FAQ: What music do you listen to when you run?

Of the various questions people ask me about training for a marathon, the answer to this one seems to surprise people the most.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“So, what music do you listen to when you run?”

“I don’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t listen to music.”

“What, at all? But… don’t you get bored?”


“Don’t you find time goes more slowly? I’d get so bored.”

And no, I don’t. Alright, midway through a few of the long, slow two-hour training runs I’ve done it has crossed my mind that a bit of music might be nice. But since I took up running two years ago, I’ve never run with headphones. Why not?

Two basic reasons, both dating from my previous failed attempts to take up running. Previously, I’d always go out with my iPod playing. And it always ended in frustration.

First, my slightly odd-shape ears seem to be incompatible with just about any design of headphones when it comes to running. In-ear buds fall out when I run, while over-ear cans either squeeze too tight or slip down. I used to spend as much time sticking my earphones back in place as I did actually running.

More importantly, I found time passes more slowly when I listen to music while I run, I think it’s because I’d always find myself running to the tempo of whatever song was playing. And because I know how long a song lasts for, there was never any doubt as to how long I’d been running.

When my current running kick began two years ago, I did it without taking an iPod or iPhone (other portable music-playing devices are available…). And I don’t think I’m missing out. In fact, I find time passes faster: instead of running to the tempo of a song, I often get lost in my own thoughts, and find time flies by. It gives me the time and clarity to think about things.

Really, it does. That slight cliche about people having some of their best ideas when they’re out running? For me, that’s absolutely true (although since I don’t run with a pen and paper, I often find I’ve forgotten most of them by the time I get home…).

I also get to hear lots of cool things I wouldn’t with earphones on. Birds tweeting. Rivers flowing. Planes roaring overhead as they come into land at Heathrow. Okay, that last one isn’t quite so soothing – although there is something quite captivating about an Airbus A380 zooming low over you…

Another reason for not running with music: technically, headphones aren’t allowed in most races, in order that participants can hear other runners (quite important if you’re in a tight pack), and instructions from marshals. I say technically, because in my experience it’s not a particularly well-enforced rule, even though it probably should be. So if you’re going to race without headphones in, training without them makes sense to me.

That’s not to say running without music is for everyone. I know plenty of people for whom having music playing makes time pass quicker, and helps to inspire them to perform. It’s just I don’t see the need.

There is, of course, a bonus follow-up question here: if you did listen to music when running to train for the London Marathon, which song would you listen to?

Now that I can answer. Because it’s the one I hum to myself a lot when trying to picture myself running the London Marathon. Yeah, you know what’s coming…

I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. To sponsor me, please click the Just Giving button below. Thanks!

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