Updated: Dec 13, 2019
I'm not a lifelong runner. In fact, I didn't start running until my late 30s when I decided to give triathlon a try. I didn't particularly like or enjoy running — but listening to music made it more bearable. At some point into my short running career, my coach, who is also my partner suggested that I try running without music so I could be more in tune with my pace and breathing. I thought to myself, "Are you nuts?" How could I possibly make it through a run without the distraction of music? And so I ignored his request and continued to not really enjoy running, nor did my running ever improve.
Fast forward a few years. He mentioned it to me again — and this time I listened. Why? A few reasons. He successfully ran a sub-3 Boston Marathon, in addition to many 5k and 10k race successes, and has one of the most efficient running forms I've ever seen. When I run behind him its looks like he is floating. And, he has never run with music.
And so I gave up running with music years ago and have never looked back.
So, what are the benefits of running without music?
Enables you to hear your foot strike and rhythm, which gives you insights into how efficient your stride is. Music can limit your ability to monitor your cadence and pace — all of which can effect your running efficiency. Are you landing too "heavy" or "slappy" as your stride transitions? Or does it sound smooth and relaxed?
Gives you the ability to monitor your breathing and effort. Music can change your pace and cadence, which in turn can effect your breathing. If my breathing sounds labored, but my perceived effort doesn't feel too hard, that's a clue that I may be tensing my shoulders too much or that I'm not running tall (vs. hunched over).
Allows you to focus on the run and only the run. When I ran with music, I had a tendency to fidget with my iPhone/iPod and/or my headphones, which meant that I would stop to fix something, lose my focus and in the end lose what efficiency I had. In addition, running without music will improve your associative thinking. Associative thinking is the complete absorption of your thoughts into the current task at hand, such as running. When you use music to distract you from your run, you are engaging in dissociative thinking — the opposite of associative thinking.
Because I'm not fidgeting with technology or headphones, I can also focus on my form. Are my shoulders heading up towards my ears? Which part of my foot is striking the ground? My coach/partner recently commented that my form looks very relaxed and I run like a triathlete. All positive feedback!
Provides you with the ability to appreciate and be conscious of your surroundings. In a world filled with tons of information, noise, and distractions, I find it it incredibly gratifying to take in everything around me while running. Plus, it's safer to run without music for a variety of reasons, especially for women.
Allows you to chat with others, which can also offer you a great deal of information. The amount that you can talk can be useful to better understand RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) and your training Zones. Perceived exertion is exercising at a level that feels like a certain intensity measured by the Borg RPE Scale. One easy method to check a run intensity is what as known as the “Talk Test.” If you are able to have a conversation without any heavy breathing, you are likely in Zone 1, or a recovery zone. If you are able to speak in full clear sentences and are not experiencing too much strain, you are likely in Zone 2. This is an ideal base building zone where you will likely run the majority of your mileage. If you're only able to speak in short phrases of a few words at a time, you are likely in Zone 3. This is your marathon or tempo pace.
It can be meditative and allows you time to process. Many people run with their smartphones, and the constant alerts and buzzing can distract you from being in the moment.
And because I don't run with technology I have the ability to run very simplistically. On a longer run, I put a gel in the pocket of my shorts, and if conditions warrant it, I wear a hat. Otherwise, I run lean. Why? No fussing means I can focus on the run and enjoy it.
Do I enjoy running now? Yes, a great deal. Has my running improved? Yes, a great deal. I can't say that the improvements are solely due to running sans music, but I can confirm that running without it has been a contributing factor to the gains I've made and the enjoyment I've experienced.
My challenge to you... Leave your technology and headphones behind for a few runs and experience running without the distraction of music, notifications, texts, etc. You may just find that it changes everything for you. Happy running!
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