For the majority of my running career, I was always horrified at the thought that my iPod might die in the middle of a run. Music was the essence of a steady pace and entertainment during my runs, and it was unimaginable to think of spending over an hour out on the roads with only the thoughts in my head.
I guess you could say I’m a plugged-in runner. I really enjoy using the time spent running as a chance to zone out and focus on listening to music and sweating through the miles. Although my music doesn’t change all that often, I treasure the songs I use for running and each represents a different aspect of my running for me.
So why is it, since the marathon in October, have I been pulling out my headphones and running in silence…and enjoying it??
This is a very new phenomenon for me, and it isn’t completely regular, however during each run I’ve been having this urge to participate in my surroundings without the distraction of music. It’s really different and odd for me—music has always been my constant as a runner, and I was always in shock at the people who could spend miles and miles inside their own heads without an upbeat tune keeping their feet moving. My running friend Rose refers to this type of runner as a “purist,” which I really think is the perfect description. Because running is in so many ways just this—pure. It’s simple, it’s primal, and it requires very few external resources.
Running without an iPod is the essence of this running purism. Without the distraction of various songs in our heads, we must channel our attention to the rhythm of our breath, the tapping of our feet, and the hum of our surroundings. When we unplug from our distractions, we can absorb our surroundings so much more wholly.
I feel that this thought was what initially jolted me to turn off my iPod one cold Seattle morning. It was dark and calm out, and I had the sudden desire to hear the sound of the ocean that I run by all the time. All at once, I was completely in awe of the peaceful solitude I felt without my music. All my senses seemed to be heightened; I could hear the breaking waves, the “arping” seals, and the cooing seagulls. With the exception of occasional passing headlights, I really felt completely alone with my surroundings, and there was something very therapeutic about the whole experience. Without music, suddenly these other facets of running overwhelmed me all at once, and I felt very curious to play around with this new-found running technique.
It would be a lie to say that I saw the light and now run in meditative silence alongside the sea creatures and rainbows. No, not even close. I still start most of my runs with my iPod, and I do still keep it on for a full run from time to time (note: hills are nearly impossible to tackle without an epic “Dream On” anthem playing at top volume). However, I’m no longer scared to run without music. During almost every run I unplug from my headphones, if only for just a small portion of time, and enjoy all the external beauties surrounding me. I have found that without headphones, I give much more acknowledgment to others passing by, my pace is kept much more precise, and I am actually more distracted than I am with headphones. However, this distraction is driven by appreciation and admiration of everything surrounding me, as opposed to hearing Taylor Swift sing so precisely about the aches of love (for the hundredth time).
I guess my point is this: By allowing my attention to focus outward during a run, as opposed to solely on the beat filling my ears, I have learned to appreciate running in a whole new way. For a long time, I loved the feeling I got after a run. Sure, while I was plugging the miles I knew that I was accomplishing something, but my mind was always adrift; focused on the afterward. By unplugging and submitting to the nakedness of running without a fixed playlist, I have learned to love running in the present. My awareness of the things around me during a run has brought me in touch with the purism of running, which is all about enjoying the run itself. Even if I only occasionally remove my ear buds, this new found appreciation of “running in the present” has heightened my admiration for the sport. Channeling our energy into the present moment is one of the hardest things for people to do, and running is one of the few activities that, if done with diligence, yields an ethereal sense of stillness and peace.
Do you run with music? Book on tape? What are your thoughts on unplugging ourselves during a run?