I still run some days, but I used to run more.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, the hill-covered terrain offered an ideal place to cleanse my mind by pushing my body farther and farther. It felt like an experiment of focus and perseverance in addition to a self-mandated penance.
But the sanctity I attached to the activity did not come without struggle and tough decisions.
Looking back, the form I took in my early days of three-mile long jogs would now cause me to recoil in embarrassment. Even some of my friends who ran long distance gave me pointers of how to improve my posture. Luckily, I have made improvements since then, at least in that area.
However, another aspect of running that I still think about today continues to puzzle me, as I sway back and forth with no clear answer on the question of listening to music.
Advice I’ve read and heard in my time suggests that music and its changing tempos diverts a runner from his or her natural patterns and rhythms. Unless all the songs on a playlist are set at 90 BPM, then it will, in some way affect pace and performance.
On those carefree days when I took to the local pavement, I made a point not to listen to music.
As much as I love both music and running, I sensed the two conflicted, competing for my attention and drawing my mind away from adjusting my form for the better. Back then, before I felt the weight of creating a career path, I preferred to listen to my unfiltered thoughts. And I must admit that listening to one’s mind while running is analogous to spontaneous shower-thoughts after the subsequent cool down stretch.
I understand that running without music might come across as a nightmare to some runners, but for me, it marked the only path and opened my eyes to a new experience.
I recall entertaining the idea that running doubles as a kind of music in itself. The heart offers a steady bass drum while the repeated striking of track shoes act as sharp snares. Melody rises from the surrounding ambience: the wind, the rustling leaves, the hum of cars, the sound of rain. Each runner is a composer, shaping a natural symphony.
The tension of muscles and deteriorating strength only brings more significance to the experience, an underlying challenge that gives purpose to the whirlwind of noises.
I felt like I was in the midst of a live field recording and I remember the music well.
Nowadays, I find myself listening music while running on Ping’s third floor atrium. For shorter distances, music by Vince Staples, Ty Segall and Japanther add an extra energy and confidence to the body that only the most determined runners can achieve unassisted. I’ve found that lighter, more mellow music like Beach House or Yo La Tengo function as a great complement to cool down stretches, after all the intense leg work is done.
Ultimately, the choice of music while running is an individual’s to make, but there are advantages to both songs from a digital device and songs created by the world around us.
After all, music is simply sound arranged over time.