Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dirty Rotten Headphones???

I'm a relatively new runner.  I've only been running for about ten years, and marathoning for three.  But I have a profound respect for the people and history that made running what it is today.  Over the years, these folks received joy and personal satisfaction by simply lacing up their shoes and heading out on a lonely road by themselves.  Long before marathons grew to "Big Top Circus" events, these pioneers simply raced on weekends against buddies without the fanfare, medals, or t-shirts.  They did it for the simple love of the sport, the purity of competition, and the challenge of finding out how far they could push their bodies.  They are the ones who started it all.  But as marathon registrations continue to grow at a record pace, I'm sure many of these folks who have been running forever feel a little invaded and pushed to the side by all the newbies to the sport.

The other day I jumped on the Rocket City Marathon website.  I'll be running it in December if they don't pull my registration after reading this post.  This is the VERY FIRST thing you'll see on their site ...

Okay, yes it's their race!  And the organizers, who most likely are these very same experienced and seasoned runners, can require everyone to run in cowboy boots if they want.  But I think we're getting a little carried away with the "NO Headphone Rule".  The Rocket City race officials list several things that are prohibited ... strollers, skateboards, bicycles, animals ... but HEADPHONES garnered a logo of it's own.  Really Rocket City???  Headphones???

I'm usually an iPod runner, though I can take it or leave it.   And I really think it's just a personal choice, for a personal activity.  I have no ill feelings toward those who run with or without them.  However, I really find the whole "Anti-Headphone" campaign a little puzzling.  I know many race officials will cite safety issue as the main factor in prohibiting their use. And yes, we've all been cutoff in a race by an over-exuberant, "in their own world", ear-bud clad runner rockin' out to K$sha on their way to completing their bucket list marathon.   A little annoying.    However, I have never read any statistic that specifically supports non-headphoners as being safer than their counterparts.  Common sense would of course lean toward running without headphones while navigating automobile traffic, or dangerous surroundings.  But the last time I checked, they usually stop traffic in most races for the runners.

I really believe that most "No Headphone Rules" are simply a personal preference of the race organizer or committee.  Almost like a vendetta in some cases.  If they really wanted to address safety or runner etiquette, they could pick on a lot of different issues.

1.  Runners stopping in the middle of water stops and immediately at the finish line
2.  Regrouping walkers and runners toward the end of a race causing late-race congestion and confusion
3.  Marathon relay teams bottle necking during their exchange
4.  Potholes that are almost never marked along the course
5.  Large pace groups of 50-100 people that run together in the middle of the street
6.  Slower runners at the front of the pack at the starting line that bog down the first 3 miles
7.  Spectators who cut across to the other side of the course

Some of these are minor of course, however they're never mentioned.  But HEADPHONES ... that's what everyone is so bent out of shape about!  Even uttering the word can get the blood boiling in some runners.  It's like cheating.  A shortcut.  An easier way to grind through 26.2.  And OH SOOOOOOOO unsafe!!!

With all due respect, at its core the rule really seems to be grounded in, "You're not running the way it was intended to be done ... or the way I did it!!"  Like it's the one last thing the old school runners have to hold over your head as a new runner.  I think I completely understand where it comes from.  And most likely, if  I had been running for 50 years, I'd probably feel the same way.  In a way I don't blame them.  But I think all it really does is alienate a large portion of the running community.  Although maybe to some in this crowd, you're not a real runner if you haven't been at it since Truman was in office.  Why?  Just because their clock started ticking before someone else's?  This way of thinking seems a little elitist.  Seems like rules like this are filled with a lot of venom.

The thing I find the most confusing about the whole issue, is that it seems to be a huge double standard. These races advertise everywhere, and brag about the record breaking number of runners that participate. And there are tons of magazine and internet articles about this being the "New Running Revolution".  Many of these old-timers seem eager to share with their buddies how many were at the pasta dinner, or in line on race day.  However, it appears obvious that an overwhelming percentage of new runners are headphone users.  You see them in every race.  They outnumber non-headphoners by a large margin ... especially the further back in the pack you go.  So what do they want ... they money, the popularity of the sport growing like never before, and thousands of people getting in better shape ... or a petty little rule?  I mean c'mon man!  This fat, lazy, clinically-obese country is actually trying to do something healthy.  Why would race organizers want to do anything to hinder that progress ... oh yes of course, the evil headphones!

