Woman listening to music while running a marathon she's using her headphones

Can You Listen To Music While Running A Race?

Personally, I love listening to music while I run. It keeps me motivated and encourages me to reach my running goal for the day. The beats keep my feet going. Recently, I have been thinking of entering a marathon and have wondered… Can you listen to music while running a race?

Yes, you can, if there are no rules banning listening devices. Many official races don’t permit it, so don’t train with music because you may become dependent on it. However, you should be able to run while listening to music if your goal is personal.

If you’re planning to compete in a big marathon, it is best to check with the organizers on the rules of the race when it comes to listening to music because these rules will differ from race to race.

U.S.A Track & Field (USATF), the governing body for long-distance running and track & field in the United States, banned the use of headphones or any other music playing devices at all USATF-sanctioned races. This rule was amended in 2008, allowing people not competing for awards, medals, or prize money to use headphones.

Why headphones are banned from some races

It all comes down to practicality. Important information is mostly relayed via audio cues at most running competitions, and the competitors and spectators rely on these messages. Special accommodations will be made for people with hearing impairments, so they too are kept in the loop with important information.

In order for the runners to know when to start or stop the race, or move out of the way, they would have to listen carefully to the audio cues and respond accordingly. You will not be able to do this if you have both your ears covered or plugged with headphones or earphones. Taking note of important cues from race officials is one of the rules of racing etiquette.

One good reason why you have to be able to hear cues is that the race can be delayed when a false start is not heard. There is a sound that goes off when motion is detected by a runner before the race has started. This sound informs everyone that the race needs to be restarted.

If you didn’t hear the sound, and end up following this runner, you may contribute to the false start, delaying the race even further. This could result in you being disqualified if the race officials decide it to be the case.

More importantly, this rule is set in place for everyone’s safety. This is always the main priority when it comes to any public event. Races attract a huge amount of people and have many competitors, making mistakes easy. It is a huge responsibility to keep everyone safe at such an event.

Therefore, when the race is on a public road, which is open to cars and other traffic, if you can’t hear what’s happening around you, it could have very serious consequences. You could very easily miss hearing signals from oncoming traffic if you have your headphones on. And, this can possibly result in an accident, injuring yourself or people around you.

Even on an open road, there would be cues informing you of race instructions. These notices could be missed if you’re wearing headphones. Environmental sounds are an equally important factor in achieving a safe running event.

The organizers at these large races or marathons have a lot of logistics to keep in mind. Banning listening devices assures them that all cues will be heard, and that the safety of the road will not be compromised by runners not being able to hear or notice traffic signals.

Do elite runners use headphones?

The USATF has banned the use of electronic devices. So no, elite runners do not run with their headphones on. At least those are the rules here in the United States. It is the personal preference; however, for some elite marathoners to train with or without their headphones.

Here are a few reasons why runners prefer not using headphones:

●      Electronic devices can be used for communication

Athletes can use their devices to communicate with their coaches or anybody not on the course. These devices can be used to receive tips in some form of a playback, for example. Preventing this will level out the playing field.

●      To avoid possible hazards on the course

Runners wearing headphones are more prone to injury by missing an alarm coming from a passing runner or the court marshal. If you cannot hear, you cannot follow the necessary direction.

●      Safe passage for emergency vehicles

If your headphones are blasting those tunes at high volume into your ears, you will likely not hear oncoming emergency vehicles behind you. This might delay them at reaching the emergency point.

In 2006, electronic devices such as iPods, video, audio, communication, or music playing devices were all completely banned from all USATF certified races (except for a predefined list of approved items, like wrist chronometers). In 2008 this rule was slightly changed during the USATH Annual meeting, which allowed people not competing for prizes to use these devices.

In some long-distance running events, the games committee may allow listening devices such as headphones or earphones, bearing in mind the distance of the race. Although, these devices must not be capable of receiving communication.

Running very long distances that take a full day at times, demand focus, and music helps many elite runners to keep that focus while taking on those many hours of running. Therefore, the rules have become a bit more relaxed. Runners are requested to rather refrain from using headphones, but at the ODDyssey Half Marathon, this was not banned completely.

The rules still stand though, whenever runners are competing in any championship for an award, it is strictly prohibited. When it comes to any USATF event, and an elite runner has a goal of winning cash or any other prize, they have to follow this rule.

The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), has not explicitly banned headphones either, but if they want to use RRCA insurance at their event, they cannot promote it as being headphone friendly. So the directors of the event are encouraged to ban them entirely.

Most elite runners are not affected by these rules because they actually prefer not to listen to music while competing. When they are racing, they find it beneficial to be in tune with their competitors.

Another reason why elite runners also prefer not to use headphones while running is so that they can concentrate on their own bodies, counting their breath. Being aware of your body is also very important for safety, as you might be so into your music that you may not realize that you’ve injured yourself.

The benefits of listening to music while running

As I have mentioned, music really keeps me on track while running. In fact, this is the case for many other runners. It can have a very positive impact on your performance from keeping a steady pace to even accelerating your recovery after exercising. Let’s have a look at some of these benefits:

Music has a positive impact on your performance

A recent study which was published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise showed that music could have a positive impact on a runner’s performance.

They took 24 adult individuals, 12 men and 12 women, all insufficiently active and instructed them with exercises to do—some with music, and some without. The group of people who exercised to music enjoyed their exercises much more than the group who did not have any music.

