my running adventures – barefoot or otherwise

Poll: Are you a runner or a jogger? And does listening to music determine which you are?

I saw this image after I wrote the below post and it made me crack up laughing!

Are you a runner or a jogger?

Are you a runner or a jogger?

I’ve been thinking about music and its relationship with running recently and to me it seems an entirely personal choice. However, I’m going to outline my reasons (or state my case!) for why I choose not to listen to music while I’m running.

Let me first of all just share with you my passion for music. Music is a massive love of mine, and I could spend the rest of my life poring over which songs I would put on a mixed tape as the ‘soundtrack of my life’ – incidentally, that sounds like a cool thing to do, if I had time!

I loved sport too much for music to get much of a look in while I was in school, until I had to revise for tests, and then music gave me a means of relaxing and pretending to revise, while I studied and learnt lyrics to songs as a teenager. You were always cooler if you knew the words to the songs! At the time, in the mid-1990s I was a big ‘indie’ music lover, and liked nothing better than to wail along to the teenage-angst ridden songs of Oasis, Radiohead, Shed Seven etc and listen to one-song wonder bands on indie compilation albums like ‘Shine’ (my favourite one being Shine Four!).

Since that time, music has always had a huge impact on me and my emotions. I’ve always been a sucker for angst-ridden songs that seem to capture the desperation of a situation, a tough time with a girlfriend, issues with parents, or a failure on the sports field. Why is it that the best songs tell of, or speak into upsetting, sad times, rather than euphoric, celebratory times? (That’s probably just my opinion though!) You want examples? OK!

Here’s just four:

Shed Seven – Out By My Side

Ben Folds Five – Fred Jones Part 1, Brick

Elliott Smith – Waltz #2

Radiohead – High and Dry

I could go on, but won’t – I’ll never complete this blog post if I get into finding more examples!

On the other side, I do appreciate and enjoy more cheerful songs, and love the spine-tingling pleasure I get from listening to songs that seem to swell my heart with pride and positivity. For example, I love ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow – a soaring, brilliant song! You can check it out here: However, I’ve never really been into ‘dance’ music. You know, the thump, thump noise that is played by nightclubs throughout the world. I’ve enjoyed ‘clubbing’ nights out, but it really isn’t music I’d choose to listen to myself.

I love music so much that at the tender age of 24, having never even played a recorder, I decided it was high time to follow my favourite musician, Ben Folds, and start playing the piano. Well, if only it was that easy! I hit the crazy heights of being able to pass Grade 4 piano, but then got a new job and suddenly all the time I had free to practise was spent doing job-based stuff. Then, I became married, and then had children, and whoops! It’s been 5 years since I passed grade 4, and I’m unlikely to get practising again anytime soon. I have, however, got myself a guitar and taught myself how to play a few chords, so when I’m not running, analysing my runs, blogging about running, cycling, doing work, doing housework, spending time with family or anything else, then I love getting my guitar out and strumming along to some songs that are basic enough for me to be able to play!

Recently, I have neglected the ‘current’ music scene, mostly because I never have time to tune in to radio to listen to it, so music I listen to at the moment includes Editors, Matt Redman, Ben Folds Five and Ben Folds too, John Legend, Jason Mraz. While I haven’t listened to them in a while, I also love REM, Jesus Culture, Johnny Cash, Elbow, Coldplay and Snow Patrol, among many other great bands.

Hopefully, I’ve set my stall out successfully in outlining my love of music before I guide you through why I can’t listen to music while I’m running.

Perhaps the fact that I’m not particularly appreciative of thump thump noise music is one reason why I am so averse to plugging my headphones into my ears on the run. But there are other reasons…

I have tried running with headphones in, while listening to my favourite, more upbeat tracks. I had some issues with it though. First of all, I found myself running to the beat of the music. This was disconcerting because I couldn’t gauge whether I was running to my natural rhythm, or being misled in my pace because of the music. It also made me think whether this was helpful when trying to run a consistent pace – as almost every song you choose is going to alter in tempo however hard you try.

Second of all, and this was my biggest concern and downside of running to music, I felt completely disassociated from my surroundings. I felt like an alien, alone in a world of music, isolated from space and time in a cocoon of noise. I absolutely hated this feeling. It made me feel entirely separated from reality. It was like I’d lost valuable senses I relied upon, that I took for granted in order to live.