And speaking of the financial impact, how many new runners that rely on music in their eardrums decline signing up for a race because of a hard-core rule like this?   I mean, who wants to pay $100 just be disqualified.  But in a large, $100 entry fee marathon, if 200 people look for a different race simply because they couldn't run with headphones ... that's $20,000!  Of course hardly ever does 100% of the money collected go directly to a charity.  But do the charities or sponsors even know that in some cases, the personal decision of one guy in a room somewhere who has it out for headphones, potentially cost them several thousand dollars?

Is there a competitive advantage with an iPod?  Probably.  I've found, without a doubt, that my iPod gives me a little boost at times in races.  I run harder and faster when a tune that I love is blastin' away in my brain.  I don't think most people would dispute that.  So if they want to make a rule where you cannot win any prize money with these "competitive advantages", I totally get that.  But when you tell me a 35 year old mom who is running her one and only marathon, in memory of a loved one or supporting a worthy cause, who is at the very back of the pack with not many people around ... WILL BE DISQUALIFIED JUST BECAUSE SHE'S LISTENING TO A LITTLE MUSIC AS SHE TRIES TO COMPLETE THE MOST DIFFICULT TASK OF HER LIFE???  C'mon ...what are we really doing?  Seems to me like that kinda misses the whole point of it all.

So yes, Rocket City, and many others like you ... I will obey your rules.  But I don't understand them or necessarily agree 100% with them.  For every reason someone could give me supporting the "No Headphone" rule, I can give you one back disputing it.  I think in the end it just comes down to 10,000 or more runners on any given Saturday or Sunday simply running headphone free.  And when you look behind the curtain and ask the race director why, the answer is simply ... and for no other reason than, "Because I said so!"
... be great today!


  1. The only thing I can think of is that the brain child behind this race has a bad insurance policy. I know that some insurance companies that sponsors these races make races advertise the "no headphones" rule but silently don't make them enforce it. When I ran the Bourbon Chase a few weeks back they had a MAJOR no headphones rule but that was a bit different because we were on the HWY at night and not on a closed course. Rocket City organizers are obviously not rocket scientists. Morons.

  2. Funny timing on this. I just found out the little hometown Turkey Trot 10K I'm running has a "no headphones" rule. They are serious enough about it that if you think you might place, you'll be disqualified for wearing them. I won't be placing, but I'm still a little miffed. Yes, this race is run on roads and I doubt those roads will be completely closed to traffic. But I know how to adjust the volume to an appropriate safe level. And like you, music gives me a big boost--especially in a fast effort like a 10K. I'm debating whether or not to wear them anyway. I may do my own post about it.

    I can't imagine not having them to fall back on in the late stages of a marathon!

  3. Think about how easy it is to run with music now vs. 30 years ago. Of course long time runners didn't listen to music back then because it was near impossible! Even once the Walkman came along it was big and clunky and heavy. If those old, cranky, 'no headphones' runners had access to ipods back when they started running I bet they would be singing a different tune. In 30 years we will all proably be complaining about some great invention that makes running easier that we never had access to in our heyday. Damn whippersnappers!

  4. I would debate with myself if I would want to enter a race with this rule. I dont mind running without headphones, but I prefer to have them.

  5. I remember Runner's World doing an article on this topic. I think they mentioned that the rule might be stated, but not necessarily enforced. I only run with headphones during training anyway, so I never pay much attention to that rule. I bet you see a lot of runners there wearing headphones and not getting DQ.

  6. I completely agree with your post!! I stopped running in races that banned headphones. I also agree with your list of other factors that races can focus on fixing.

  7. I raced this one last year. (no Ipod race report - whine, whine, complain, complain)

    Interesting thing last year was the NO IPOD warning showed up on the home page a few weeks out from the race. It certainly wasn't on the home pace when I registered in the summer of 2010.

    I had the feeling it was an "elitest position" by the organizers. (they are "real runners".)

    Hey, you can always change your mind and head to Baton Rouge Dec. 3rd and wear your Ipod. I'll be wearing mine and running "FAST for me", I hope......