The music-listening group also responded much better to the exercises than the other group. They were more enthusiastic and tended to be more positive.

The study concluded that listening to music while exercising or running for that matter has great benefits. It has the tendency to elevate performance; it will boost feelings of pleasure and even improve your overall enjoyment.

Music may ultimately keep you dedicated and motivate you to continue this practice. Exercise does not come easy and without effort for all of us. The pleasure that you experience from listening to music while you’re on your run might be what you need to boost your performance.

Listening to music can help you keep a consistent pace

While listening to the correct music, you can actually improve on keeping a consistent pace. There are runners that prefer not listening to music so that they can keep their focus, but others find that music helps them with just that.

There was a very interesting study done by Dr. Costas Karageorghis, Divisional Lead for Sport, Health, and Exercise at Brunel University in London. He found that while a runner listened to music that matched their tempo of running or workout, it could actually help them perform better.

As for high-intensity workouts, he suggests listening to fast-tempo sounds with a beat exceeding 120 beats per minute (BPM), and 120 BPM for workouts that require less effort, (like a fun weekend run).

Dr. Costas was also involved in creating a music marathon to support his research. Run to the Beat is a marathon accompanied by live and pre-recorded music. The drive for the event came from the ban on personal listening devices during races.

While some runners were in support of this ban, other recreational runners were outraged. The event was presented in a very positive light by the international media. The conclusion from this marathon was that, if well selected, music can reduce the energy you use by assisting with the pace you keep.

Listening to music while running can accelerate your recovery

Whether you are an athlete or a coach, your common goal will always be to improve performance and speed up recovery. Listening to music while running can actually help you do just that.

A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has proven that when listening to self-selected music while running, a variety of improvements can be achieved. Motivating songs can make a recognizable difference in your recovery process.

Many coaches and athletes are able to improve running performance during their training sessions by using music. Music-related interventions are often needed to motivate athletes during high-load microcycles and keep their enthusiasm high, resulting in better results and quicker recovery.

Music can also be applied as an ergogenic before competitions with a 39% chance to achieve increased performance. Accelerated fast-recovery (10 minutes) can also be reached with the help of sedative auditory stimuli, and this can even prevent cardiac-related complications.

After an intense physical exercise session, music can be used as a form of sedation and positively affect the recovery process. Psychological studies have shown that listening to music after exercise can also aid in the recovery of fatigue-related symptoms and physiological responses.

What is the right music for running

Choosing the correct music can make all the difference in your results. You have to choose the right music to suit your taste, but also something that will motivate you and keep you at a consistent pace.

A lot of research has gone into the type of music that works best for running or training purposes. The tempo of the music can affect how you respond to it. However, one study has examined just this. Researchers have actually found that as long as you like what you are hearing, it will provide a benefit. The tempo and style of the music had minimal effect.

There have been experts recommending you listen to the type of music that will match your running pace. Their logic makes a lot of sense. In a 2020 study that looked at the optimal step frequency during outdoor running, they found that the experienced recreational runner has an average high stride turnover of 180 steps per minute. Therefore while listening to music that is also 180 beats per minute (BPM), you can aim to sync your own stride with the music’ beat to achieve this pace.

Not everybody is a DIY music playlist expert, and for those, you get very able music streaming services that will do this for you. Here you can select an already compiled running playlist to serve different types of runners.

Why shouldn’t you use headphones while running

There are a few reasons why listening to music while you run might affect you negatively. Being aware of it solves half the problem – keeping you safe and your racing in top form. So, it is worth taking note of the following:

You could get dependent on music to run

While there are many advantages to enjoying music while training, listening to it each and every training session can have a downside come race day. You have to be able to perform at your best without your music. If you’re dependent on your music to get you through a race, you might not be able to do this.

As most race organizers forbid runners from wearing listening devices while racing, that dependency could negatively affect your race. If you’re already at a point where listening to music is a part of your mental running routine, then you are going to struggle to reach that finish line without the help of your headphones.

There are runners who prefer to refrain completely from running with music in their ears to avoid the risk of having to retrain their brain and legs to now have to perform without it. This is what many runners have to end up doing at the cost of time they could be spending on making progress in their training.

Music sometimes gets used to distract you from either pain or boredom. In some instances, runners rely on it so much that they believe they can only run at a certain speed or distance because of it.

Listening to music while running can distract you

For your own safety, you might want to think twice when you feel like going for a run with your headphones on. You will come across distracted drivers, cyclists, or unmindful walkers regularly (sometimes wearing their own headphones).

If you happen to get completely lost in your music, you might be too distracted to hear approaching cars, putting yourself in grave danger. If you’re not fully aware of a hazard in the road or people trying to warn or communicate with you, you stand the risk of an injury.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 3,000 deaths were caused by distracted drivers in 2018 alone. I, for one, don’t want to be a statistic.

There are many quiet roads where the risk is less, but if you plan to go running on a busy road rather leave your headphones for another safer area. The other option is when using earbuds to just put one side into your ear and stay aware of your surroundings. You also get headphones that do not plug directly into your ears, still allowing you to hear the environment.

So, for me, a fun run kinda person, music will always be a part of my training. If you’re training for an official race, though, it might be better to unplug the sounds early on to get yourself race-day ready. It’s going to be tough, but don’t worry, you can still listen to your tunes when you cool down or warm-up… nothing wrong with that.

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