The Great Debate: To Run With or Without Tunes?

Runners all over the world are having this debate right now. I overhear runners talking about it in Central Park, my fellow bloggers are writing about it and coaches everywhere (including myself) are trying to figure out whether or not their runners should tune in or tune out. So, what’s better? With or without tunes?

Marine Corps Marathon '09: without tunes (mile 20)

When I moved to New York City nine years ago, I brought a lot of music with me. I had a shiny new Walkman CD player (listen, it was better than a tape player) and a dream of listening to the best of Simon and Garfunkel while running through Central Park. About halfway through training for my first marathon, I figured out one thing: it was making me slow and lazy. I had checked out of my run and stopped paying attention to what I was doing, or trying to do, and it showed in my run times. Perhaps it was my choice of music, but I abandoned my quest for a music-filled run then and there. After all, it was crazy heavy to carry around for 18 miles!

Fast-forward nine years and we find ourselves with these super-light, compact little iPods to keep us company everywhere we go. People wear their headphones during their commutes, morning runs, workouts at the gym, on their bikes (what a BAD idea!) and in their cars (even worse). I stayed steadfast in my anti-iPod stance while running outside, even as I thanked God for music on my treadmill workouts and at the gym. Nothing is as good at keeping random people (ahem, guys) from talking to you at the gym as having your headphones plugged in, not even my wedding band. Sorry random gym guys, I’m married and I gotta get my squats done! No time to chat.

This spring, I was invited to participate in a panel at lululemon with their design team to discuss the pros and cons of their running apparel. This is what I love about lululemon–they want feedback and honestly make changes when they hear the same thing over and over again. I’ve seen my suggestions come to life more than once in the fit and function of their products. Shout out, Lulus! Anyway, I was on this panel with about 8 other women, most of whom are competitive runners (read: awesome and FAST, what was I doing there??), one of whom I’ve know since high school. Even here the debate about iPods while training came up. The consensus was not any more clear. About half and half were for/against iPods while training. The other coach there said he encourages his runners to train without them, but that some of them are adamant about using it (some of whom were there). So, the debate rages on.

I will say this: when I was suffering through my horrible marathon in New Jersey this spring, I was never so grateful to have my iPod with me. It was lonely out there on the course and I was sick. But when I wanted to cry, give up, sit down, flag down the medical van, scream, I’d have a song pop into my ears and nudge me a little further along the course. I have very strong feelings about music and songs remind me of people in my life. When I heard these songs, it made me believe that those people were silently cheering me on, telling me to keep going. When I was cruising towards the finish line with about half a mile to go, Britney Spears’ Stronger came on and I was in tears. You couldn’t tell because, as we’ve discussed at length, I sweat like a monster, but I was so determined to finish strong and it was the perfect song for me to hear with the finish line in sight.

Jeresy Shore Marathon '11: with tunes (almost to the finish!)

And then yesterday I totally left my iPod at home so I could enjoy the sights and sounds of Summer Streets in NYC.

So, to each his/her own, I say. Sometimes I love having my tunes and sometimes I need to tune into my body. I maintain that when you need to really focus, like in a race, you gotta be tune-free. However, if it’s a particularly long race and you need something to keep you company, I am ALL about the tunes. It just depends. That’s my opinion.

What about you? Do you run with tunes? Maybe only on certain runs or during certain distances? 

Shout it out in the comments and then go out and run!!!

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10 thoughts on “The Great Debate: To Run With or Without Tunes?

  1. Totally depends on my mood. Somedays I feel as if it is the only thing that will get me thru the run. Other days, I appreciate the quite and focus more on my form or I let my mind wander.
    I think to each their own! 🙂

  2. Well, I agree with you! I almost always use my iPod on the treadmill and almost nevr take it for runs outside. There have been exceptions in both cases though. If a friend is running next to me (in the gym or outside): no music. Sometimes I have taken my iPod on extra hard lonely runs (like yesterday’s 18 miler) just in case. I have only raced with music twice, and I was happy to have it for those particular races but it was definitely not the norm for me.

  3. It depends on the day for me. Some days I want to concentrate on running, some days I need the music to keep me going, and some days I really just want to work through problems in my head without distraction (the problems are enough of a distraction!)… but I do have to say, that music helps me a lot in races. It keeps me focused, keeps me confident, and lifts my spirits so that I can keep pushing to the finish line!

  4. Normally I’d say that I’m 99.9% with those that are in the “no tunes” camp. However, I actually have a post planned to admit that I’ve been writing down songs to include on an emergency playlist to carry with me during the NYCM. I’m not sure if I’ll actually carry an ipod as a “just in case” kind of thing, but I’m heavily considering it. If I do, I think it would be the equivalent of a caffeine jolt at mile 20 for someone who doesn’t drink much caffeine.

    • Totally with you, Jess. If you have the room in your pockets, I highly recommend having a tiny iPod with you. Those late miles can beat you up and awesome songs just might do the trick to carry you through to the end!

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