Listening to Stuff When Running

Sarah McMahon
4 min readAug 28, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

When I first started running, there was no such thing as a Bluetooth headphone. iPods and MP3 players had only recently hit the market, and I had a small black MP3 from Walmart, the size of a pink Paper Mate eraser. I added a couple hundred songs to it, a weird variety of late 2000’s top hits, country classics, and old school rock (I really loved Paint it Black, Hotel California, and California Dreamin’). Some days, I would listen to nothing. Other days, I’d listen to one of the three radio stations that came through clearly, mostly Bob & Tom or NPR. And some days, I would hit the shuffle button and listen to whatever came my way.

Some people say that listening to things when you run is a distraction, an easy way to escape mental discomfort, and an easy to way outsource your brains ability to be alone and manage pain. I say maybe, but who cares? We’re all distracted all day, every day anyway. Listening to something while you run seems the least alarming distraction, and it’s been shown that listening to upbeat music makes you run faster without feeling like you’re running faster.

That being said, there are times when it might not be appropriate or safe to drown out the sounds around you. When I’m running in the mountains, I never use two headphones and rarely use one. Not only is it safer, but I also enjoy hearing birds, chatting with other hikers/runners, and generally present. Many races also prohibit the use of headphones, and I can understand why. You need to be able to hear the runners around you and communicate with folks at aid stations. Not to mention that the overall race experience is probably more fun if you aren’t tuning everything out.

Benefits of listening to stuff: I’m a big lover of audiobooks and podcasts. This year alone, I’ve listened to nine audiobooks, mostly while I run. My favorites were the Beartown trilogy by Frederick Backman, The Secret History by Donna Tart, The Longest Race by Kara Goucher, and The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. Podcasts are another great way to learn something while you’re in motion, and research shows that learning is enhanced when coupled with exercise. In a world where everyone is always short on time, audio is a great resource to learn while on the move. I spend 10–14 hours a week working out…