Almost exactly two years ago, I ran my first marathon and I crushed those 26.2 miles without listening to anything. That’s right, no headphones, no podcast, no guided meditation, and not even any Drake music (I know, crazy right!?)
Although I’m not running 20 miles a week anymore, I’ve tried to keep up with running on a somewhat consistent basis. Typically, I don’t listen to any music when I run — an unpopular choice, I realize — but for some reason, I had the urge to pop some headphones in this week for a 3 mile run.
In doing this, I noticed some benefits as well as some challenges that this music to my ears created for me. Seeing as how most of the people I’ve talked to about this topic find even the idea of running without headphones appalling, I decided to break down some pros and cons that I’ve noticed throughout my years as a runner.
My Background as a Runner
I was never really into running until my junior year of high school. A friend of mine was trying out for soccer and track and convinced me to join her. Shout out to any soccer players out there — that game is not easy. What I learned from trying out for both sports was that, physically I was fit enough to do both and possibly even a natural when it came to running. But I was wholeheartedly incapable of kicking a ball in any such way.
So I started my running career on my high school’s varsity track team, meaning I never ran with headphones in. Basically, I learned to run without music, so I never really knew anything but.
Back then, my furthest distance was a 6 mile run that we did once during practice. Other than that, my main event was the one mile run.
After high school, I would go on periodic runs but never pushed further than a mile or two. I wasn’t very motivated as a runner so I started listening to music to hype me up.
On Thanksgiving of 2016, I ran my first 5k. This run reminded me how much I loved the environment of a race and motivated me to sign up for another race.. and another and another. About a year later, I tackled my first 10k and at the time this felt like a huge feat.
Training for my 10k involved a 6 mile run every Sunday and these consistent 6 mile runs were a big deal for me. In order to get started with them, I would listen to music or a guided meditation. But somewhere along the way of training for this race, I finally popped those suckers out of my ears and remembered the lightness of running without any wires attached or electronics weighing me down.
Six months after my first 10k, I ran my second 10k.
About 6 months after that, I ran my first half marathon and felt surprisingly good after, so I decided to go for it and sign up for a marathon.
Two years after my marathon, I’m still getting back into the groove of running regularly after becoming a mom and completely falling off of my running routine. I try to tackle one longer run a week. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’m patient with myself and focusing on the little victories.
Running with Headphones
I’ve yet to figure out if running with headphones makes me faster, slower, or neither. I have a hunch that it makes me a bit slower though. Full disclosure, I don’t wear AirPods, so I’m still dealing with the archaic issue of wires attached. Don’t attack me though! I’ve tried wireless headphones in the past and they still weren’t cutting it for me.
Con: My phone weighs me down
I don’t feel like I know what to do with my phone while I run. Again, I haven’t tried the arm strap thing, which I’m sure makes life easier but I still just feel weighted down by my phone. Often, I resort to shoving it in my sports bra or waste band and I can’t get past the feeling of it bouncing around the whole time.
I dream about owning one of those old iPod shuffles that clips to you, but I don’t think they exist anymore.
Pro: Music hypes me up
Back to the question of whether music speeds me up or slows me down, when I started my run this week with music playing in the background I was running super fast. It definitely creates a whole vibe when you’ve got music playing in the background and I’m here for it, but I do feel like it causes me to go out super fast initially. This tires me out early on and makes it harder to run at a steady pace.
Con: I can’t hear myself breathe
One of the most important aspects of long distance running is focusing on the breath. Focusing on my breath helps me go into a meditative state (more on that later), causing me to let go completely. My mind goes blank and I’m almost unaware of how far I’m running or any discomforts that my body is feeling.
Con: It messes up my posture
Having a phone the size of a book shoved in my bra causes me to hunch my shoulders forward while I run and one of the other most important aspects of long distance running is posture. I’ve realized that when my shoulders are relaxed back while I run I can take deeper breaths. It makes sense when you think about it. Having your shoulders relaxed back helps your lungs open up even further when you breathe, ensuring deeper breaths. When you take deep breaths during a run you’re oxygenating your whole body, including the muscles in your legs.
Running without Headphones
Pro: Better breathing
I’m kind of being redundant here but when I don’t have Today’s Rap Hits blaring in my ears I can hear myself breathing. This helps me focus on my breath, breathe more steadily, and…
Pro: I go into a meditative state
Again, being a bit redundant. But, one of the reasons I fell in love with running is the benefits it has for my mental health. When I can hear myself think during my run, eventually my mind goes quiet. I fall into a meditative state and I feel so at ease. Often, my thoughts dissipate, I have some revelations, and I tend to come up with writing ideas (I wrote this entire blog post within minutes after returning from a run).
Also in this meditative state, I speak to God and there have been a few times where I’ve felt Him speak back. With headphones in, this aspect of running just doesn’t exist.
Pro: I run at a steadier pace
I run at a steadier pace when I don’t have headphones in because I’m more aware of my pace and my breath. Also, without the music hyping me up, I’m less likely to go super fast, then slow when my energy runs out.
Pro: You’re more aware of your surroundings
This kind of goes without saying, but running without headphones is probably a bit safer given your heightened awareness of your surroundings.
Overall, I run better when I don’t have headphones in but on occasion, its nice to hype myself up a bit and jam out to some of my favorite music while I wrack up the miles. In my opinion, if you’re trying to improve your ability as a runner, cut the wires and give music-free running a try. Just hype yourself up with the music you love before and after your run. You’ll most likely run better, especially if you’re focused on hitting a further distance.