If you’ve been listening to music and have a bad run, your music may be causing the issue. No matter how awesome you music is, it can define your performance. I personally want to be good or bad in a race based on factors I can control. I rarely race with music playing. I have found that some of my runners work better with music than pace goals where they have to pay attention to numbers. Music can subconsciously dictate your pace through the beat of the rhythm of the song. For instance if you are trying to finish a 5K a little faster than 30 minutes, you could start with Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, Black Eyed Peas’ Pump It, and finish with Blink 182’s What’s my Age Again? You would end the race with roughly a 10 minute first mile, 9:42 second mile, and 9:18 third mile totaling 29 minutes for the 3 miles of the 5K. That would give you a very comfortable 60 seconds to travel .1 miles. When I used music to plan my races, I tried to get negative splits like the example I made. On the contrary if you listen to Happy by Pharrell, Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, and All of Me by John Legend (the current top 3 songs according to Billboard), you may find your first mile really fast (a 9 minute mile), but slow down to a 12 minute mile by the end. Jog.fm is a good tool to find or create a playlist. They have compiled a searchable database of songs that allow you to find music that fits your taste while keeping your time based goals through rhythm in the music. You can listen to Pandora or I Heart Radio, but then you are letting something outside of your control dictate your run. With a little time and preparation, you still control your race.
I quit running with dual headphones last year. It became a safety issue, but I did not recognize it as one until I saw a near miss of a runner while driving. Like driving, running takes concentration as you navigate through numerous moving obstacles anticipate their intentions and signals. You may not realize it, but you are tracking your terrain, the cars, other pedestrians, other vehicles, and any light or movement in your peripheral vision while trying to maintain your form, hydration, nutrition, inventory your aches, and manage your exhaustion. Quite a bit going on there in your noggin. Add trying to start your playlist or GPS, checking your timer, or putting your headphones, and you’ve got extra distractions. I found that eliminating the headphones allowed me to focus on running while still having the benefits from music through the external speaker. (I don’t do that during races for courtesy.) Without earphones I get the benefit of hearing the traffic around me, and the warnings that I may not catch visually. There are a lot of cues that the environment gives you for your safety when you are running along the road.
Recently, I have added audiobooks to my listening habits during long runs. If pace is not a priority, then audiobooks are great. They allow you to engage your mind on longer runs without the repetitiveness of music. Music on long runs becomes annoying to me. If I start with music I usually turn it off after 40 minutes of running. The only exception to this is musicals. I have found that the narrative of musicals appeases me longer on those runs. Jesus Christ Superstar by Weber and Rice is great for a long run. Tommy by The Who (Broadway version) and Chess by Rice & Andersson (London Cast version) are really long and good for a run. I still have to try Avenue Q, Book of Mormon, and the cooler Disney musicals. Another advantage of musicals is the variety of musical styles that many composers use. It keeps it all fresh sounding as you run. You can tune in and out of the narrative as you need to engage your brain.
When it all comes down to it, sometimes you need something to keep you on pace, distract you from your aches, and engage your mind. It can be a lonely sport when you are out on the road. If you need it to keep going use it, just be safe. Let one earbud dangle.