Two Runners On Why They Do—And Don’t—Train With Music

Music or nature? One runner shares why they train to tunes, while another explains why she leaves the headphones at home.

Pardon Me While I Rock Out

By Kevin Gemmell

The first thing I do when making a playlist is to find a goopy Debbie Gibson song—something that takes me back to junior high and awkward hands-on-hips slow dancing. “Lost in Your Eyes” is a good one. Why?

Motivation, of course. But it’s not what you think. At the end of my standard loop around my neighborhood (about a 5K), there is a 200-yard hill with an approximate 6 percent incline. I put Debbie at the end of my playlist with the hopes that I will never hear her. Because if I’m grinding through that final uphill push and I hear Debbie, I know I haven’t properly paced myself.

For me, music is as much a timing mechanism as motivation.

There are those who dig the R&B umph, umph, umph beat. And that’s great. I’m not one to tell others how to run. But I’m a rock guy, and my playlist reflects that. When I run, I’m “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I literally want “Kickstart My Heart” to do just that, so when I’m done my hat “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

There is a place in my ears for 80s glam rock, 90s grunge and gritty 2K rock (Audioslave’s “Shadow on the Sun” is a great slow burn to start your run … RIP Chris Cornell).

A part of me envies runners who don’t use music, but can still find that head space to embrace their Zen between each step and breath. But then Skillet reminds me to “Feel Invincible,” and I let the music carry my legs as I sing along (sometimes in my mind, sometimes out loud. I’m not always sure which).

Debbie will always have a place in 13-year-old Kevin’s heart. But for 40-year-old Kevin, she’s best kept out of his buds. Some things are better left in your “Electric Youth.”

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The Joy Of Leaving Tunes Behind

By Amanda Loudin

I love music. It is the background of my daily life with my playlists spinning away while I cook, clean or get ready for the day. I’m a proud card-carrying supporter of my local member-supported radio station. Heck, I even bought Bruce Springsteen tickets while perched on a chairlift last year on a ski trip.

In spite of all that, there’s one place I never bring my music: on my runs. In 20 years of running, I have never positioned an earbud to accompany my miles.

There are a myriad of reasons, chief among them the fact that running for me is a multi-sensory adventure. I hear the songs of waking birds, take in the wildlife along the path or trail and smell the muddy stream as I run alongside it. If I’m running with friends, there are miles of shared conversation to enjoy.

There’s also the fact that my solo efforts serve as time for letting my mind roam. As a writer, I find that many of my article ideas spring to life while I’m in motion. I can’t help but think music would interfere with that process.

If I’m racing, I tend to be an associative runner, taking stock of my energy output, breathing and how my legs are feeling. I think I’d be less in tune with my body’s needs if my focus was on a song. Plus I like hearing the sounds of a race all around me

Finally, there’s the safety issue. I will admit that I never bring a phone or rarely tell my family my intended course. But one thing I do to increase my safety is allow my hearing to be unencumbered.

I understand that I’m in the minority. That’s fine with me. I’ve always beat to my own drum.

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