Clear and Present Danger – Outdoor Running With Headphones

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(Not the movie starring Harrison Ford as CIA agent Jack Ryan)

Safety

Headphones 2Running with headphones results in a reduced awareness of your physical surroundings. If you are treadmill running, hit the playlist. When outdoors, being less than totally conscious of your physical surroundings compromises your personal safety. Like it or not – all runners (especially women) must run defensively at times. Headphone wearers range from being less attentive to totally oblivious of other people, cars and dogs – all of which are potential attackers that pose real threat to a runner’s physical safety.

Last month, Runners World online posted a story about a headphone wearing teenager who was struck by a car and was seriously injured. He was running a night time 10K and took a wrong turn, straying off course and on to an open road. He did not hear the runner behind him shouting a warning.

A bit closer to home – last year, my teenage daughter and I got into an argument about wearing headphones while running. She insisted that she could hear what was going on around her, with or without headphones. I waited until she left the house for a run. I put on my running shoes and took off after her. I ran up behind her. She was absorbed in her music, unaware of my sudden presence. I tapped her on the shoulder, startling her. She’s lucky; Dad’s a safe guy.

What’s My Body Telling Me?

When you are in tune with the tunes, you’re not in tune with your body. When we run, our bodies provide us with valuable feedback. We learn what a certain pace feels like, how our breathing, heart rate and muscles all respond, especially when pushing the pace. We continuously integrate this data, making appropriate physical and mental adjustments in response while running. When we race and receive the same signals we experienced during training, we can stay calm and in control because we know we’ve previously experienced the discomfort brought on by faster running and we’ve handled it. Headphone wearers can easily miss their bodies’ subtle cues and the race day lessons to be derived from them. It’s tough to listen to music and your body simultaneously.

Am I Missing A Beautiful Experience?

Last May, my wife and I volunteered as course marshals at the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon. The off-road course ran through a section of Toronto’s scenic park system. An elderly woman was walking past me. She stopped and astutely observed: “Those women (referring to some of the headphone wearing race participants) are running through beautiful nature but won’t enjoy the chirping of the birds or the smell of the flowers”. Yes, she was correct on her first point….and likely on her second point too.

“I run for the feel of the textures of the earth underneath my feet. I know of no time when I am more fully alive or intimately at one with the physical world.” Roger Robinson, running columnist and author.

The sounds and scents of outdoor running in a natural setting, one of running’s great joys, are no competition for iPods.

Hopefully, some readers will think twice before reaching for their headphones when heading outside for their next run.

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