Running with music? Or without?

Many athletes listen to music when they run. The benefits of music are connected to peoples’ effect on motivation and mood. Some people feel that music with the proper tempo can encourage them to maintain a particular running intensity. But wearing headphones to listen to music can be distracting too. And it could even have a negative effect on the running performance. So should we, or shouldn’t we, be listening to music during our runs?

What are the benefits of listening to music during a run?

Music can be motivating

It’s a matter of taste really which musical genre you listen to. Nice music that you enjoy listening to can also motivate you to get out of the house in the first place, even when the weather is not so nice.

Distract the mind and help pass the time

It can be great to unwind and be alone with your own thoughts during your run. But during a longer training, listening to music can be useful to pass the time as it might help you to distract the mind and just run without thinking about it. Competitive runners might not want to be distracted from their actual running though. They might need to stay focused on their pace, heart rate, pain signals and other aspects that influence their performance. But for recreational runners music can be helpful to keep them going those extra miles.

Increase pace and improve your performance

A nice side effect result of increased motivation is that music has a performance-boosting effect. Especially louder music with an up-beat tempo, can boost a runner’s speed and heart rate.

It can increase your pace by up to 15%. Listening to music while running can also reduce the feeling of fatigue. It takes your mind off the running itself, because you are enjoying the music and maybe even sing along. This all can lead to improved performance. So it’s helpful to put your “perfect playlist” together with fast, motivating songs. Put the volume up and see if it helps you to beat your PB!

The pros of running without music

Steadier pace

As listening to fast and loud music can increase your pace, it may make you start off faster than you intend. This could result in a burn-out before the end of your training session or race. Without music, you are more likely to focus on your planned pace and keep it steady.

Enjoy the surroundings

Music can be fun, but it can also be distracting you from what’s happening around you. You might miss out on taking in your natural surroundings, such as a squirrel on an autumn day or the seasonal change of colours of the trees.

Some race courses also have wonderful things to see and experience as you run. For example the beautiful sights at the Budapest Marathon. When you are not listening to music, you can really enjoy the highlights of the city. Not listening to music helps you to fully immerse and be more in the moment.

Experience & appreciate all support at race events

If you listen to music during a race event, it will be harder to experience the support of the crowd. Hearing your name being called or being cheered on by friends and family, can really spur you on, so it’s important you can hear them!

With music, you might be too caught up in the songs you’re listening to, to notice funny things happening around you too. The outfits of some fellow racers might put a smile on your face. I had a good giggle during my half-marathon about someone dressed up in a Banana-suit.

At the bigger races you’ll find numerous volunteers, medical assistants, officials and marshals that are doing best they can to make this event happen. It’s considered more socially polite not to wear a headset as this cuts of contact with you. It is important to show appreciation of their efforts and support.

Some races don’t allow headphones

Due to safety reasons a lot of road races do not allow runners to wear headphones. Some organisations will even disqualify runners who are caught listening to music. If this is the case for your race, you don’t want to end up being stressed about it, because you’re only used to running with music. Training sessions without any music will help you to be prepared for this so you don’t have to worry about it on race day.

More alert to traffic

Loud music can be very distracting while running on the road. If you are fully alert and aware of your surroundings, you will be much safer in traffic. For that reason it’s recommendable not listening to music during a road run.

Able to talk with running buddy & keeping heart rate lower

Without music, you will be able to have a conversation with the running partner(s). Not only is this socially nicer, but it’s also useful during longer training sessions. Usually runners like to keep their heart rate lower on their duration runs. And in order to talk, you don’t want to be out of breath. Therefor will talking to the running buddy help you keep your pace and heart rate lower.

Better focus on the running

If you are training for a race, you most likely like to focus on those running elements that influence your performance. Listening to music during a run might distract you from focusing on your breathing rhythm, the running technique and it might even prevent you from finding your perfect pace. By not listening to music, you will be able to fully focus and be more in control.

My personal preference

Years ago, when I just started running, I used to wear a small clip-on MP3 player with my favourite songs to distract me from being tired. My music really kept me going during my training sessions. After I signed up for my first Half-Marathon in Noosa, Australia, I discovered that listening to music wasn’t allowed during the race. Initially it scared me, but once I was at the start-line, I could only feel the adrenaline. I was so excited to be there and participate. During the run I fully experienced the atmosphere: all the other runners, the cheering of the crowds, my husband and daughter that cheered me up and appeared with their banner at different spots along the course, the beautiful views around me. I was there and I was running my first half-marathon and I didn’t miss my music for a second. Nowadays, I never play any music anymore during my runs. I actually learned to like it better to be able to focus on my breathing, pace and to enjoy my surroundings. But I still like to listen to music too. So maybe at some point I’ll put my headset on again….just for the energy boost!

