For a long time I’ve prided myself on not having a music player or a GPS device when I run. One of the great things about running is that all you need is a pair of shoes, and some clothing you can sweat in.
I’ve tried running with a music player before. It’s okay, but there’s something about feeling like I want to futz with the player instead of focusing on running that bugs me. And there’s something great about sensing the world around you as you run. I’ve been out for as long as eight hours without a player, and generally don’t get bored. Your mind is free to wander. You can devote great thinking time to things that are on your mind. And trusting yourself to do this without constantly calculating how long until you’re done is very healthy. Because – running is supposed to be fun. After all, you’re doing this in your precious free time, right?
A GPS device is handy for tracking your distance. However, what I’ve usually done is to estimate, based on a rough sense of pace. What this means is that I usually run for time – which can be a good thing. It clears my mind of the notion that I can hurry through a run.
The electronic device that I’ve run most with is a heart rate monitor. I’ve rationalized this one because it helps me regiment myself better. Since I lack good pace memory, and don’t always have a good sense of when I’m overdoing things, the HRM helps me ensure that I’m not taking out of the bank too early. Doesn’t require a bunch of attention either.
Recently I’ve gotten a new phone, which I can use as a music player and a GPS device. One of the things I’d looked forward to was being able to use this as a “convergence device”. This would be a player for the car that I can listen to music and audiobooks, and a GPS device that I can use to get driving directions. For running this means having both a GPS device and a player as well – if I want it.
I’m not always sure I do want gadgetry imposed on my running. I’ve tried it out several times now. It’s definitely nice to have a sense of mileage and elevation for a given route. And I’ve enjoyed listening to music as well. It definitely changes the way I think about running when I’m out there. It’s fun to hear a jazz standard I haven’t listened to in a long time. But it definitely feels like a distraction too. I think about whether the earpods are seated correctly, and sometimes want to futz with the track I’m listening to. And there’s an impulse to actively monitor my distance too.
There are also the consequences you inflict on others when you have your headphones on. You don’t hear someone’s polite request to pass you, and (more importantly) you’re less aware of vehicles around you. A number of races have rules prohibiting headphones for these reasons.
Some of the unintended consequences can be unusual. Some years back, I was running a marathon over on Whidbey Island. One of my fellow runners, who unfortunately had a similar pace to me, was belting out the songs he was listening to as he ran. His musical taste was not similar to mine. It sure sounded like it was motivating him, but it annoyed everyone who happened to be within earshot.
Today I went out for a nice three hour stint on the trails. No music, and I never looked at how far the GPS software told me I’d run. I focused on the rare late-autumn northwestern sunshine, the nice views from the ridges I was on, and forbade myself from thinking too far ahead of myself on the trail. It was nice. Not terribly fast, but nice. Pretty simple too.
I might go for the player sometimes, and will probably track my distance – but I’m still liking the idea of keeping things simple. And as the GPS software I’ve run with recently demonstrates – your mileage may vary.