Sound vs Silence

To run with music or without? Read the research then join the debate

Posted: 25 June 2008

Few topics divide the running community as strongly as the question of running with music. For though firing up the MP3 player can be a fun and exhilarating way to crank up the tempo for some, others argue plugging yourself into a playlist simply detracts from the simplicity of the running experience.

It's not just us runners who are getting hot under the collar either: the relationship between music and running is receiving increased attention from sports science experts too.

Here at RW - in association with Nike - we've decided to stage our own investigation into the pros and cons of running with music. Over the next four weeks, we'll be following two hot-headed journalists as they swap their usual running habits for a taste of life on the other side of the fence. Read on to learn more about the rationale behind the project, acquaint yourself with our resident guinea pigs and get stuck into the first instalments of their training diaries.

The Science Behind the Debate

Wise up to the research with this growing selection of articles

  • Tune Up Your Performance
    Studies suggest that the effect music has on your running performance could depend on your personality. Athletes who tune into how they feel while they run are less likely to find music a helpful distraction while, for those who prefer to externalise their thoughts, plugging themselves into an MP3 player is just one of the ways they can get the most from their training.
  • Are you an 'associator' or a 'dissociator'?
    Will music help fine-tune your running? Take this quick quiz to find out.
  • The Perfect Playlist
    Runners who listen to music know its motivating power, but what exactly does a great running song sound like?
  • Extended Play
    Learn how to compile a compelling playlist to keep you running stronger for longer.

Nike+ Cassius Sport Mix

What’s your favourite music to run to? Classical, boogaloo, dance? Well, it’s not the genre that’s important – it’s the bpm (beats per minute) of the music that helps determine a runner’s pace.

Which is why French band Cassius, in partnership with Nike, have created CassiusPlay, a 45-minute track specifically designed with runners in mind. Comprising six rhythmically different sections, the varying bpm aims to mirror a typical workout’s pacing, including that all-important warm-up, a final push to the finish and a two-minute cool-down.

Listen to a five-minute clip (MP3)
To download the file, right-click on the link and select "Save Target As". Then select where on your computer you would like to save the file.

Like what you hear? Then don't miss your chance to download the full 45-minute CassiusPlay track for free (RRP £7.99) as part of this exclusive RW giveway. Alternatively, you can buy it right now from iTunes.

Exclusive Paula Radcliffe Video Interview

Is there a time and place for listening to music within the training regime of an elite athlete? Fire up this never-before-seen video interview to find out what Paula Radcliffe - female marathon world record holder - has to say about the role of music in her race preparations.

Meet the Journalists

It’s a brave soul who agrees to adopt an alternative lifestyle for a month in the name of journalistic research, but that’s exactly what these two intrepid runners have done.

We’ve confiscated self-confessed music nut Andy Richardson’s iPod, and given it to running purist and RW Publishing Director Steven Seaton for the next four weeks. And it’s not just their training they’ll both have to adjust. At the end of Week Three, they’ll be going head-to-head in the monthly Serpie 5K in London’s Hyde Park as we see how they fare with (or without) music under racing conditions.

Trust us, if their initial reactions to this experiment are anything to go by, the month ahead promises to be a real rollercoaster ride for them both...

Running with music: Steven Seaton

Latest Blog Entry (Updated 25/06/08)
I imagined that racing with music would be easier than training. After all races are hardly social experiences. I can't remember ever striking up conversation with anyone mid-race. It's all about you in your own little world and your own performance. So what's the big deal with further distancing yourself from the rest of the field with an iPod? Read more

More about Steven
Margaret Thatcher was still the Prime Minister when Steven Seaton first started working in the running business. After starting life as a junior reporter, he rose through the ranks to spend 12 years as the editor of Runner's World - a period which saw 12 consecutive increases in circulation and the launch of its award-winning website - before moving up to the role of Publishing Director. He's a serious runner with limited talent. He's run more marathons that he cares to remember (mostly slowly), numerous ultras (slower still) and completed a host of multi-day adventure races.

Running without music: Andy Richardson

Latest Blog Entry (Updated 30/06/08)
In the final analysis, one thing counts. Will this commited audiophile run without music in future? The answer, quite simply, is yes. Read more

More about Andy
Andy decided against a stag night when he got married. Instead he flew to Singapore and ran his worst ever marathon. An award-winning writer who started his journalist career 20 years ago, he has raced trains, run along the Mekong River and completed a 240-mile unassisted seven-day run during an eight-year association with Runner's World. His work has appeared in New Musical Express, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent On Sunday in addition to many other lifestyle magazines. A former Tipton Harrier, he lives and works in Shropshire with his family.

