I have read of the elusive creature – the music-free runner – and have even met a few. Of course on long runs done with a group, I’ve left music at home – but run by myself without music? Never really happens – I’ve even been known to put off a run until I charge said player or find lost headphones. I may have foregone music to watch a “Real Housewives” of some horrible place…but I’ve always sought entertainment when I run.
But, along with nearly perfecting the farmer’s blow during training for this last marathon, I too learned the art of running without music. I didn’t set out to learn this – a series of accidents culminating in an uncharged ipod at the start of the marathon taught me this lesson.
During this training cycle, I ran without music. Sometimes it was due to a time crunch and not being able to find headphones (thanks, kids). But after one or two of these accidents, I found that I actually enjoyed the run headphone-free. This included runs on treadmills. Yes, even on treadmills.
I did suffer from playlist fatigue…but I also began to realize, I never much paid attention to the music while I ran. I could listen to 10 songs and not tell you one that I heard.
Studies show that performance improves when listening to music by as much as 7 percent – at least during cycling. But, when you exercise at extremely intense levels – music has no impact whatsoever, you just can’t work harder. Music can sometimes distract from technique too – basketball players who listen to music actually perform worse, possibly because they are unable to put all their focus on form. I found that sometimes music put a pep in my step, but more times than not it didn’t seem to make a difference.
For me, running without music has increased the meditative quality of the exercise. I feel more in tune with my body and less distracted by the banging in my head. Running with music had become a habit, but not something I truly needed.
I did plan to run with music at St. George. I put together a “Marathon 5” playlist flush with a few new songs and old favorites. The playlist was just long enough to keep me going but short enough to let me know that when the last song played I was seriously over my worst-case-scenario goal time. When I parked my car and arranged my belt, I noticed that my ipod glowed with a yellow warning “connect your charger.” For a brief moment, I thought I might go back to the hotel quickly and charge — crazy thought and it was truly a brief moment. I realized I felt no anxiety, no fear, no dread. I shrugged, got out of the car and left the player on the seat.
Without music, I felt I was actually a part of the race. It started with a cacophony of beeps from GPS and stopwatches followed by a thunderous foot fall. Without music, navigating the slightly congested start was a breeze. I also nosily eavesdropped on runners’ conversations – I leap-frogged with one man getting a psychotherapy session from his running partner about his relationship with his mother than must have lasted 3 miles. Others commented on their pace, other races and creeping pains. I actually heard the encouraging words of a girl who passed me around mile 10. I might have been annoyed by her seemingly effortless jog had I been wearing headphones, but she was turning to everyone (myself included) with kind, sincere and encouraging words. I cringed when a girl wearing headphones answered her friend in an amplified, oblivious tone since her music was drowning out the sound of her own voice. (I was now a superior non-music-listening runner.) People who stopped to make phone calls or send texts mystified me – had I been in my own headphone world, I might have missed these strange creatures. I could thank aid station workers and feel connected to my words. I could hear the cheers of the people in town and their offers of ice pops and encouragement. I could also hear the well-meaning supporters who, at mile 22, say you are almost there…don’t say that to a anyone in the last 4 miles of a marathon. You are not almost there.
I’m not saying I’m a convert. I’ll certainly run with music again, but I don’t feel handicapped without it. Every race teaches you something. St. George taught me that I am not impervious to downhill post-run pain (as I had thought) and that music is a nice accessory but not a necessity.