Music or not music? That is the question… or the debate. Many of us cannot hit the road without their headsets, connected to a device (a mobile phone, or a running watch) providing music. Without trying to be scientific, I would like to give some reasons why you should – or shouldn’t – listening to your favorite music.
I am considering mainly the case you are hitting the road alone. I would expect that in case of a group, there is a common choice, and usually music is not needed if there is a conversation.
Music is fun
I will not deny it: music can give lots of entertainment and motivation. In days when weather conditions are tough, and finding an excuse to stay home is easy, having the chance of listening your favorite playlist is a great help.
Another way this helps, is if you are forced to run on a boring, repetitive track. In this case, the variation of rhythm and type of artist can break the monotony. It is possible today to pre-select playlists for any mood or circumstance. In other words, music can be the right soundtrack for a personal best, or just few stress-relieving miles.
It can help the performance
I have noticed that some tracks let me go faster than others. Here the subconscious works on different levels: the euphoric feeling of listening to something good, certainly helps. But some tracks can actually optimize your performance.
For example, many runners know that a frequency of 180 steps per minute is considered optimal. For this reason, many listen songs whose rhythm is set to this frequency, acting as a pacer. You can easily find playlists with this purpose, for example on Spotify.
It can influence perceptions
Music can be a good way to isolate yourself while running. But you must always pay attention to the surroundings! This is important if you run in a park, only accessible to pedestrians, and of paramount importance if your path crosses roads open to car traffic.
To ensure your safety, you should be able to respond to external stimuli with all your senses. Please consider this when you are going out for a run: what are weather, visibility conditions like? What are the threats to my safety? The choice of equipment, including music, should always start from this assessment.
Music and big events
If you choose to listen to music, you will also chose what NOT to listen to. For example, let’s consider you are going to participate to a big event, like the Berlin Half Marathon or the Copenhagen Marathon. These are two examples of highly participated events, with more than 20000 runners, high participation of the crowd, colors, music and fun.
Listening to your playlist can prevent the full enjoyment of these events. I never use headsets when participating to one of those. There is again a big safety-related component to consider: in highly participated events is recommended to be able to listen to the other runners, but also communications from the organization. For this reason, in many cases the use of headsets is forbidden for safety reasons in race events.
You will not listen something else
What is obvious, is that your headsets will preclude your possibility of listening other things. And if we already discussed the external component, very important in case of running events, here I am referring to internal sounds.
Some runners enjoy to listen to your heartbeat, the sound of your breathe, of your steps on the ground. It gives you an idea of how you are performing, that for many runners can be more accurate or helpful than any measurement of their GPS tracker.
Again, it is a personal choice: think about what you are going to listen, and therefore what you are going NOT to.
Listening or not to your favorite music is a personal choice, that becomes very important when it can increase your risk (safety first!). I personally enjoy music, I have few playlists that go with me when I run in a park. But I never use headsets while participating to a running event.