Most of the time I choose to run without music, but I used to not be that way: I had to wean myself off of it. After 12 steps and many meetings, I’m almost clean.
I receive a lot of questions asking how I did it because for many people, running without any music seems so boring!
Why listen to music when you run?
Music can sometimes make running feel easier. Studies find that music reduces your perception of how hard you are running by about 10 percent.
An external stimulus such as music can actually block some of the internal stimuli trying to reach the brain—such as fatigue-related messages from muscles and organs. When these messages are blocked, this reduces a runner’s perception of effort, so you feel like you can run farther, faster. (The exception is at higher levels of effort—the brain involuntarily switches its attention from the external to the internal.)
Music also elevates positive aspects of mood such as excitement and happiness, and reduces negative aspects such as tension, fatigue, and confusion, so it can be used pre-performance to get runners into an optimal mind-set.
I think we’d all agree that music pumps you up when running, spinning or lifting. Each of us has a personal “power song” or band that we turn on when we need a little something extra. Nothing wrong with that!
So why skip the tunes while sweating?
1. I first decided to run more music-free miles after reading somewhere that music loses its motivational effectiveness after an extended period of time.
For example, if you download a new running playlist today, it’s going to pump you up in your next race. A year from now when you’ve listened to that playlist 5000 times, it’s not going to be as effective as it once was.
So I thought that if I ran less with music, when I did run with it (during a race) it would be that much more motivational.
2. Another reason I started running without music was for safety. You’re simply less aware of your surroundings when you have headphones in. It’s harder to hear the car coming up behind you, the bicyclist right beside you, a rustle in the bushes, thunder in the distance, etc.
I always feel like I’m much more present and aware of what’s going on around me when I’m not listening to music.
Jessica Biel does not look like she’s paying attention.
3. I don’t want to be dependent on music to run… like I have to have my iPod or the run’s toast. What happens when your iPod breaks or dies? I remember the first race I ran without music, the Palm Springs half marathon in 2009, and I freaked out because my PR hopes were dashed, or so I thought.
4. Building on #3, I want music to be another motivational tool in my runner’s toolbox. What, you don’t have a Tim the Tool Man Taylor toolbox? so sorry for you.
So instead of needing my tunes, I can listen to them on days when I’m really dragging, doing a very hard run or during a race.
How do you start running without music?
The way I did it was like building up your mileage: slowly. I would bring my iPod on short recovery runs where pace didn’t matter at all and I would try to turn on my iPod for only half of the run (3ish miles). Eventually and slowly that turned into going music-free for all my slower, recovery miles.
Then I started slowly running more long runs without music; I’d do the first half without tunes and then loop back to my car, grab my iPod and turn it on for the second half of the run.
So just like building your speed or endurance, you do it slowly, forming new habits and getting comfortable running without music.
What I’m not saying is that you have to go sans music to be a serious runner or anything like that. If music is what motivates you and gets you out the door, then go for it. I still use my iPod in the majority of my races and some training runs. Right now I’m trying to listen to less of it on treadmill runs and more news (so boring!), but I have days where I’m dying and turn on the tunes within 25 seconds.
So do whatever you have to do to get out the door and running!