What I love about running is that I get to appreciate the right here and right now. I am fully aware of the noise and presence of the traffic, my breathing and footsteps, the birds singing, other people walking/running on the pavements, the temperature of the air and the sky above me, colours I recognise as I run, speed of other moving things, smells, interactions people are engaging in and more. When I ran with my headphones in, I was aware I was running, but couldn’t even hear my feet on the ground, or the other sounds I’ve become so accustomed to. I was detached from noticing people’s conversations and gave up looking, because I couldn’t have heard anything they said anyway. I had to pay more attention at road crossings and fully trust only my eyes, again because my sense of hearing was monopolised by my music. I felt immune from the weather and it really felt like I was alone and that people didn’t even see me. Weird.

As I think about other factors that stop me from running with headphones, a few more spring to mind.

You can’t run a race with headphones in. Well, at least you shouldn’t and in every race I’ve ever run, the race information has always insisted that headphones should not be used. As such, why would I bother training with music on, when this isn’t how I’ll be racing anyway?

Warning: potentially controversial point about to be made!

If you wear headphones, are you really a runner? I’d almost use listening to music as a definitive distinction between runners and joggers. In my experience, ‘Joggers’ are people who move fairly slowly, run less distance, care more about what they look like and how many calories they can burn, hate doing it, want it over as soon as possible and don’t want to remember, or feel any of their activity.

‘Runners’, to me anyway, are people who choose to run because they enjoy it, they like the experience of being outdoors, run a variety of long and short distances, have a focus for the run, perhaps care what they look like (but not overly so), enjoy running, often are disappointed at the end of a run as they want to go for longer and analyse or reflect on each run as they shower off afterwards.

What do you think about my distinction between runners and joggers?! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My point, in a roundabout way is, I’m a runner, not a jogger, and as such, I take my running seriously and I can’t focus on my breathing, rhythm or running form, when I’m thinking about the next chorus, climax of a song, funny tongue-in-cheek lyrics, or awesome guitar riffs – as much as I like them all!

For me, running and music are amazing pasttimes, but aren’t compatible, in that I don’t feel you can fully appreciate them both at the same time. I love my music, but it has to be the one thing I concentrate on and listen to. Perhaps that’s because I’m a man and we all know that men can’t multitask, don’t we?!! If I’m running, I need to focus on just that. Perhaps that’s why I like to know where I’m running before I set off, so I don’t have to worry about my route and can focus on ‘getting into the zone’ of my run.

Do you, like me, enjoy music and running, but not together? Or are you a real runner who likes to listen to music too? Are you a jogger and are offended, or agree with my distinction?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Tell me if you’re a runner or a jogger…and why!



4 comments on “Poll: Are you a runner or a jogger? And does listening to music determine which you are?

  1. hannilou1
    May 13, 2013

    Good points. I am currently in the process of weaning myself off my ipod when running due to having a race on the horizon for which mp3 players aren’t allowed. It’s going ok, I generally tend to listen to podcasts now and a couple of weekends ago I completed a whole Parkrun without anything at all.

    Under your definitions I’m a jogger. Which I think is probably fair, I’m very much an amateur and am not very speedy. However over the last couple of months I think I’ve started progressing towards maybe being a runner, just this week I signed up for another trail run “just for fun”. So you never know!

    • barefoottc
      May 14, 2013

      Nice work on weaning yourself off the ipod…I think you’ll enjoy and improve your running a lot by ditching it!

      Well done on signing up for another trail run – I love running on trails, enjoying the challenge of them, as a change from focussing (or obsessing!) on my pace. I hope it goes really well for you and I’d love to hear how you get on.

      It’s a great feeling knowing you’re improving in your running isn’t it?!

      • hannilou1
        May 14, 2013

        Hey, yep the Parkrun without my ipod was much better than I thought it would be. I am really enjoying trail running too. I don’t think I could do it exclusively but it’s a really nice change to running around the park or along the roads.

        I agree it is great feeling like my running is improving. The more I do it the more it feels like it’s coming a bit more naturally rather than being a struggle all the time. I still find it pretty tough though!

  2. runninginnj
    May 15, 2013

    Agree with most of your points, but I’m guessing music works for some runners. I don’t think races here tend to limit the use of MP3 players, although for USATF events, for your time to count for any team or individual events they are not allowed but I have seen some fast, serious runners listening to music while running in races.

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This entry was posted on May 13, 2013 by in Barefoot running, Running and tagged , , , , , , , .
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