Running is the most popular form of exercise on the planet.
For many people, however, running is also one of the most boring activities on the planet. Like most runners, I have a love/hate thing going on with this sport. Most of the time I love it. At times, running is awesome, fun, and can give you an unrivaled sense of accomplishment.
But, let’s be real here, sometimes running just sucks.
And, when I say sometimes, I mean a lot of the time. Even the most seasoned and conditioned runners will tell you it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’d love to sit here and say how wonderful and euphoric running is, but truthfully, it’s tough. And boring. And monotonous.
To break up the monotony and dullness, most runners will pop in some earbuds and crank up their favorite tunes, or zone out with an audio-book or podcast. The vast majority of people who run do so with some form of distraction to take their focus away from this form of acute torture they’re so willingly subjecting themselves to.
The next time you visit your local park, take notice of the runners trudging along, hammering out miles. I bet 8 out of every 10 runners you see will have on headphones or earbuds.
Music is synonymous with running. The two go hand-in-hand, and for good reason.
Music is extremely motivating. The right song at the right time can give you a much-needed boost to keep you going when you want nothing more than to not be running at the moment.
This year, I’ve logged way more miles with tunes than without (see 6 Songs That Should be on Every Runner’s Playlist). However, for most of my running career, I ran without music.
Although I live in both worlds, the playlist I prefer is the one that isn’t there. Here’s why.
Not to scare you or anything, but running with music significantly increases your chance of injury or death. If you run near crowded roadways or city streets, you have to be fully aware of your surroundings at all times, and this requires participation from all of your senses.
I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but where I live there are some crazies out there texting and getting into all sorts of shenanigans behind the wheel. I don’t even think about wearing earbuds if I’m running remotely close to traffic.
Running without music taught me how to listen to my body.
Without noise constantly blaring in your ears, you learn to recognize subtle clues from your body. Learning to feel yourself (mind out of the gutter, please) will enable you to run more efficiently, and could actually make this whole running thing a bit easier on you.
For example: because I ran without musical distractions, I inadvertently became completely in tune (excuse the lame pun) with my body. I was keenly aware of how it felt to run a 7:00 pace compared to a 7:30 pace. Now, I have the ability to tell what pace I’m running strictly by feel.
Also, by running without distractions, you’re able to pay close attention to things like breathing and foot-strike, which can have surprising benefits.
Breathing happens subconsciously. It’s not something we really think about, it just happens, so we sort of take it for granted.
But learning how to breathe can take your running to the next level.
Inefficient breathing is the main cause of the dreaded side-stitch. Ugh. These things are the worst. This knife-in-my-side feeling makes you want to quit and basically takes away your will to live.
Eliminate side-stitches by syncing up your breathing with your foot-strikes.
Rhythmically breathing in time with your cadence increases the efficiency in which your body uses oxygen, thus you run farther and faster. It’s science. This is hard to do if you can’t hear yourself breathing and aren’t able to focus on it.
When you concentrate on your breathing and cadence, you consequently become a more efficient runner and, suddenly, distance running becomes easier.
The number one reason I run without music is for mental clarity.
When I’m on a run I love to let my mind roam. It melts away built up stress and defragments my oft-cluttered brain. For me, running is cathartic, and sort of like an active form of meditation. I call it run-itation.
Corny blended-words aside, running actually puts your brain in the same state as meditation, known as an alpha mind state. This is a reflective and relaxed mental state where ideas and thoughts flow freely, a.k.a. daydreaming.
Ever zone out during a drive and don’t remember how you arrived at your destination? That’s an alpha state. It’s wonderful!
As a writer, I’ve found that running with only my thoughts is a great way to generate source material. Some of my best ideas and articles were cultivated during workouts. I’ve cured countless instances of writer’s block by going on a run.
These days, it seems everyone has a phone or some kind of gadget stuck in their face nearly 24/7. These electronic distractions cause us to miss out on all the beauty that constantly surrounds us. I encourage you to unplug and soak in the experience of running.
The next time you lace ’em up, don’t even think about those earbuds or playlists. You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing out on.
Running is running. There really isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do it. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, or if you run solo or with friends, with music or without it, all that matters is that you’re out there. Just run.