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.