Monday, August 20, 2007

Ipods in Races: Much Ado About Music

An article appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe today (it must be a slow news day) discussing the ongoing controversy of the ban on headphone use in USATF sanctioned races.

Should the governing body of the sport legislate your use of ipods and headphones, or should you have the right to listen to your tunes, as long as you are not bothering anyone? Is it an intrusion of your freedom to “run as you please,” or are you really a danger to yourself or others by wearing headphones at a race?

On the face of it, this seems like a rather silly issue, but it does raise one interesting point: why is it that some runners are so passionate about their ipods, while others are equally passionate about maintaining the “purity” of their running, eschewing this form of moving entertainment? Something as innocuous as listening to music would not seem to be enough to create a polarizing issue, but that is apparently the case.

I suppose it is just one of those things you are either into or you aren’t. Personally, I am a headphone person, although not in races. Sure, I like the pure feeling of running, but it does not have to be mutually exclusive from enjoying music at the same time, when I am cruising along at a moderate pace in training. I find the music especially helpful on wintertime treadmill runs, in which the tedium factor is greater than on outdoor jaunts.

Races however, are a different story, at least for me. The primary issue is that my focus is on competition, and any extraneous equipment, such as movable hardware and jiggling wires, is likely to just slow me down and distract me from the task at hand. I know ipods have become more sleek and economical in style lately, but still, I’d rather not have to deal with them in a race. When training alone however, the music (or even sports talk radio) can be a welcome companion to help pass the miles.

Is headphone use really a danger? The main concern is that of being able to properly hear the sounds of traffic and other people. Again, my personal experience is that I can almost always hear those around me, as well as oncoming cars. I tend to keep the volume moderate and the headphones loose, rather than plastered to my ears. I use the pads rather then the buds that stick all the way into the eardrums, an uncomfortable feeling.

A study was done a few years ago that indicated being motivated by one’s favorite music can result in improved performance. Perhaps this is true; if so, I say go for it. If you feel you need music to get you through a race, I have no problem with it. To my mind, USATF should be more concerned with performance enhancing drug use among its elite runners, which has severely damaged the reputation of the sport in recent years. That is truly an issue worth getting “tuned into.”

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