I’ve gone from being a runner who quietly shook her head at runners with headphones to one who makes sure her ear buds are fully charged before the long run. But I still have concerns that I’m not getting the full benefits of running when I’m running distracted. Here are my thoughts.

The long runs

I’m well into my Manchester Marathon training plan and despite my concerns, I’m really surprised at how much I’m enjoying the long runs.

I haven’t run beyond half marathon distance since 2019 and I was worried about my ability to build up my endurance again. Before my plan started I was very comfortable around 8 or 9 miles on my long run. I could do this with little effect on the rest of my day and zero effect the day after. Extending up to 10, 11 and now 13.5 miles has been no trouble at all. I’m running them slowly, at chatty running pace (all done solo so talking to myself!)

Plugging in

I’ve been doing most of my long runs on canal towpaths and I’ve enjoyed listening to podcasts and a bit of music – this is entirely new to me. Getting headspace and peace was a huge reason for me to start running and one of the biggest benefits I got. I had three pre-schoolers when I started my running journey. The idea of runners choosing to fill their ears with any kind of noise was bizarre to me. I just couldn’t understand why you would want to do that.

I’m not sure what changed really, I think it may be because my life is so different now. I work from home, I have long periods of the day when I don’t talk to anyone and the house is quiet, apart from the dog occasionally barking. I’m able to have some headspace at other times of the day. I’ve really enjoyed working on personal development and looking for other ways to share my knowledge such as creating my Run Through the Menopause course. This has required a lot of learning and new skills. I usually listen to podcasts when I’m doing the cleaning and in the car. I get so much from them. There was one week when there was a long one that I really wanted to listen to and because I knew the towpath would be quiet, I decided to listen while I ran. It worked really well, the run seemed easier. I saw this new opportunity to listen to some podcasts and to gain knowledge while I ran.

Quiet running

Having said that, I do still value some quiet long runs. Yesterday was a perfect example, 13.5 very hilly road miles. I won’t wear headphones on the country roads around here for safety reasons and I enjoyed just letting my mind wander. The power of running as meditation is incredible. I know that’s when I get a lot of my ideas. It’s on the long runs that I experience this the most. That’s when I’m opening the voice recorder on my phone to capture what’s in my mind. That’s when the magic happens. Running has been so powerful for me over the years. It gave me the chance to think, dream and ultimately find the courage to change my career and life. Why would I deny myself of that? Can I hear my true subconscious and intuition when my mind is half on something else? Why dilute what I’ve found to be so powerful?

I also don’t want to feel that I have to rely on pods or music to get me round. I know that’s not cheating but I never take the easy option (just ask my husband!) and I want to know that I can do it without. I’m not even sure what the marathon’s policy is about headphones. Whether you should be allowed to wear them during an event is a controversial issue, with runners on both sides of the fence. I’ve certainly seen runners completely unaware that blind runners and their guides were trying to pass them, I’ve also seen a runner unaware of an ambulance right behind him! I’ve said a friendly hello to many a runner and been greeted with stony silence because they haven’t heard me. I don’t want to be that runner. Yet, now I’ve experienced it, I can see how helpful it can be to have distraction. Podcasts help you think about something else and make the miles fly by, it feels like a good use of time. Music gives you such a boost, a rhythm and a surge of adrenaline.

I know runners who wear bone conduction headphones say they’re able to hear even quiet noises around them so maybe I should explore these. I have to say, when I listen to music I like and need it to be quite loud. That’s when it truly gives me goose bumps and spurs me on. Background music just isn’t going to do it for me I don’t think.

Making a choice

I think this is a very personal thing. Everyone is different. Everyone needs something unique from running and that may change day to day too. As usual, it’s a case of finding the right balance. For me that might be some long runs with and some without distraction. Or maybe half the run with and half without. At the end of the day, these miles need doing and if it’s helping me then I’m not going to stress too much – although you can see I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it! I’m worried about missing the full magic of running. What are your thoughts on this? Do you listen to something on your long runs? Do you have any of the same thoughts as me or am I just overthinking this?! I’d love to know, leave me a comment here or on social media.

If you want to learn more about ‘mindful running’ and ‘productive running’ then I’ve covered it in my book  Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners published by Bloomsbury and available everywhere you buy books.

Image by Free stock photos from www.rupixen.com from Pixabay

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  1. I started doing couch to 5k after losing my running mojo and bought da pair of shokz. I actually tend to use them for walking more and have not yet contemplated them for long runs. I like to be fully aware when running and I also don’t want to miss the sounds of nature around me.

  2. For me it’s definitely run with the sounds of the environment and my own thoughts. I have tried with headphones but no, not for me.
    This could be because my work environment is fairly noisy (driving a lorry) and I always have the radio on with either radio 4 or Planet Rock. So once running I just plod along with whatever is happening around me.

    1. Yes, I think this is a really good point. When I first started running I had three preschoolers and the peace running gave me was heavenly. I work in silence.

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