Motivation, Running

Running: With or Without Music?

Hot button issue here! Well, if you’re a runner at least. If you’re not, this may not seem like such a controversial issue. But it is. And it’s about to get heated. My view? Don’t run with music.

But let’s get into it before I’m persecuted.

gray ipod classic
Photo by Pixabay on

Okay, so you’re a runner. Which means you run and you might even have days that you like running. And likely, you have a whole list of things that make you go. Special shoes. Special (lucky) socks. Special pre-run snack…drink. Special soundtrack. Special gear. Blah blah, the works. We all have our pre-run and post-run rituals and yes, they are rituals.

Where does music factor into that for you?

Every runner has a stance on it though maybe not always as polarizing as it seems. Of course, some debates get a little….heated when those of us who are a purists enter the scene.

All jokes aside, running is an entirely individual experience even if you’re running with a pack of people nothing beats the sense of self, the almost isolation that comes with the running experience.

So I’ll just get to it. Don’t run with music. 

Well, at least not all the time.

black earphones on a desk
Photo by Kaboompics .com on

I am actually fairly assertive with this belief. I think it’s bad to run with music all the time. Sure…there are times when using music is great! But every single day for your runs? Not so much? Once a week? Okay, better.

But it isn’t because I’m anti-tech…the watch on my hand says otherwise. There are a whole plethora of reasons behind my decision to take that run without my music. Surprisingly, when I first started running, I wouldn’t be caught dead without my earbuds, armband, or headset. Music was a must. And I had the perfect playlist.

Then one day, I saw someone running without music. Nothing connected to them. No wires, nothing in their ears, no music at all. I wondered, “HOW on God’s green Earth did they manage that?” But of course, the curiosity didn’t stop there. I spent the rest of my run looking around me and realizing I was missing a lot of my run. The songs I listened to I knew like the back of my hand. I had listened to them so many times even though I regularly rotated my playlists. I wasn’t experiencing running the way running was originally experienced. Viscerally.

So, of course, I tried to run without music and it was awful.

I was slower. I had to stop more often. I could hardly lift up my feet. It seemed so hot out, humid, the occasional chatter on the trail agitated me. I sounded more out of my breath my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest and let me suffer on my own. You get the picture. It was horrible.

But I kept going without music because I realized something vital about myself.

I did not have strength of mind on my own to run like I had. Music was my mental crutch.

And boy, did I hate that.

I couldn’t just stop though, especially since I realized it was a crutch. So I kept going. By now, running without music is just habit. A lovely one at that. Running with music feels weird to me but refreshing now when I do choose to listen and pound the pavement.

Without any further ado, I’ll throw my main message out there. Try running without music. It won’t hurt.

empty road
Photo by Voicu Oara on

Most important reason: Distractions

When you’re running whether it’s on a trail, on a beautiful road, or on a sidewalk music dulls your senses and distracts you from your surroundings. This is a two-part problem. The first part is that it can be dangerous to be unaware of your surroundings. Cars are not always paying attention, unfortunately. Whether it’s texting, drunk driving, or plain ignorance runners on the road and even the sidewalk need to be careful of vehicles. This means that when you have music going you cannot hear a car approaching you from behind. Running on the left of the road helps this but if a driver is asleep at the wheel, what do lanes matter?

It’s not just cars. People could be following us, watching us, on the trails and in neighborhoods. Being dulled to your surroundings means missing the sound of footsteps, the crunch of branches, or even realizing when you’ve passed a person or car multiple times. We don’t want to be assaulted, bottom line. Not having music in your ears keeps you grounded in your surroundings.

The second part of this is that we are so immersed in our world of tech, our music, that we completely miss what’s going on around us. We miss the sound of our footsteps and all the beautiful things that sound tells us. We miss the sound of our heartbeat, our breath, and what that tells us. We miss looking around, hearing the breeze, feeling the sun and the sounds of nature because we have music in our ears.

This continues to be the reason why I don’t listen to music when I run. And it’s not just one reason. It’s a million.

I want to hear my breath. I want to hear my footsteps, especially early in the morning or late at night when there are no other sounds besides the birds waking up. I want to hear the breeze. I want to have a visceral, raw running experience. And music doesn’t help me accomplish that.

Okay, I know. I come on strong. But I’m passionate about it. Regardless of your stance on it, I think we can all benefit from some time away from technology or being plugged into something. Try it out for a week! See what you think, how you feel. And go into open-minded. Otherwise, it’s wasted effort, right?

tilt shift photography of apple earpods
Photo by Hossam M. Omar on

All that being said, I do allow myself to listen to music now on my runs, not most and not all. The two kinds of runs I might listen to music on are interval training and recovery runs.

Starting with the latter, I find that when I’m sore and tired already, I do not want to lace up my shoes and head out the door. Once I do, it’s even harder to keep running. My brain needs a little boost, my body needs some energy and so I incorporate my new running playlist. I love running my recovery runs to music. I don’t do it every time, but I do appreciate it when I use it!

I’m also the kind of person who gets really into my music which means that yes, I use it to help kick me in the butt when I’m doing intervals. A good song I want to rock out to will definitely help me keep my pace up.

But in the end, this all personal! Just like running. I do think you should try it both ways to see which you prefer or if there’s a mix somewhere in the middle that’s the best option for you.

Happy running!

2 thoughts on “Running: With or Without Music?”

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