I mentioned in my race report that lately I’ve been ditching my iPod for speed work and long runs. It has been an interesting experience to say the least.
Some background: When I first started running the only way I could handle running 2-3 miles at a time was to have a mix CD in my discman that I’d carry with me. Yes, I ran with a discman. I know. So bad. But it was the only thing that could get me through a run. After awhile I graduated to an iPod and then to an iPod shuffle. I just couldn’t run without it. I hate the sound of my own breathing and if I’m hurting, I want to be able to disassociate from my own body. Plus, I love music and I really love to listen to music while I run. It helps me zone out, relax and makes the miles fly by. And it also makes me feel like I’m in a movie 🙂
But recently I have been doing nearly all my long runs and speed work with people and it is just rude to wear headphones with other people around! Plus, I have peer pressure not to run with them– not a single person on my team runs with music. And I am not exaggerating. This isn’t the first go at running sans iPod– I’ve run without them quite a few times (including a 21 miler with Aron) but running naked always causes me a lot of anxiety. What if I run slowly? What if I’m alone with my thoughts? etc. But the more I run without my music, the more I realize that it is a crutch that was keeping me from truly listening to my body and giving my all in a speed session.
I read somewhere that the best runners focus internally when the going gets tough and that mediocre runners find something to distract them (like music) and focus externally. As I’ve been working harder on the track and on the roads I’ve found that I need to focus internally to get the job done. Often what holds me back isn’t physical– it’s mental. By stripping away distraction and forcing myself to focus internally I’m more able to quiet the voices in my head telling me I’m not fast enough or that pain=stop. Instead of focusing on Eminem telling me to lose myelf in the music, the moment… I’m focusing on my breathing, turnover or taking a turn correctly. I’m focusing on running, not music.
As for long runs, if I have people with me the runs go by in the blink of an eye. We talk, point interesting things out and encourage each other. Even when we’re silent, somehow I don’t mind the silence in the comfort of a group.
Racing without headphones is not very different than racing with them. Let me explain– when I’m running hard I could be anywhere. I don’t notice scenery, I don’t hear anything and I’m only doing what I need to do in order to finish the task in front of me. People always ask about pretty/ugly/interesting parts of race courses and I almost never know what they’re talking about! I can point out hills or sharp turns but never surroundings. I’m too busy trying not to barf. Although I enjoy the pump it up aspect of music I’m finding that simply being in the racing environment with other runners around me is enough.
Plus, running without headphones is more social. I find myself more apt to wave and smile at others on the trail, I can hear chatter around me and I can talk to other racers. Not that I want to talk when I’m racing, but I could. If I wanted. But, for the record, I don’t. And, if I feel like I want to go on the trail and spend 2 hours alone with my tunes, I still have that option.
Overall, I think this is a positive change. I’ve noticed that the fast runners never wear headphones and I think there’s probably a reason for that. I think I’ll continue to listen to music for easy runs on my own and probably tempo runs but I have the feeling that this change is going to be a permanent one. Like anything else it takes some getting used to, but I’d encourage you to give it a shot. It’s actually oddly liberating!