Have Your Say

OK, so you’ve heard what our two journalists think - now we want to hear from you.

Are you the sort who would rather commit to 10 extra hill reps than leave your MP3 player behind? Or maybe you prefer to soak up the natural sounds of your surroundings and shudder at the thought of stuffing headphones in your ears?

Whatever role music plays (or doesn’t) in your running career, get your views heard in our special forum debate.

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Sound vs Silence: Paula Radcliffe

music, nike+

Discuss this article

Hi guys

We've teamed up with Nike to host a month-long debate into the pros and cons of running with music, and want to hear what you think.

Does listening to your favourite tunes help you stay fired up and focused? Maybe you have different playlists for different sessions? Or perhaps you wouldn't dream of adding a soundtrack to your daily run?

Whatever your thoughts, we'd love you to share your experiences right here on this thread.

Feel free to post comments and questions for our two intrepid journalists too, and let us know if you have any questions you'd like us to pose to the experts.

Happy running! 

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 11:32

see previous thread(s), all 50 of em
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 15:50

[bangs head on desk..........]

oh dog
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 15:53


Maybe Catherine means runners who wear earmuffs

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 15:54

 looks like an eco friendly iPod

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 15:55

i see where this thread's going
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:02

No, I've deleted my message. I can't bear going through all this crap again.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:05

think for a while i saw about one new thread a week on this subject...couldn't RW just read those
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:08

Nevermind iPods - I can't get my nike+ sportband to work properly!

I don't have an iPod/MP3 because I'm technologically incompetent (and don't have a computer at home for that reason).

I can't understand why it winds people up so much!  Is it because people who run without them feel ignored by those who do?

I've even seen marshals posting that they don't call out encouragement to racers who're wearing them.  How mean-minded it that?

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:10

I love my music whilst running.  I see absolutely no reason why one should not have the choice of running with or without music.

Catherine RW - yes I have different playlists for different sessions with high tempo for speed and some funky/chilled for longer runs. It does take your mind off the pain and if you are unlucky enough to have to run on the roads (lone female runner) then it can also drown out the constant noise of cars, white van men beeping and idiots shouting silly things like "get those knees up".

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:19

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:36

I never used to run with any music playing because a) I couldn't find decent earplugs that would stay in and b) I thought it was for 'joggers' so no serious runner should entertain the idea.

 Now you can get hold of some really good sports head-sets I run with music in when I am on my own and without music when running in a group. I find music helps to stem the boredom when I am out on my own so I tend to stay out a bit longer, but seriously doubt whether it improves your running - only running with better runners does that in my opinion.  

 I say, run with music when on your own if you like, but if you really want to improve then join a club!

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 16:49

You could always try the search function you know ....

From a security point of view, I feel far happier running without music. 

Athletes who tune into how they feel while they run are less likely to find music a helpful distraction while, for those who prefer to externalise their thoughts, plugging themselves into an MP3 player is just one of the ways they can get the most from their training

I often 'externalise my thoughts' if that's what you want to call it but don't need an i-pod to help with that....  though if Nike have any going free  so I can trial this theory as well....  

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:13


In what sense have you "teamed up" with Nike? Might a little bias creep in somewhere??

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:14

lol Joddly. I'm sure Nike is going to be super happy to hear more forumites prefer silence than music unless it can give them some more marketing tips... here's the current vote:

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:19

When I was a slower runner I used to do longer runs with an MP3 player, however, now I find them a serious distraction... I now just have "arguments", "smack my boss" and all sorts in my mind now  as I'm running and by the time I get back home... I'm fresh, not angry and chilled for the rest of the day!

 I think people can become a little dependant on them... just go out into the hills, and run... and chill... and hear the sound of silence, it's fantastic in some places

Cheers Pug

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:27

I run alone, and always listen to radio 4 on an old mobile phone with a single earpiece.  I don't run with music, but can see the appeal.  Each to their own I reckon.  Does anyone else get motivated by Farming Today and the Today programme?  Perhaps I'd go more quickly with Led Zepp in my ears. 
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:27

Hi Joddly

Without giving too much away, Nike will be giving RW members access to some exclusive material over the course of the next four weeks, so it is in that sense that they are associated with the event.

