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Does Music Increase Or Take Away The Enjoyment Of Running?

By Kim Allison
Posted on 06 Jul, 2015

Does music increase or take away the enjoyment of running?

Many runners get worked up over this question; whether music enhances a run or takes away from it. So I compiled a list of runner opinions on the subject. But before you read on, please keep this in mind. This is a debate, not a decree. There is no right, or wrong, just different preferences.

Running with music is an emotive subject. Some love it, others hate it. But the facts are that running with music helps a majority of runners enjoy their exercise.


So I've come to think that music acts fundamentally as a distraction. And if I hated running, that might make sense – but I don't. I love it. And whether I'm sliding through mud, or sweating as the sun rises, or tearing down a rutted hill, or desperately trying to keep up with the guy at the track who used to leave me for dead, I don't want anything to interfere with that sense of pure pleasure.


So if music can help people to run, or run for longer, then music is contributing to the health of the nation, and that is worth a more than a sneer. Perhaps instead a smile and a cheer.


Music completely ruins my runs... when the shuffle function on my mp3 or the radio decides to play every single slow/annoying/inappropriate song it can, i find myself getting frustrated and distracted from running, and caught up in trying to get back into a rhythm while simultaneously changing tracks/radio stations until a song i like comes on. And by that time i'm normally too annoyed to like anything.


Sure, my interval sessions might suffer because I'm not listening to Rage Against the Machine while I do them, but I'll live with that. Running for me means freedom. It means a clear head. And, over the past few years, it's come to mean a rare and reliable chance for genuine peace and quiet, too.


I very much enjoy being active, but hate the monotony of a daily run, having grown up with competitive team sports. As I run along the Thames, there are no lovely nature sounds to listen to so much as the traffic and general bustle of a city. I need something to distract me from the tedium and keep me motivated.


I've tried running outside with music, but find it too isolating. Like watching a movie without a soundtrack, or rather with a soundtrack from a completely different movie. When I run I often do so to clear my head, and music just interferes with that. And with my usual route being along the Thames in and around Oxford I'd much prefer to hear the natural sounds around me.


I must give a big thank you to the Taiko drummers on the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. At the final hill I picked up their rythm and it carried me over and on to the wall where the cheers of the spectators kept me going. I would have missed all of that if my head had been buried in the noise from a pair of headphones. I don't care what anyone says, when that drum beat kicks in on 'The Rat' my arms go up, my knees lift higher and my pace gets much, much quicker... for about ten to fifteen seconds, then I get tired and regret listening to music.


The few times I've been running on a treadmill in the gym, I'll always have my iPod on, to drown out the awful music they play there, and also to help motivate me to keep going, something I rarely need to do when out in the countryside.


A Runner's World survey of 3,523 runners revealed that 75% of respondents were ‘for running with music’, while other surveys show even higher results.


When you go to a major road race how many people do you see wearing headphones? A few at the back. Do you seriously think that the runners at the sharp end of the race could run faster if they wore headphones listening to music! Do you think there would have been a different result if the survey was undertaken by Athletics Weekly as opposed to Runners' World which is a magazine aimed at ‘new runners’. Music may get rid of the drudgery of hopping up and down on a treadmill, but that's not running and I accept that for new runners it might motivate them to get out there but generally the claims above are bullsh*t.


I'm all in favour of using them in the gym but if you need an external stimulus like music in order to run then you need to try an alternative approach, like new running routes or running with other people.


People used to travel long distances by horse, carriage, by boat or by foot with no entertainment.


Many of us came to running in search of time alone with our bodies and minds, and the chance for a quiet hour or two in which to reflect. Certainly those types of runs should be honored and enjoyed–sans technology–on a regular basis, as needed.


I don't listen to music, because running is a kind of meditative experience for me. My mind is too busy during the workday anyway, so I want to relax a little bit and music would be just another distraction. I have noticed that I run faster and feel stronger, when I don't think much at all. So I usually get into a kind of meditative zone and just focus on my rhythm. I also usually run the same track over and over again to achieve even better focus and rhythm.


I enjoy the sensation of moving through my environment, whether that's an industrial estate or a forest. I want all of those sensations.


In a race we miss the beauty of people cheering us up or it can be even dangerous if we miss an advice or an alert.


Definitely without for me. I find it harder to control my breathing when listening to music and I like to listen to my foot strike so as I can adjust if need be. I also like to take the time to clear my head or work through problems/thoughts/ideas. Some of my best thinking time happens while running.


So now I'm listening to birdsong and rainfall rather than Bill Withers and Radiohead, I don't feel like I'm missing out. I'm still focused and motivated, and I'm happy too. In fact, the longer I have run without music, the more music has started to seem like a barrier to running, rather than an enhancement. I take much more notice of what's going on around me and of the way my body is working. I'd feel cut off if I raced or trained with headphones on now, and I'd also be less likely to notice if I was landing strangely, or if my breathing was tight.


I find any audio input, such as music or conversation with another, a huge distraction from my running effort. Even when I ran competitively, I found that running was a process that included mind to the extent that it had a meditative quality to it in spite of my tiredness and body pains and anything such as music or an audiobook would have massively intruded.


Sometimes I deliberately listen to chillout, and enjoy the subtlety and overall ambiance, and tune into other aspects or running, like posture, instead.


I'm the same with snowboarding too. Some people love music, I prefer the noise of the board and the snow and the wind and the rustling leaves. As with running here, I get to hear the hooting of the burrowing owls at night or the noise of a lapwing about to attack me during the day, with the crashing of the waves as a constant backdrop as the moon comes up out of the sea and makes a beautiful silver triangle, always pointing from me to the moon as it rises...


Oh my gosh, I went on a lovely well known country park trail one day. It's close to the city and city folk go to have a day of peace and tranquility. A beautiful day, the spring birds singing away, and there was a couple with either a tiny radio radio, mp3 player or smart phone blasting the most obnoxious music. Not even good music where you could mutter, good taste at least. It was bad. It was if they were afraid of walking on this 'wild' trail without help, as if they were afraid of silence.


I have run two marathons one with music and one without. Running without music was far more interesting. The crowd gathered along the way was more than enough entertainment, the odd jazz band playing and kids running along. With music you've got an internal monologue going that keeps you from really enjoying the run.


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