Running To The Sound Of Music

To run with headphones or to not. That is the question former professional triathlete Jimmy Riccitello asks.

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So I started running regularly again after the better part of nine years (mostly) off. The act of running hasn’t changed much in nine years — it’s still simply picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down (that’s what’s great about running) — but there are some differences.

First and foremost: What’s with the headphones, especially when you’re running WITH someone? Almost everyone I come across on my runs is connected to some type of musical device. I’ve even spotted groups of three or four all running with headphones.

It seems that not only do runners not like to hear themselves think anymore — they don’t like to hear other people, either. Call me old-school, but there was no music in running nine years ago unless you were running in place in an aerobics class or trying to work your biceps while running (Sony Walkmans were heavy). Let me ask you this: If you’re going for a run with your buddies, why on earth would you show up wearing an iPod?

“What’re you listening to, Joey?”



“Beyonce. What about you, Frank?”


This is why there’s no place for music in running. Some of my best conversations with friends have come in the middle of a training bout. And if I’m running alone, the sounds of running are my friend: the rhythmic thud of my feet on the ground, matched in time by my breathing, the chirps of birds, the rattle of wind-blown leaves in the fall, the angry honks from bitter car drivers, the nasty remarks yelled from car windows and front porches, the accidental emission of gas forced out by a footfall due to a sudden evasive maneuver, an erratic stride, or an overly fibrous afternoon snack. The sounds aren’t all pleasant, yet they’re all music to my ears when I’m running.

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Running frees the mind. It’s amazing how refreshed and recharged one can be after a 30-60 minute run if the mind is free to “associate” and reconcile conflicts and issues. Music, on the other hand, is distracting. As I type, I’m having trouble getting the song “My Sharona” out of my head — and it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve heard that song on the radio.

Music should be saved for times when you don’t need to think, such as when you’re driving a car while talking on the cell phone, or cleaning the house. Or for times when you don’t want to talk to people, such as when you’re on an airplane.

Last year I ran the Phoenix Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, where I took my spot on the starting line with 30,000 of my closest friends. By my best estimate, 20,000 of them had headphones in. What part of Rock ‘n’ Roll did they not get? What part of “live music every mile” did they fail to understand? Can that many runners truly not run without music for the 6-9 minutes it takes them to get from one mile to the next? I guess it’s not a huge deal, it’s just something that I don’t understand.

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Before writing this, and at my wife’s insistence (she runs with music), I borrowed her iPod for a couple of runs to see what the hubbub was about and so that people wouldn’t call me a close-minded old fart because of my current feelings on running with headphones. I think my wife tried to hypnotize me through the song selection on her iPod. By the time my usual 4-mile run was over, I had gotten lost twice and learned that women roar, how to say “99 red balloons” in German (I think), Tori Amos writes some very nasty songs, for an ugly guy Dave Matthews probably scores lots of chicks, Gloria Estefan still sucks, and Jack Johnson is in touch with his feminine side. And one other thing: It may have been sweat, but I think I cried a little during Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You.”

There’s no crying in running. Need I say more?

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