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The sound of music

January 17, 2012

Last winter I was running mile repeats in Finsbury Park. It was sunny and with the beginnings of spring warmth I’d embraced the bare leg. On a downhill stretch I overtook another runner, who was wearing earplugs. As I passed him, oblivious to my presence, he turned in my direction and spat on my shins.

He shouted apologies after me as I rushed past, but I’d pretty much made up my mind about runners who listen to music on the run. They’re oblivious to everyone and everything, I’d thought. My prejudices were reinforced over time by cyclists gunning through rush-hour traffic in central London while taking calls on their iPhone, couples running together but blithely ignoring each other via their iPods, and even one remarkable man cycling down the middle of a road in Seven Sisters using both hands to play with his iPad.

So, when Three very kindly sent me an MP3 player armband to take out on my runs, I was a little skeptical about whether it would help my running or just turn me into a hazard. But, in the name of a balanced opinion, I donned it and my iPod and hit the paths around North London.

My first run was meant to be a relatively easy 10 miles. I headed down the Lee Valley, switched to an up-tempo playlist (which I’ve often used to get me in the mood before a race) and tried to keep a steady pace. It didn’t quite work out like that, though, because I couldn’t hear when my Garmin clocked off another mile, so I couldn’t keep tabs on my pace. Consequently my mile splits were a bit all over the place.

It also took a while to get used to the sensation of hearing my pulse in my ears, grappling with the wires as they got tangled with my arm and replacing my ear buds when they inevitably fell out.

However, with marathon training now kicking in, I’m taking my iPod with me on one run a fortnight: the long, slow timed run. With no real emphasis on pace, just finding hills, following trails and spending time on my feet. Rather than listening to music, I’m listening to podcasts as they’re less likely to interfere with my pace. Unsurprisingly, Marathon Talk with its 90-minute-plus episodes makes ideal running material.

So, here are my top tips for running with audio:

  • Loop the headphone cable up your arm and out of the back of your top so the loose end of the cable doesn’t get in the way or get tangled up with your limbs.
  • If you’re listening to music, try to pick tunes that are around the same tempo and that are not likely to affect your cadence.
  • Create playlists that get you in the mood for running, and make sure your playlist is a good bit longer than your longest run so that you don’t need to fiddle with your MP3 player mid-run.
  • Try something like Audiofuel if you’re looking for exercise-specific tracks.
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