Sitting at a trailhead on a beautiful fall day in New England I had what felt like an epiphany. Is this what it has come to? I just turned my truck inside out looking for a little iPod Shuffle charger. A tiny white USB to headphone jack accessory about the size of a paperclip. I could have left it anywhere. My mind was racing. The charger was lost. I knew it. Now here I was refusing to run without it. What a fool.
It was getting late. I pulled left out of the parking lot and headed back east towards Boston. Needless to say, I didn’t go running. The next morning I felt like a baby without its blanket. Embarrassed by my actions I forced myself to commit to running. No excuses. Around 11am I ran to nearby Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary for focused, music-free running. While on the run I realized two really good reason why it’s better to run without music.
First, I run more consistently without music. When I’ve got Nate Dogg or Nirvana blasting at the beginning of a run I tend to get over adrenalized and run too fast. My data on Strava backs this up. I start off at a very fast pace, instead of warming up into the run. Then I’m too pumped to run efficiently the rest of the way. When I don’t listen to music I start a bit slower, but will be able to run further and more consistently. On the flip side, when I’m listening to music towards the end of a run my train of thought often focus more on the music instead of my technique or speed. Many times I think I’m pushing hard, but in reality I’m just concentrating on the music and slowing down.
Secondly, music cuts me off from the outside world and from myself. I can’t hear the woodpecker in the trees above me or the cyclists behind me who is trying to pass. Nothing. I’m totally cut off. Even from my own thoughts. A big reason I began running in the first place was to help process and departmentalize the array of emotions I was experiencing while taking care of my sick mother. Whenever I’d get an hour or two break from my duties I’d go for a long run and I wouldn’t listen to music. I’d just go. During those runs my mind would wander like clouds across a great wide open sky to places of gratitude, sadness, regret, and joy. And every time I felt much better afterwards, like I just got out of therapy or something. Sure, running with music still relieves stress for me, but I don’t get those moments of clarity like I sometimes do without it.
So here’s a challenge. Next time you go running, leave the earbuds at home. Judge for yourself. You might even enjoy it.