The Benefits of Running Without Headphones

Me on my 10-mile long run in The Netherlands, appreciating the forest and the solitude.

By Rebekah Mays
Most of us can’t get through a marathon training season without a pair of running headphones.

We just love to listen to music, podcasts, and even audiobooks to help pass the time.

I’ve definitely found that having something good to listen to can make those three-hour long runs a lot easier – not to mention the early-morning and super-cold runs.

But has it become a habit to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore?

I for one often plug my headphones in and get going, never really making a conscious decision about whether I’m going to listen to something or run in silence.

It turns out there are some great benefits to running headphones-free sometimes. Here are four reasons you might consider leaving them at home for your next run.

The Benefits of Running Without Headphones

Benefit #1: Effort Awareness

If you’re following a good marathon training plan, you probably know you shouldn’t do all your runs at the same pace.

Your “easy” runs need to be truly easy – meaning you shouldn’t be huffing and puffing. Your speed workouts should include intervals at a higher effort, so you’re getting a more intense workout. And during your long runs, you should aim for a pace you can sustain for whatever distance you’re going.

It’s important to be aware of the effort you’re putting into these workouts, so that you can get the maximum benefits out of each session.

For me, running with headphones can be a distraction. And if I’m not listening to how my body really feels, I usually push my easy and long runs a bit too hard.

Running without headphones, on the other hand, helps me be more aware of how fast I’m going, and whether I can sustain that pace and effort for a longer time.

Benefit #2: More Safety

It’s also important to consider safety when it comes to headphones.

If you find yourself running in the dark, in a busy city, or in some other environment where you need to be alert, it’s good to exercise caution and go without your earbuds.

Running without headphones will let you better hear approaching cars and people, and will help you avoid distractions.

It’s true that these days, there are more advanced running headphones that use bone conduction technology and allow you to hear ambient noise. This can be a good compromise if you can’t stand running in silence.

Still, the least risky option is to go without headphones at all, so you won’t be distracted and can focus on your safety.

Benefit #3: You Can Appreciate Your Surroundings

Have you ever been listening to a podcast on a run, only to realize you weren’t paying attention to the natural beauty around you?

This happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was on a long run in a beautiful forest, but I wasn’t really taking in the scenery.

Then it hit me. “I’m in such a beautiful place!” I told myself, “I need to really experience this.”

So for about thirty minutes, I took out my headphones and just enjoyed the forest, the fresh air, and the fact that I’m healthy enough to be able to run at all.

Did it make the run go by more slowly? Sure.

But in my mind, that’s completely worth it, if it means appreciating my surroundings and getting a lot more out of the experience.

Benefit #4: Mind-Body Awareness

Why do we run?

In his book Mind, Body, and Sport, John Douillard discusses how for many ancient cultures, one of the main purposes of exercising was to develop mind-body coordination.

These days, many of us run in gyms or in other environments where we’re constantly distracted. But if our attention isn’t on ourselves as we’re working out, Douillard argues, we’re actually disintegrating the mind and body rather than bringing them together.

This makes sense when you think about it. If we have our attention on too many things, we tend not to do any of them very well. Our brain is scattered, and our body just doesn’t function as well.

Running in silence can help us become more in tune with ourselves – both our physical needs, and our deeper emotions.

Running headphones-free

Does this mean you should never run with headphones?

My personal view is that there’s a balance.

Running with good music, a good podcast, or an audiobook helps get me out the door when I’d rather stay at home. And it makes it more fun!

Still, for all these reasons I do believe it’s good to leave the headphones at home sometimes. Usually when I give it a try, I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it.

What about you?

How do you feel about running headphones-free, and why?

Let me know in the comments below!

About the Author
Rebekah Mays is training for her third marathon, which she’ll run in Luxembourg in June. She lives in the Netherlands with her husband and owns Running Copywriter, a freelance writing business for the running industry.

4 Responses to The Benefits of Running Without Headphones

  1. Vybarr Cregan-Reid April 24, 2019 at 4:25 am #

    I used headphones for years, then I suddenly decided not to in my thirties. I’m 50 now and have never really gone back to them. When I used to run barefoot, I would put earphones in and just tuck the cable into my shorts without connecting them to anything as it meant people were less inclined to … “share their thoughts” with you if they believed they couldn’t hear you. I will occasionally now listen to some music for the purposes of cadence training, but for me, running is about being present. It is time to think, or not to think, if I please. Great piece – good luck with the 3rd marathon.

  2. Adolfo P Salgueiro I April 24, 2019 at 8:08 am #

    I started running with headphones, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, mostly, in order to combat solitude while I trained. Even completed two marathons with them. One day, out of the blue, I just had enough. Ditched them and never looked back. It is the best part of my days. Either chatting with friends or just being alone with my thoughts. So glad I took that step.

  3. Glen Avery July 16, 2021 at 1:35 pm #

    I have never used headphones.I prefer to listen to the natural music around me. I also don’t want to “zone in” so strongly that I miss some of the visual delights that nature presents.

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