us off with my thoughts on running with headphones.

Wearing headphones during a raceThis is not a new topic for me to discuss; last November I responded to a CRN article and shared my thoughts on running with headphones. I thought that it would be a good way to start the month off, though, and I know that Scott does not entirely agree with me so I am looking forward to what he has to say on the matter.

First, I am generally not a fan of running with headphones or having music playing in the background (such as on a track or treadmill.) If I were to do a longish run inside on an indoor track, where I would not have any goals in terms of pace or stride, then I might consider listening to some podcasts. However, the weather has been good enough that I have only been doing short warm ups on the treadmill before lifting weights and speed workouts on the track where I need to be very aware of my surroundings due to the lack of visibility and the speeds at which I am moving. So, I have not experimented with actually using headphones yet this year.

I may not be a fan of wearing headphones when I run (or do any other types of workouts) but I do not have any problems with other people that wear headphones when they work out. Not in principal, at any rate. My general rule of thumb, and this applies to almost anything, is that your right to wear headphones ends where my safety is compromised. People who can run responsibly with headphones make up the vast majority, in my experience. The people who are completely obvlivious of anyone and anything are the people that you remember, though.

Here is a handy table about why or why not you might want to wear headphones when you workout, gleaned from the various arguments that I have seen about using them.

w/o Headphones     w/ Headphones
  1. I do not want distractions.
  2. I do not want outside influences on my pace.
  3. I enjoy having the time to think.
  4. Running without headphones is safer than running with them.
  5. I’m a social animal; I enjoy talking with the people around me when I run.
  6. Having had regular bouts of blindness, I am paranoid about losing my hearing.
  7. I do not want to be oblivious to those around me, causing traffic jams and accidents.
  8. Most races have rules against using headphones on the course.
  1. Some people can’t bring themselves to run without a distraction.
  2. Some people do not have the experience to properly pace themselves.
  3. Some people enjoy not having to think for a little while.
  4. Adults have the right assess how much risk they are willing to take.
  5. I’m sure some of the people around me would wish I’d shut up while they are running.
  6. Some people do not think about going deaf or will run with the volume suitably low.
  7. Some people show a bit of consideration when running with headphones.
  8. Some races do not have a rule against headphones, and most races do not really enforce the rule.

It is a small list, but almost every argument comes down to one of degree. Some people prefer to be social while they run, some prefer solace. Some people can manage to safely navigate busy streets and pedestrian walkways without inconveniencing others or jeapordizing their safety, while others can not.

For myself, I could see an occasion when I might try to further my education by listening to a podcast or a lesson, but the few times that I have run with music makes me less inclined to even try. It is too disruptive to the reason that I run, which is to spend time with myself and explore my limits. Maybe that is the competitive side of me; I do not run to be healthy. That is just a happy side effect.

What other reasons can you think of for running without headphones or running with them? I tried to keep things a little tongue in cheek, since I do not really want to start a fire. There are certainly two ways to look at most of the arguments. What it boils down to in my mind is how much does your need for headphones infringe upon other people? I have seen the argument that people that use headphones are not real runners, but I do not agree with that statement at all. I prefer George Sheehan’s definition of a runner, even though it had nothing to do with people wearing headphones. “The difference between a runner and a jogger is an entry blank.”