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Can You Wear Headphones During a Half Marathon?

As we become more and more attached to our electronic devices we struggle with letting them go. Prior to 2008, USATF (USA Track and Field) banned all electronic devices from USATF certified courses. They changed the ruling in 2007 relaxing the rules on electronic devices. Although the relaxation of some of the rules for wearing headphones was implemented, the racecourse directors could still ban the use of headphones for their particular race.

Can you wear headphones during a half marathon?

According to USATF (USA Track and Field), electronic devices are banned from “those competing in championships for awards, medals, or prize money.” While some races do ban the use of headphones, most racecourses and directors of larger races simply discourage the use of headphones during a half or full marathon.

Are you an elite runner?

Since this website is about beginners and intermediate runners finishing half marathons, I would say that it’s safe to use your headphones in almost all half marathons. If you’re an elite runner and competing for prizes such as cash or possibly a qualifying race, then you might leave the headphones at home. I’ve run double digits half marathons and have never run into a problem with wearing headphones for a half marathon race.

in 2016, the UKA Rules of Competition changed the rules regarding wearing headphones during a road race. The rule states, “The wearing of headphones, or similar devices, (other than those medically prescribed), is not permitted in races on any single carriageway road that is not wholly closed to traffic.” Although this rule has changed, it is still left up to the race director to enforce and ban individuals that violate the rule.

Should You Listen to Music While Running?

This answer varies from person to person. The occasional jogger or weekend warrior will probably want to run with their earbuds popping. Elite runners that are more serious about pacing and splits will probably not wear headphones. If they do, they might use them in their easier runs. If you’re just going for your occasional long run or easy run for the week, it’s all too tempting to put on a good playlist and the time fly by. All in all, it comes down to a matter of preference.

Situations where you’re probably don’t want to wear headphones:

  • Running clubs
  • Running partners
  • Group runs
  • Unfamiliar running locations

Why might it be bad to listen to music while running?

When it comes down to whether listening to headphones while running is bad or good, it depends on whether or not you put yourself in harm’s way or possibly injure someone else. Use your best judgment before putting on your headphones and taking a run.

Not being able to hear your signs of fatigue

First and foremost, if you always wear your headphones your not really listening to your body. Listening to your body has to do with being attuned to your breathing and your footfalls. If you’re struggling with your breathing you might be able to pick it up a little sooner if you can actually hear yourself breathing hard rather than listening to your headphones. Also, if your footfalls start getting heavier and scraping against the ground, like your dragging your feet, you wouldn’t be able to hear it with headphones donned.

Safety

Being aware of your surroundings, especially in unfamiliar locations is important. Even though you might be aware of your surroundings, if your headphones are blocking out the surrounding environment, you might not be able to hear if something is approaching you from behind. I’m not saying to be a super paranoid person, just take extra precaution, especially if you’re a solo female runner in an unfamiliar location. If you’re female, you might consider running with something like tigers claws. I have no affiliation with this vendor, just a promising safety device for me to pass on. Check it out here, Tiger Claws. It’s non-lethal but it can leave a mean scratch. This should go without saying, but you won’t need these claws at a half marathon race!

Runner’s etiquette

If you’re in a park where there are lots of people, bicycles, skateboards, etc., you might want to not wear headphones. If someone is trying to pass you and you can’t hear them shout that there, “on your left,” you could possibly cause an accident or be run over. Yes, the person that passes you would be at fault. However, I would rather not have a tire track riding up my backside because I wasn’t audibly aware of my surroundings.

You’re missing the running experience

When runners become unmotivated one of the top five things I tell them to try is to run without any restrictions. Restrictions such as smartphones, GPS watches, and headphones, sometimes block out the real running experience. During your off-season training, pick a day and go for a wire-free run. You might be surprised at what thoughts will be evoked from running with only the surrounding landscape as your input.

Not being able to hear your race pace

If you’re an advanced or elite runner you probably know what footfalls are. When I started running I had no clue what footfalls were. A runner once told me that you need to listen to your footfalls to be able to “hear” your pace. I looked at the older runner, and I was like, “what foreign language are you speaking?” What he was trying to tell me is that you don’t need a GPS watch to figure out your pace. The more you run without headphones, the more you’ll be able to figure out your pace. I was thinking good luck with that and that’s why I have a GPS watch!

I now run at least once a week without headphones. I can now hear the difference between a 9:00 minute/mile pace versus a 10:00 minute/mile pace. Now if you asked me what a 9:15 minutes/mile pace sounded like, I couldn’t lie to you. It would be hard for me to tell the difference. But with more practice, I’m sure I could figure it out.

Reasons to run a half marathon with headphones

Enough with the reason why we shouldn’t run with headphones. Here are some reasons why we might want to run with headphones during a half marathon race.

Music boosts your running mojo

In the post written by Jenny Markell, Can Listening to Music Improve Your Workout, she discusses that different exercises require different tempos in order for your body to synchronize with the music. For example, running and cycling are going to be performed at different tempos. to see a benefit “music of different tempos is needed to achieve ideal performance for various workouts.” Even though a temp might be the ideal range for the average runner or cyclist, the ideal performance won’t be achieved if the individual runner can’t keep pace with the music.

A website that you might want to take a peek at is Rock My Run (I have no affiliation with this website)They have an app that you can download on your phone that places a pre-built playlist of music based on beats per minute. If you upgrade to the pro version, the app supposedly can match the music to your heartbeat or step count.

Music helps you think

When I listen to music while I run I do some of the best analytical and deepest thinking. Whether you choose to listen to music, the radio, or a podcast, just be sure to be safe and respect the other people around you.

RRCA Coach Scott Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach. He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 11th half marathon race. 

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