As for how the debate evolves, that's entirely down to you guys...

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:29

I know this debate has been had many times but I did want to make a comment on the article - should safety not feature in it somewhere? I don't mean the risk of getting your ipod nicked, I mean the general lack of awareness of other road users that running with music blaring out creates. I've been run into a couple of times by other runners who were completely away with the fairies listening to their music and didn't look where they were going. Grrr... I really do think people sometimes underestimate the importance of hearing - if you're going to listen to music at least be aware that you are a sense short!

I must admit I have occaisionally listened to music on some of my long winter marathon training runs, but mostly I run without. Especially now it's summer, the days are longer and it's easier to get offroad - who wants music when they can have birdsong at dusk?

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:32

I tend to go out with my MP3 on 99 per cent of the time, the only problem it causes is road crosing and not hearing people coming out to either side or dare i say it from the rear. no jokes please., i find music motivates me especially rocky themes or the likes of on long runs
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:45

This is a 'marmite' subject, some people will always hate the idea of running to music and others will swear blind that it is fantastic, for me I can run with and without, although I do prefer to listen to music when out on longer runs.

Some music can be extremely motivating and therefore music and running will always exist together, but every now and then i is good to head out early on a Sunday morning with nothing but the sound of your breathing to accompany you.

But at the end of the day it is always nice to have a choice, sound or silence?

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 17:48

I listen to 5live on my long runs (runs of over 2h). That way I can listen to the footy and get my run in. During the week I never wear anything as the runs aren't long enough to get bored. Also, it gives me some 'me' time, when I can think things through or just concentrate on the run and how I'm feeling.
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:00

I had to add my two pennies worth here. in fact i was thinking about posting this very subject on the forum last week, but was too scared as i have read the outcome of other various threads!! all gets very heated doesnt it?!

Right, when i first started running i always had my ipod on. period. as i did all my training on my own and in the winter used the treadmill 99% of the time i couldnt get into it unless i had foo fighters, paramore or biffy clyro belting wicked tunes in my ear. however.....

One day i went out for a run (with my ipod blaring)and couldnt make it up this one hill. when i stopped and switched the music off i realised it was because i was going too fast and i was struggling for breath- id overdone it without realising. so the next time i did that route i left my ipod at home. It was a spring day and the sun was shining, there was a breeze and as i live in the welsh hills there was some beautiful scenery. i just reached the top that same crippling climb and as i reached the top, i could hear all the birds in the trees and just the general sound of the country. i felt elated at being able to reach the top. i could also feel everything as i was climbing it, my breathing, my pace, my form and i decided- who the hell needs music if your missing out on all this? i climbed that hill a lot easier because i was tuned into my body.

So in short, whenever i run now, its in silence or with my newfound running buddy. I use postive phrases and mantras in my head if im struggling up a hill these days and they work a lot better. (or i imagine my exes smug face and tell myself if i stop hes won- works every time!!) If your mind is focused your body can carry you through to your goal, lose your focus and your body will give up too. Think music should be definitely kept to the gym and spinning classes!!

However, i am also a great believer in personal choice so i think its a case of each to their own, especially for long distance runs. (how was that for diplomatic)

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:09

oh and i forgot to say about safety- how can you hear whats coming round the bend or if someones coming up behind you if youve got your ipod on?

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:11

When I started out running I found music really helped.  Then I lost my MP3 and found I actually liked running outside without it.  Im trying to get my speed up at the mo by doing interval training on the treadmill and have found music really helps.  Plus I find treadmills mind numbingly boring.  So outside, no music, on the treadmill, music.
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:15

Always take my ipod with me, stick the earphones in and then sometimes turn the music on, sometimes not depending on the run and the general mood.  Being female it can sometimes be useful to ignore infantile remarks (from males both young an old - why do men do that?) pretending to listen to music!

I always check as much as possible on traffic, whether crossing roads, running round bends, or even running past driveways.

Each to his/her own - don't think its up to any of us to say what is right or wrong for someone else.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:35

I tried it a few times and sort of liked it but found myself playing with it on my longer runs and also found on shorter ones it's not worth it and again spend time playing with it and so don't do it anymore and find that I don't play with anything now and enjoy it for running with music I don't know about that?
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 18:48

Choosing a man (Seaton) who says he can't imagine listening to a new CD at home /has no preference of music  is not really a fair test? 

