The Headphone Debate

I thought I would focus this week’s topic on something quite different. A topic which has been widely discussed and can be deemed as quite controversial in the running world.
The Headphone Debate…
There has been a number of studies to show how music can motivate us and have a positive impact on sport performance. It increases our mood, spirit and overall general feeling. However, as a runner headphones are often banned or not allowed during races.
The first time music and running was widely scrutinised was back in 2007 when the organisers of the New York Marathon banned headphones. Runners decided to run to music at their own choice with the risk of being penalised. Another race received a lot of press recently when 48 runners were disqualified from a 10K race in Beverly for wearing headphones. It was deemed as breaking health and safety rules and their times were not officially recorded. It caused a great deal of uproar and also disappointment from runners who were unaware of this rule and claimed had not been pre-warned before.
On Tuesday morning I headed out with a killer playlist and finished an easy 5 mile run in a little over 40 minutes. I’m not sure if I would have got round in the same time if I didn’t have Rihanna and Calvin Harris pumping through my speakers? When running on my own I always listen to music and I feel it helps me focus my thoughts. Out with the club, I choose not to take music, it can be quite unsociable and I really enjoy talking to others on the way round.
One of my Sports Science lecturers at Brunel University has conducted a number of published studies on the effects of music on exercise. Dr Costas Karageorghis has said that “Music is like is a legal drug for athletes. It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.”
All of the above points sparks the debate on whether runners should be able to listen to music whilst running or not?
Pro Headphones

  • Music is inspirational – it can lift your mood or give you that extra boost when one of your favourite songs comes on.
  • Getting in the ‘zone’ – music can help channel your thoughts and help to block out other things around you. Nerves are peak before a race, listening to music can help to channel your thoughts.
  • Motivational – During your hardest miles, an upbeat tempo can give you that motivation to push up that hill or through the final part of the race
  • Company – Long races can become very lonely out on the course, music is there to keep you going or to even keep you company. An average half marathon time is around 2 hours, that’s quite a long time in my opinion to be by yourself and own thoughts.
  • Music can mask the pain –your thoughts quite often drift to how your body is feeling. Music can help to ignore the aches you may feel or fatigue that is settling in.
  • ‘Run to the beat’ – some people can use the beat of the music to sync their rhythm. This can enable a smoother pace and less chance to burn out towards the end.

Against Headphones

  • Health and Safety – From a health and safety perspective runners increase the risk of injuring themselves or others around them. It is difficult to hear instructions from marshals and other runners who may be advising you of obstructions on the course.
  • Unaware of surroundings – I often blast music during my own runs and can be ‘jumped’ by cyclists who zoom past me as I’ve not heard them prior to seeing them. This could be dangerous if I make a sudden movement either hurting myself or potentially causing an accident with the cyclist.
  • Headphones can be quite anti-social – I’ve actually been able to speak to people in races. I got chatting to someone in the last mile of a half marathon before. I was in pain and he got me through the final part, if it wasn’t for him I don’t think I could have got there in the time that I did. Music allows discourages you to not take in your surroundings, some races are designed around beautiful scenery.

The Verdict – well it’s still out there I’d say? I really enjoy listening to music and struggle without it whilst running on my own but can appreciate the health and safety implications. Whether I take my headphones with me or not is all situational.
Some races have banned headphones completely and some do allow it.
I must admit I used headphones during the London Marathon. I don’t think I could have got through 26 miles without it. Saying that, I kept the volume quite minimal and did only wear one speaker in one ear. I left the other out so I could soak up the atmosphere and surroundings.
I’m still in two minds about headphones for my Half Marathon in 3 weeks’ time. Best check out the race instructions soon.
Feel free to leave a comment below on your thoughts, yes or no to headphones?