Running with music – yay or nay?

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Music has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of the music my parents used to (and still) listen to, such as the Eagles and the Grateful Dead. Music can instantly take you back to a time and place, and equally can remind you of people from your past. Music in the car is an absolute must for me – to the extent that when I was about to buy my current car, and the dealer told me the stereo wasn’t working, I was about to walk away. I love to sing while I drive (and often also when I run) – I’m not sure if the people around me enjoy it as much as I do!

The topic of listening to music while running is a hotly debated one. Sure, if you’re running on the treadmill (something I have NEVER done, and would prefer not to if I can avoid it!), I would imagine listening to music would be the ONLY way to make it tolerable. But does music have a place when running on roads? Trails? Track? In races?

Prior to starting running, I often would do the Mount Lofty climb with a group of friends. On the way up, we all did our own thing as we were different paces, and on the way down we’d all walk together. On those occasions I would listen to music, and later when I started doing the climb on my own, I would again crank some tunes to keep me motivated!

In the beginning (and when I say ‘beginning’ I mean the beginning of my running life) – probably early 2013 when I first started going for runs on my own – I could not imagine running without music. At that stage, solo running was a chore and the music was a welcome distraction.

Then, I went through a long period of rarely ever running on my own, after I got into a regular morning running routine. On those runs, I would never listen to music. Although, in the early group runs, I would often find myself on my own in the middle of the pack, WISHING I had some music to listen to!

Getting towards the end of a long run or race, I will often tell myself how much further to go in time rather than distance. Somehow “only 20ish minutes to go” is mentally easier to deal with than “only 4km to go”! While using music, I sometimes say “just a few more songs”. Whatever it takes to get you through!

When running on the road, I tend to keep the volume low, and use earphones that allow me to hear the sounds of traffic, cyclists and other potential hazards! I did buy a pair of running earphones in the early days but they were hopeless (albeit very comfortable). The standard iPod earbuds seem to work as well as any, and if they have a tendency to fall out I can always wear a headband over my ears. I hate those massive cans that you see people wearing. No way can people hear anything of the outside world with those bad boys!

In 2015 I started doing a lot more trail running. Admittedly, most of the time I run with at least one other person – my sense of direction is a little challenged and it doesn’t take much for me to get lost! But even when running alone, such as during ultramarathons and shorter trail races, I never listen to music out on the trails. I like to be able to hear what’s going around me – the sounds of nature, my own footsteps, and the sound of a runner or mountain biker behind me, wanting to pass.

Which brings me neatly to my next point – using music during races. Whether on road or trail, I am not a fan of it. I don’t do it myself and I find it particularly frustrating in a race when I’m trying to overtake someone wearing earphones and despite me calling out that I’m passing, they don’t hear me. Even more frustrating was when I was marshalling a 5km race a couple of years ago and had to yell at some people SEVERAL times to tell them to turn around. I would be very happy with a blanket ban of music devices during races.

The only exception I make to this is in looped track races, such as the recent Adelaide 6/12/24 hour race, and the 50km/100km track championships in January. I think it’s quite reasonable to have music in those types of events for several reasons:

  • Not much chance of getting lost – no marshals’ instructions to follow
  • No vehicular traffic and no or few bicycles to contend with
  • It helps keep you sane!

As long as you are aware of other runners wanting to go past you, I have no problem with people listening to music in those types of events. I did it myself in the second half of the track 100k, and while I didn’t feel the need to have any music during either of my 6 hour races, I did have my iPod and headphones on standby, ready to go with some motivating tunes!

And that segues nicely into the final part of this post, a few of my favourite running tracks and the reasons behind them! I’ve listed 10 but it’s not necessarily a top 10. My preferences change daily, depending on my mood, the type of running I’m doing and a myriad of other reasons.

BON JOVI – LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER

No running playlist is complete without this gem, if only to belt out the chorus at the midway point of any race! The first time I cranked this one out was at the halfway point of the Yurrebilla 56k last year. I decided to start singing it at the checkpoint, and Beck joined in, along with a few other bemused spectators and participants!

U2 – WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME

It’s got a great beat, perfect tempo and the first words are “I wanna run…” – what more could you want?

SURVIVOR – EYE OF THE TIGER

Another song that was sung by me just after halfway in Yurrebilla. This one also came out towards the end of this year’s Gold Coast Marathon, and really helped me get through the last few kilometres and even pass a few people while singing it (I think they were probably so put off that they slowed down, rather than me getting faster!). It also happens to be featured in one of my favourite episodes of my favourite show, ‘Supernatural’.

CHOIRBOYS – RUN TO PARADISE

It’s a great song. It has ‘Run’ in the title. It takes me back to the summer of ’88 when my family was in the process of moving back to SA from Melbourne. We spent a week or so at the Rising Sun Hotel in Port Wakefield. This song was on high rotation on the pub jukebox and it quickly became a favourite and remains so to this day!

MILEY CYRUS – THE CLIMB

An odd choice yes. It has made appearances several times during races. The first one was during the climb out of Horsnells Gully during Yurrebilla 2016. It came out again during the final stages of UTA100, as we ascended the Furber Steps, much to running buddy Anna’s disgust! The most recent ‘performance’ was during the Gold Coast Marathon as I approached the final few kilometres. I aborted that performance early as I clearly was not getting anywhere near hitting the high notes. Anyway, it is a favourite of mine especially where hill climbing is involved!

QUEEN – DON’T STOP ME NOW

Because Queen. Duh.

BRING ME THE HORIZON – IT NEVER ENDS

Not one I tend to sing along to so much because I can’t quite understand all the lyrics, but it is a cracker to listen to on solo runs, which fortunately, despite the title of the song, DO (eventually) end! Plus their guitarist at the time was originally from Adelaide!

EVER FALLEN IN LOVE – THE BUZZCOCKS

Short and sweet, catchy AF and a great pace for running!

PANAMA – VAN HALEN

The number one song to crank in the car to instantly put me in a great mood. If I happened to hear it during a race it would certainly give me a huge boost, right from the opening guitar riff. It’s so 80s and so so good!

GOING WRONG – ARMIN VAN BUUREN

This one has an awesome beat. And it’s nearly 6 minutes long which means that I can cover a fair bit of territory during the course of the song!

So, what is your view on running with music? When is it, and when is it not OK? And what tunes do you like to run to?

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