Headphones are fine for training…leave them at home on race day
Go ahead and sit down to read this.
I have some really bad news for you as you prepare for and dream about your big race.
Guess what? Race day is not all about you. That’s right. The big race you have been training so hard for, practicing your nutrition plan for, pacing execution, your clothing, right down to your socks, pre-race dinner, breakfast is not just about you.
On race day, you will be joined by a few hundred or thousand others. Others just like you who have had a singular purpose for months, whose families and friends have sacrificed and supported to help get their athlete to the starting line. Everyone wants to have a terrific day, whether that means a PR, a BQ, whether it is a race with a group for charity or your first time out. One way to help that experience for you and everyone around you…take your headphones OFF! Leave them at home!
This is a hot- button issue for lots of folks. People go so far as to claim they cannot run a 10K, half-marathon or marathon without music. Well, pardon me, but that is just a load of crap!
It has never ever occurred to me to wear headphones during a race. Part of racing is overcoming the mental challenges as well as physical. Of course, they didn’t really exist when I started racing! And when they did become an extension of every runner’s ear, USATF banned them, although it was a largely un-enforced ban. They have since rescinded that rule, leaving the decision up to individual race directors. USA Triathlon maintains a ban on headphones at all USAT sanctioned events and you will get penalized.
To me part of the whole race experience is just that; to experience it, take in the crowds, enjoy your surroundings. Fighting and beating those demons that try to demotivate you when things get tough, isn’t that part of the challenge, part of the accomplishment, part of the reason we all do this?
All of that aside, my main reason for writing this is to get you to consider other runners on the course. It was during The Marine Corps Marathon several years ago that I noticed the tremendous safety hazard the runners with headphones on presented.
MCM is a very popular marathon – read crowded! – the course is not flat and on those rolling hills, the wheelchair racers can get up a huge head of steam going downhill. I witnessed numerous people nearly get run over because they couldn’t hear the racer shouting “on your left” as he cruised down the hill. I literally pushed a person out of the way at one point.
Since that day I often see people trot along oblivious to the world around them as safety vehicles try to maneuver through the crowd.
These are not small issues. But if that isn’t enough, think about your fellow runners out there working hard. Runner’s who worked just as hard as you did getting prepared for this day; runner’s for whom this day is just as important.
So maybe in a road race, with lots of room to jockey around for position, it is a mere annoyance to try to get around someone who is oblivious to your presence, but maybe not a direct hindrance to your performance.
What about a trail race?
Trail racing is a different beast. On most courses you are spending 3/4 of the race on a single-track trail, navigating roots, rocks, puddles, leaping over creeks, twisting around trees to get up or down a hill. Chances to pass people are few, and you need to seize them as soon as you can. In my experience the communication that occurs during a trail race is endless, and vital. You need to be able to hear the person breathing down your neck, know when they want to make the pass, and likewise you want the person in front of you aware of when you are ready to make a pass. People in front often shout out about hazards such as roots or puddles or even sharp directional changes.
As trail racing continues to make popularity gains, I urge organizers to set – and enforce – a ban on headphones. Xterra states on the entry form to its trail races and triathlons that headphones are not allowed.
Headphones make you a safety hazard. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then show some consideration for the other racers. Put yourself in the position of that wheelchair racer, ambulance driver, faster runner trying to get around you.
Finally, consider that you are truly missing out on the entire race day experience by shutting yourself off from it. And race days, even the bad ones, are some of the most memorable days of all!