Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thoughts On Running and Music

I was speaking to a friend the other day about her exercise plans for the following day. She mentioned how her iPod was fully-charged and ready to go and how the music would help her forget about the pain that would inevitably come. The way she phrased it as if the requirement of music was a given made me aware of the relationship people tend to share with music and how it commonly serves either as a motivator for exercise, or a distraction from emotional exhaustion as a result of physical exhaustion.

(photographed: park)

Until the last couple months, I have always shared that philosophy that having ear-buds surgically attached to your ears during workouts are a must. If I just listen to this song intensely enough maybe I won't notice my heart race is increasing and it's getting more difficult to breathe. If my iPod battery was dead, then I resorted to plugging my earphones into the elliptical machines at the gym that allowed you to hear what was on television conveniently located in front of the machines. Very nifty idea.

Since I've started running consistently for the past seven months or so, I've spoken occasionally about how I should try running with only the thoughts in my head. There were times music felt disruptive and the concept of running in complete silence felt so strange it intrigued me. But music was like that security blanket that I felt was possibly saving my runs- as if, somehow, having lyrics accompanying a strong beat in my head was the motivation that was essential in keeping my legs to make every stride. 

I was immediately discouraged the day I realized that the alarm clock/radio that I used to always keep my iPod charged had been unplugged in order to previously charge something else. My iPod was, as a result, dead. I took this coincidence as an opportunity to run without music for the first time.
It was different. Instead of the strong beat that I found necessary playing in my head, all I could hear was my breathing and the pattering of my asics as they made contact with the concrete below. The combination was it's own hypnotic rhythm that I found entranced me much more than music ever did.

(photographed: park)

For a few weeks since then I stopped bringing my iPod with me altogether. I focused on my thoughts, however random they were. Haruki Murakami said in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that he doesn't really think about one thing when he runs. He just looks at the clouds. I feel like I'm very similar. I don't run and think about what I have to do for the day. Sometimes I do begin a run with stressful thoughts such as these, but those thoughts go away quickly and for the next hour all I have are thoughts of the trees, strange lawn ornaments, and the dogs that I can hear barking at me.

Since giving up music during running, I came to realize how distracting it was. I find myself more focused since I started running consistently without it. I have, since then, occasionally brought my iPod along for runs again. However, there is a huge different in why I bring it with me now. Now, it serves as a source of entertainment so my runs don't get too stale. My time without it forced me focus on the act of running, the movement of my legs, the necessity of consistent breathing, and now, running with music no longer hinders it. My running playlist has changed dramatically as well. But I'll save that for another day.

Do you listen to music when you run or work-out? If so, what kind(s) of music?


  1. When I'm doing strict cardio I like having a beat I can fall back on --if a cardio instructor (in the video) has a pace higher than me I try to adjust mine to the beat of my music--this way I can keep at my pace while striving to get better

    When it comes to Pilates/Yoga/Stretching I focus only on the breathing and need that silence and clarity to fully keep myself in check (form, keeping my exhales consistent wit the harder movements)

    When I do go for walks/light jogs its usually without music, I like to focus on my steps, how I step, how body weight shifts, and the true nerd I am what bones/muscle groups I'm activating...

    1. I definitely agree about the silence in pilates and yoga. Consistent breathing patterns are stressed in those practices, so I don't see how you could possibly do that with loud music.