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.

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2 Responses


  1. Erin / yum yum yum on 22 Oct 2012

    I’m a new runner … Ran my first race this weekend. (yay, me!) I have been running without music since I started this process and I absolutely love it. It’s really my only quiet time that I have to myself. I’m so digitally and socially connected throughout the rest of my day – kids, work, etc – that I really appreciate the sound of nature, my surroundings, and my own thoughts. I’m nowhere near 26 miles so maybe I’ll have to check back with you to see if the running without music love continues!

    • admin on 23 Oct 2012

      Yay for you, Erin! I say, stick with the no music. It is one of the only ways to be away from the mind clutter of everyday — it is moving meditation!


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