The argument is more about  whether he can be persuaded to enjoy music rather than enjoy whilst running????

I love my MP3 when I run - would never wear it on the bike or to race. I would wear it to swim and have a waterproof holder for doing so. It helps me shut out the outside world (traffic/hecklers/passers by)   In the countryside yes I could miss the birds and bees but I tend to not wear it in lanes for traffic safety anyway - off road the same but for personal safety so as to hear someone approaching.  I'd never wear it in company either

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:03

I've tried it once or twice, but don't like it.

For me running is a chance to be alone, with my own thoughts, communing with nature & with people I pass. Music just gets in the way.

If some enjoy it then fine, but I find it very sad that people on here often say they couldn't possibly cope with running for a half marathon without music. It just shows how we have become dependent on a constant soundtrack to our lives.

I think they should be banned in all races. Not because they offer an unfair advantage, but because they are so anti-social. Part of racing is about being part of a community, and headphones get in the way of that. (Not that people should chat all the way round, but it's a case of being polite to those around you).

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:04

Should we ban deaf people from running, because it's dangerous - I think not - so why should people not be allowed to wear Ipods.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:11

think about it Ed
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:13

I'm thinking

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:14

Strangely nobody ever mentions hearing damage as one of the safety issues of iPod/MP3 player use - in my 20s i often had earphones from my walkman stuffed in my ears listening to music when i commuted -my hearing is ok but it isnt as sharp as it was -especially with a lot of background noise in pubs for example

Everybody always says they dont listen to to it that loud but the concentration in ear may affect hearing in the long term

Deaf and hard of hearing people have often much better  developed other senses and awareness due to not being being able to hear so are probably safer than hearing people in a lot of situations

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:25

'tis a free world - choose what you want.

Me I much prefer the sound of silence - or at least the sounds of my surroundings including my gasping breath, footfall on the tarmac (from which I can tell if I am footstriking smoothly and properly) and luckily enough the countryside sounds that I am fortunate to run through

I cannot over emphasise the safety aspect though both from traffic and personal safety. I literally pulled a wandering teenager off the road onto the pavement recently as he stepped off listening to his MP3/iPod into the path of a car (whose driver was on a mobile!!!) and he simply had not looked or heard it coming.

Then last week I was overtaking a female runner on my early morning run who had earphones in. She looked totally shocked to find someone right on her shoulder as she turned round to look back just before a corner. Fortunately for her it was just a gasping old geezer (which may have caused the shock/horror) but she obviously had no prior warning of my approach. Thought crossed my mind then that it was not a good idea to be so vunerable.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:40

Thank you Gas Ed, the very same argument I had last week on this very subject.
Apparently I caused at least one person to have a sleepless night.

Some of us have no choice but to run in silence.

I'm saying no more because I tend to upset too many people on this subject.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:48

Where's Cougie?

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 19:50

I only ever listen to music on long runs when I'm on trails and paths.  I can't listen to just music, I have to have the radio on so there is some chat as well to distract me from the endless miles................... yes, ultra runner!!!!
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 20:27

I never run to music because i'm a dj and love music so much its part od me, like an organ of my body or something and its so bad that everytime I heard a repetative noise up town or something when walking around my body starts stepping (walking) to the beat. I did try listening to music 1 time on my phone but it screwed up my jogging rhythm and I just could not (as hard as I tried) jog at a different tempo to the music so i just stopped listening to music. When I go running i'm a tower of concentration now and dont hear anything much, just complete concentration.
Posted: 02/06/2008 at 20:42

At the risk of sitting on the fence; it depends where I'm running. I do a lot of my long runs on trails and in the open country so it's nice to listen to bird song, silence, rivers, etc basically all the stuff that you don't get in the city. It's very very relaxing.

If I'm just plodding round the streets or on a treadmill then I will take my I-pod as it can break the boredom.

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 20:57

I have my ipod on when training, and usually in races too. Its loud enough for me to hear the music, but quiet enough for me to hear shouts of support from the sidelines.  I ALWAYS take my earphones out when I'm coming up to the finshline of a race!

Posted: 02/06/2008 at 21:09

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