  8. Awesome post! I totally agree. To each his/her own. I run most of my runs with headphones save for long runs with my pace group. I've listened to music in all four of my marathons but only for parts of the races, not the whole thing. I can run without music but I enjoy listening to music (or talk radio at times). I can also run without music like you but I would like to have that choice. I always thought no headphones was for competitive races or for the elites and stuff, not for all runners in a race. I really don't get it either.

  9. I am with you, it should be personal choice, sign a waiver accept the risk whatever but don't take away my iPod.

  10. This topic can turn into a religious war.

    I don't mind if they post this rule prior to having people register but a late breaking rule is wrong. Most triathlons prohibit them but they have the support of the sanctioning bodies. Running events have not so this is the call of the organizers (or insurance carriers).

    I personally like/need music on runs longer than 10k.

    Stupid or unsafe runners wil find more ways to be unsafe.

  11. I don't really get it either, but ever since I became a triathlete, I'm so used to running without music that I guess it wouldn't bother me either way! :)

  12. Not quite sure why they are not allowed at a running event on a closed course?

    I know triathlons they do not allow them but you are biking and NEED to be aware of your surrounding. Plus a lot of the time, the roads are open to traffic.

  13. Being a triathlete, we can use headphones at any race, its in the governing body's rules (USAT) So I am use to not having it.

    I done a couple half marys, I suck at running, but I asked around about the Ipod use to some runners, everyone said to bring it, BUT dont start with it, embrace the sounds of the race and use it when you are starting to fit the wall. I didnt use it either race, it didnt bother me.

    Here is what I find interesting about this specific race, the rules say no headphones, yet it sold out.

  14. When I ran the Dallas 13.1 the other day, they too had a rule like this...which was pretty blatantly ignored by quite a few of the 2,000 participants (I even saw a stroller).

    I can't help but wonder if they "really" disqualified those people, or just had to say they would to appease the people from whom they acquired the insurance for the race.

  15. This rule doesn't so much bug me but what does bug me is when they make this a rule and then 90% of the runners are using headphones and they don't inforce it. I have seen this happen so many times. One of my very first half marathons they had the "no ipod" rule and I obeyed but everyone else used Ipods anyway. grrr!

  16. I'd rather run the race distance as a training day with my ipod than race without it. I don't use it the whole time but it sucks not having the option.

  17. I remember reading in Runners World that at a race where they had a no headphone policy, they actually went through finishers pictures and disqualified anyone wearing one. (i.e. no official finish time)
    Who HAS that kind of time??

  18. Interesting about the no headphones policy. I guess just for an alterness point of view - not having headphones automatically makes you more alert while running as opposed to having headphones. I know most people probably play music at a safe volume so you can hear outside noises, but probably not all.

    Personally I've never worn head phones while I run, and I'm not sure that I want to start. I guess running is one of the few times that I'm not plugged into anything, so it is nice to let the mind go, interact with nature and others on the trail. Maybe I'll try it out sometime just to see how I like it with music, I'm not sure though.

    Listening to music during a race seems a little odd to me - unless the race is super tiny and you need some stimulation. Just seems like people should soak in the race atmosphere, the crowd, the volunteers and cheering. If people are wearing headphones can they hear people call out their name from the crowd? I don't know, just seems like races should be run without headphones so people can enjoy the race. I'm probably in the minority on this, but that is okay.

  19. A friend of mine recently asked me to run the Gettysburg North-South Marathon with her in the spring. I said no because they have a no headphone rule....instead I am going to run Toronto, where they welcome me, my turtles pace & my iPod with open arms :)

  20. I have seen that before but not to the poiint of being DQ for using ipods. This should be the runner's decision. Sign the waiver and live with it. I prefer have it myself it is not always on but I like to have music in case the going gets usually does for me!!

  21. Never used to run with music. Present day, my iPod has gotten me through some really tough runs, and I would not enter a race with this rule (assuming they posted it early enough and not right before the race).

  22. Many of the races that did not allow headphones a few years ago have relaxed those standards.

    the only race that I have run the very strictly follows the policy is the Army Ten Miler. You have to pass through a security checkpoint to get to the start. headphones, Ipods, MP3 players are confiscated if found.

    I would rather run with the headphones myself, but have also found it kind of fun not to - especially at the ATM - just enjoying the scenery and the sounds of the city and other runners.


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