Saturday, 30 November 2013

Running with(out) music

I love music.
Listening to my ipod, going to concerts, practicing my harp, playing in a folk group, singing along to Bob Dylan while I’m doing the ironing (a habit picked up from my dad) – music is, and always has been, a huge part of my life.
My earphones go in as soon as I leave the house in the morning and they stay in until I get to the office. They go in again when I leave to get my lunch and yet again when I head home. Am I missing out on the sounds around me? Well, yes, obviously. But this is central London. Do I really need to hear horns blaring, motorists and cyclists yelling at one another, and other commuters on the bus having the most inane conversations on their phones as loudly as possible? I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.
It won’t be any surprise to know that when I run, yep, I listen to music. Until a few weeks ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me that this might be considered a bad idea (yes, I already knew that some people don’t listen to music while running but I figured it was just down to personal preference). Then, at running club, our instructor mentioned that she had recently given some advice to a beginner runner who was keen to run a half-marathon in the next year or so (good luck to that person. I’m simply aiming for a sub 1-hour 10k!). One piece of advice was “stop running with your headphones in”.
Er, what?
All around me the other women in the group were nodding and mumbling agreement. Was I the only one out of the loop on this one? How had I missed the no-music message? I tried to imagine it: running without my music. Surely, it would be harder to run with nothing to distract me from that fact that I was, y’know, running.
Now, maybe it really is just me. Maybe my own thoughts are really boring. Here are my thoughts while running without music (i.e. at running club when I’m not talking to someone else!).

“I’m running. Running. Still running. Yep, still running. My legs hurt. Run. Run. Run. Am I at the back? Running. Yep, definitely at the back. Running. Have been overtaken by everyone. Running. Even that OAP who isn’t part of the running group and is in fact just walking along the street. Still running. Can I stop soon? Running. Running. Running.
Riveting stuff. So, at the risk of looking like the running-novice I still am, I had to ask:
“But why? Why is music bad? And how can you run without music without becoming completely bored?”
First up, here’s why it’s bad:
-You can’t hear your feet hitting the ground so you don’t have any sense of how well you’re running.
-You can’t hear your breathing.
Then there are the (im)practicalities:
-some races don’t let you run while listening to music (I’ll be avoiding these I think!)
-Ipods and MP3 players are unreliable – what if you run out of battery power? What if it’s raining and your Ipod gets wet and breaks?
-when you’re training outside, you can’t hear anything apart from your music so you’re unaware of your surroundings, which is pretty darn unsafe.
As to avoiding the boredom:
-Count your steps, give yourself your own internal rhythm rather than relying on music
-Run with a friend
I decided to give it ago and, this week, left my trusty ipod at home and went for a run.
Um. Yeah.
It didn’t go so well.
I was quite bored after about five minutes. Completely bored after ten minutes. I called it a day and stopped running somewhere around twelve minutes.
I came back home. I grabbed my ipod. I set off again. I ran for my planned 40 minutes no problem.
What does it all mean? Am I worryingly addicted to my ipod? Will I ever be able to run without music? As ever, when faced with difficult questions I turned to the oracle that is the Internet to ask “running with music – yes or no?”
Turns out I really had missed the boat on this one as it seems to be one of the most popular debates about running. And, as with all Internet debates, calmness and rationality go out the window and it’s all about picking a side, digging your heels in and slinging some mud at anyone who disagrees with you.
According to the all-knowing Internet, if you listen to music while running you’re just a wannabee runner, a plodding, rude pavement pounder who wants to shut out the world and ignore those around you. If you don’t listen to music while running, you’re a self-righteous, holier-than-thou type who likes making other people feel bad because they can’t run as well as you.
See, a typical Internet debate.
My own take for the moment is that my need for music has something to do with the fact that (*whisper it*) I don’t love running. Sure, I like it a lot more than I ever expected to when I first joined my running group. I’m running pretty regularly and I’ve even given up a few Saturday mornings to the Hampstead Heath Parkrun. But the “runner’s high” so far remains pretty darn elusive. I definitely don’t hate running and I’m not going to give up but for the moment I still need to be distracted by something I do love while I’m finding my running feet.
And surely running with music is better than not running at all…

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