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Clear and Present Danger – Outdoor Running With Headphones
(Not the movie starring Harrison Ford as CIA agent Jack Ryan)
Helmet 2Running with a helmet reduces awareness of one’s physical surroundings. If you run on a treadmill, tap on the playlist. When you are outdoors, being less than fully aware of your physical surroundings compromises your personal safety. Like it or not – all runners (especially women) have to run defensively at times. Headset wearers range from being less attentive to completely oblivious to other people, cars and dogs – all of which are potential attackers who pose a real threat to a rider’s physical safety.
Last month, Runners World online published a story about a teenager wearing a helmet who was hit by a car and seriously injured. He was running a 10 km at night and took a wrong turn, veered off course and onto an open road. He didn’t hear the runner behind him shout a warning.
A little closer to home – last year my teenage daughter and I argued about wearing headphones while running. She insisted that she could hear what was going on around her, with or without headphones. I waited for her to leave the house to go for a run. I put on my sneakers and went after her. I ran after her. She was absorbed in her music, unaware of my sudden presence. I patted her on the shoulder, making her jump. She is a singer; Dad is a sure guy.
What is my body telling me?
When you’re in tune with the music, you’re out of tune with your body. When we run, our body provides us with valuable information. We learn what a certain beat looks like, how our breath, heart rate and muscles all respond, especially when we pick up the pace. We continually integrate this data, making the appropriate physical and mental adjustments in response during the race. When we run and receive the same cues we felt during training, we can stay calm and in control because we know we’ve already felt the discomfort of running faster and handled it. Earphone wearers can easily miss their body’s subtle cues and lessons on race day. It is difficult to listen to music and your body simultaneously.
Am I missing out on a great experience?
Last May, my wife and I volunteered as course marshals at the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon. The off-road course passed through a section of Toronto’s scenic park system. An elderly woman walked past me. She stopped and cunningly observed, “These women (referring to some of the race participants wearing headphones) are running through beautiful nature but won’t appreciate the chirping of birds or the smell of flowers.” Yes, she was right on her first point…and probably on her second point as well.
“I run to feel the textures of the earth beneath my feet. I know of no time when I am more fully alive or intimately in tune with the physical world.” Roger Robinson, columnist and author.
The sounds and smells of running outdoors in a natural setting, one of the great pleasures of running, don’t compete with iPods.
Hopefully some readers will think twice about reaching for their headphones when they head out for their next run.
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