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Dimity McDowell: Tune In or Tune Out?

Do you rock headphones during races?

​There are runs when I think I couldn’t bear to be without music. Whether it’s Madonna and “Lucky Star” taking me back to the 80s when I coveted lace gloves or the steady beat of “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers reminding me to “Keep my head up,” sometimes I desperately need the distraction of tunes.

I may be in a running rut where every mile feels ridiculously long; I may, to stay on tempo pace, need the motivation only The Killers can provide; I may just want to totally tune out and turn off my brain.

​Then there are runs when music becomes just noise. If I’m trail running, I definitely don’t want the distraction. I love hearing the birds sing, twigs snap under my shoes, and leaves rustling.

During races, I tend to go sans headphones too. At the Country Music Half-Marathon a few years ago, I had a new playlist, appropriately full of Dixie Chicks and Kenny Rogers and the like. I’d never run the race—or in Nashville—before, so it was a totally new experience and course, and the race had more spectators and athletes than I anticipated. It was all too much new for me and I felt mentally overloaded by about mile 7.

​And when I want to focus on my body, I can’t handle anything but what my brain is transmitting. A few years ago, I revamped my running form using techniques from Chi Running. I ran in silence for at least eight months. (Well, I occasionally ran with the beep of a metronome to keep my steps light and quick, but that’s hardly a rockin’ beat.)

Which is better? Can I be wishy-washy and say both? Because it’s the truth. When I’m running solo, I love how music picks me up and mentally transports me to other times and places, but I don’t really like how it isolates me at races. I’m a mid-pack runner and I feel like I used to have many more conversations during races. These days, I look around and often am the only one without a white cord dangling under my neck. ​

​No matter. I’m running my race and you are running your own. And we all run to our own beat.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.