Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Running and Music

If you are interested in responding to my letter to the Times, scroll down to the next post. Otherwise...

I heard a story on the radio yesterday, I think it was NPR, which noted that many of the larger races have been banning the participants from wearing portable listening devices and from accepting water from anywhere other than official aid stations along the marathon route. In fact, the top two female winners of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon were both disqualified for those very offences. "The fastest woman, Cassie Peller, a 23-year-old student at Marquette University, was disqualified shortly after the race for accepting aid - a water bottle - from a friend outside of the official water stations. That made Jennifer Goebel, 27, the winner, but only for a couple days," according to JSonline.com. A few days later race director Kristine Hinrichs confirmed that Goebel has also been disqualified for using her iPod in the late stages of the run. Apparently, Runners competing for USATF championships with cash prizes are not allowed to use electronic devices." An official from USATF said Goebel's disqualification "may be a first in the country," as race directors are now allowed to determine whether to ban iPods during races, Held reported.

In Milwaukee, at least, the organizer’s rule didn’t apply to mid-pack runners, only the elites who were competing for prize money, but that isn’t the case with some popular East Coast marathons like New York and Philadelphia. While there is a ban in place for NYC, race organizers will not be enforcing it.

So why ban Ipods? The USTAF claims the rule was put in place because of concerns that runners listening to music would have a competitive edge over those who were simply listening to the little voice in their heads. A secondary reason involved safety concerns about runners not being able to hear race announcements and there were also some insurance company issues. Apparently there is some science to support the performance enhancing effect of music on athletic performance. Anecdotal evidence abounds.

I’ve run distance events both with and without an Ipod. The ½ marathon I ran without my I-pod I beat my previous PR by almost 4 minutes. Then again, I was better trained for that race so I can’t say whether music (or lack of music) was a factor. All of my indoor treadmill runs are done with an Ipod, otherwise I get so bored that I feel like I might claw my eyes out. On my long training runs, I take it or leave it depending on my mood. The runs where I listen to music are usually a little faster than those without. I have to wonder though, whether running a race with an I-Pod is gives me an unfair advantage. Full disclosure: I also drink coffee before a race and caffeine is a known performance enhancer. Am I cheating? Do you race with an I-Pod? What do you think about a ban?


  1. I only started to run with my iPod a month before my marathon and it made a huge difference. First, some songs seemed to speed me up. Second, it quieted the negative thoughts. I don't always take it with me and more or less save it only for special runs which isn't even all the races I enter.

  2. I heard yesterday the Philly relaxed its ban but "strongly suggests" that participants don't run with one. I'm torn. I think I'm going to bring it and put it on if I need extra inspiration around the 20 mile mark. That's the time where runners, according to one article I read at CNET, "are ready to eat raw elk and physically assault a mailbox."

  3. LOL. Races up here give the same advice but it seems to me more people have them than don't. Last year when I did the full I ran alone with music the first half and then various buddies took turns running or cycling beside or near me for the second half. I found the second half tougher not only for the obvious reasons but because it was way too social having to talk and it broke my zen like state! The idea of putting the music on for that last stretch makes a lot of sense. It just takes a bit of effort though to turn it on and make sure the earphones are in properly, etc.

  4. I get into the zen like state for a while but near the end I crave distraction of any sort. Music works as well as anything.