The Advantages of Running with Music

mp3 playerOf the many factors that can help runners perform better on race day, an MP3 player definitely rocks (no pun intended)!

I generally run while listening to podcasts of my favorite talk radio show, the Brad and Britt Show (which is on WBT-AM weekday evenings in Charlotte, N.C.).

I’ve also listened to a certain podcast from the Marathon Training Academy on an occasional run!

When Brad and Britt took a few days off last Fall, I was looking for something else to listen to during a Sunday long run.

My Accidental Discovery
Long ago, I had put together a “running mix” of rock ‘n’ roll, new wave and other up-beat songs that I could play during runs, but I prefer talk radio during most runs by myself. For this run, I decided to try my “running mix.”

The battery on my Garmin Forerunner 305 also died early in that run. The combination of no pace feedback from my Garmin and listening to the running mix produced an amazing time of 2 hours, 40 minutes on my hilly 20-mile loop in Chapel Hill, N.C. Trust me, “hill” is part of the town’s name for a reason!

The next week, I decided to listen to that running mix again for a hilly 15-mile up-and back training run from my house in Durham, N.C., and finished it in 2:02:49, my fastest pace for any training run of any distance since Oct. 24, 2010.

That got my attention.

The Merits of Listening to Music While You Run

I began debating the merits of listening to that music while running the Sept. 28 Asheville (N.C.) Citizen Times City Marathon. I still debated it up until race morning, before deciding to rock my way through the hilly, challenging course.

The music really does invigorate you, put you in a good mood and quicken your pace. In the latter part of the Asheville course when I wasn’t around many other runners, I think it definitely helped.

It was also a bit funny that AC/DC’s “Have a Drink on Me” was playing as I approached an aid station at one point. I do believe I will. But make that a cup of water, thank you!

It also eliminates an irritating dynamic. When I’m running without headphones, sometimes certain songs are stuck in my head. They played Reveille before the Frosty 25K (a trail run in Winston-Salem, N.C.) in January 2013, and that song was stuck in my head for much of the race! That’s not my first choice for an endless loop!

The results that day in Asheville were more than satisfying. I ran a 3:37:12, felt great at the finish and won first place in the Grandmaster (50+) division. Although it was 4 minutes, 11 seconds off the PR I had set on a flat Tobacco Road Marathon (Cary, N.C.) course earlier in March, it was my best marathon to date.

Good training obviously was a huge factor, but I have to think that the music certainly helped. With that same plan, I ran a PR in late October at the Greensboro Half Marathon with a 1:36:44 on a hilly course.

When it Backfires

Sometimes, though, being way too psyched up for a marathon and listening to some up-beat music can be a bad combination.

For the flat Outer Banks Marathon in November, I felt like a sub-3:30 marathon was definitely within reach. It probably was, with a first half at 8-minute pace and pushing that pace faster for the second half. But in all of the excitement, my first few mile plits were 7:35, 7:17, 7:36 and 7:33.

Over the course of the marathon, I think the music kept me pumped up and pushing, but I think that it contributed to my crazy early pace. By the last few miles, and with a stiff head wind on the bridge at mile 23, I couldn’t maintain the pace I wanted. I settled for a 3:30:32, which still was a PR. Without those way-too-fast first few miles, though, those 33 extra seconds to reach my sub-3:30 goal would have been easy to slice off.

The Fix

With that lesson learned, I purposely didn’t start the music on my MP3 player until mile 4 of the Jacksonville Bank Marathon in December and went out with consistent split times around 8 minutes. It was a driving rain storm in the last 6 miles with humid, 72-degree conditions and not poor pacing that kept me from my goal this time, and I ran a 3:33:23.

I’m definitely committed to rockin’ my way through races now. I even did that for a Thanksgiving 5K Turkey Trot.

For marathons, though, I always take the headphones off a little after the 25-mile mark to take in the atmosphere. In addition, I really don’t want that finishing picture to include the headphones!

Yes, there may still be a lot of runners who prefer to go without headphones, even on training runs by themselves. From my experience, though, you should try it out for a race. For me, it can’t be beat!

7 Responses to The Advantages of Running with Music

  1. Trevor Spencer January 25, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    Thanks for the post R.L. I ran my marathon PR while listening to music the whole time. The last song I heard was “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I crossed the finish line during the up-tempo guitar solo. The timing was perfect.

  2. Amy January 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I love listening to music and adjusting the playlist for certain workouts. I’ve found rock or dance music is great for speed/interval type workouts and worship music is great for longer runs where I need to relax. My favorite running song lately has been “Go Hard” by Lecrae.

    I’ve never raced with music, though, so maybe that is something I should try for 2014! Great post!

    • Trevor Spencer January 27, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      Lecrae is the man!

  3. Emily January 28, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    I agree . . . . I love to use music as a second wind. I started one marathon listening to Bruce Springsteen- and baby I was born to bonk.

  4. Adolfo Salgueiro January 28, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    I always start with no music and do not put my headphones on at least on the first half of whatever long distance I have planned. It helps at the end when you need a pick-me-up so I have realized that if I start too early it loses its effect.

  5. R.L. Bynum January 28, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Born to Run definitely is on my running mix!

    I don’t have it down to a science quite like Amy in terms of what sort of music I listen to for a certain run!

    I have a wide variety, but it’s all up beat: AC/DC, B-52s, Blondie, Boston, Springsteen, The Cars, Heart, Led Zeppelin, Pat Benatar, The Police, Pink Floyd, Queen, REO Speedwagon, The Rolling Stones, Scorpians, Steppenwolf, The Who and even a couple of Bee Gees tunes.

    As you can tell, I’m 53, so most of my music has been around for a while. I had to Google Lecrae! 🙂

  6. Gwen February 2, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Hi! GREAT subject! I have always had a difficult time staying on pace, usually start out too fast, and end up having to take walk breaks. Finally, I found which has to do with beats per minute. Now, my “Killer Running Songs” playlist starts at 140 bpm and goes up from there. I have enough songs in the playlist to finish a solid half marathon at over 150 bpm. I not only stay on pace, but also pretty much finish without having to walk, plus I have been PR’ing !! I don’t even like some of the songs in my playlist, but the beat is there -> woo hoo !!

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