Runners headset or earbuds

If you prefer to listen to music during your runs, its important that you use a good runners headset or earbuds. There is a wide range of products to choose from. Do your research well. Nothing is more annoying than earplugs that don’t fit comfortably and fall out during your runs. Or those that fail sound because they aren’t sweat proof. Other selection criteria are quality of sound, connectivity to your music device, battery life, durability and of course price. I am currently running without music, but in the past I used Yurbuds, because after some try ad errors on other brands, these were the only ones that didn’t fall out of my ears during a sweaty tropical run. They come with earbud covers in different sizes (and they are available in different colours too). You need to  “twist” the bud into your ear, where it stays put perfectly, even when you get very sweaty. If you’re still not sure they will stay put,  then you could try the Yurbuds FGocus 300 Fitness in-ear headphones. They come with an extra behind-the-ear security clip.

What about you? Do you run with or without music?

I’m always interested in how others perform their training sessions and races. So please let us know whether you prefer your runs with or without music, and why? If you do listen to music while running, which songs and artist make you to run faster and longer? Which headset or earbuds would you recommend ?

Whichever is your favourite, with or without music, I wish you MoreFun2Run!

I hope you liked this article. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or send me an email at angelique@morefun2run.com. I will get back to you as soon as possible!


12 thoughts on “Running with music? Or without?

  1. I alternate between running with music and without for exactly the reasons that you mention. I do find having a playlist with a good upbeat tempo can assist me in my pace setting (Panic at the Disco always seems to do it for me), but equally there are days when the birdsong is much more soothing!

    I now rarely run with ear buds due to difficulty keeping them in, but I have found bone conducting headphones solved that problem for me, while also keeping me more aware of my surroundings. Although I’ve found the sound quality of my bluetooth Aftershokz isn’t quite as good as an ear bud, both the lack of cable to trip on and having both ears uncovered when running or cycling in traffic makes up for this in my opinion.

    When running without music do you find it difficult to keep yourself focused on long runs?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment and music tip. I’ll check out those headphones brand that you use as well. Personally I havent really missed the music at all. My longest run in of the week is nowadays 16km and I don’t find it too long without music. I always run in a park and there is so much to see (beautiful colours of nature, squirels, birds, dogs playing). Plus Im concentrating in improving my breathing rhythm. See one of my previous posts on that topic if you are interested:

      https://morefun2run.com/short-of-breath-during-running-and-side-stitches/

      I hope to hear from you again!

  2. I think I would find running with music too distracting. I like to be totally aware of my surroundings, and enjoy the sounds of nature such as birdsong. I’d also be worried about traffic, or other pedestrians. I think I’d enjoy music though if I were to use an exercise bike at home:)

  3. I definitely like to run with music. Although I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone dressed like a banana before! Perhaps that’s because I’m too distracted by the music. This was a great article, and I’m going to look into some of the things that I do while I run including evaluating my headphones.

    1. Hi Kyle! Thanks for your comment. The banana-man was a good laught during the race. When you sign up for a (half-)marathon, you’ll definitely see more dressed-up runners, sometimes there are even groups that are all dressed up the same. They’re very entertaining during the race.
      Which music do you like to listen to?

  4. Hi Angelique,
    I sometimes listen to music or watch some TV while running on a treadmill, as it helps to take my mind off the run; it’s a little less interesting on a treadmill where your surroundings never change!

    If running on the road, I either have no music, or I listen to podcasts. That way, as it is talking rather than loud music, I can still somehow focus on the run.

    1. Hi Chris! I do watch a serie or movie on tv as well when I run on a treadmill. Im not the biggest treadmill fan, but it’s a great alternative when weather is terrible. And entertainment on a treadmill is quite nice too. Listening to podcast….it’s still something I haven’t tried. Good tip! I’ll give it a try and see how that goes. Thanks for your comment!

  5. I miss running more often, I played basketball in high school and doing the sweet 16’s really got me going even though I was not the fastest. I sometimes like to listen to music, but I also like to socialize! On my alone times it would be nice jamming out though, so both a good for their different roles they play in the run.

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