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Let me start by stating the fact that I’ve been running with music since the first day I laced up my non-running-specific sneakers and walked out the door. For a while, music was probably half of the reason I ran to begin with; to escape from whatever it was that was lurking in the back of my mind by drifting off into some Beatles-induced dreamland while feeling the wind rush past my skin.

My original playlists consisted of oldies and classics, the same songs that have comforted me since I was a child listening to mix tapes with hand-written labels. I was accompanied on each outing by The Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, Led Zeppelin’s The Rain Song, and practically anything from The Band’s Last Waltz.

(That’s me on the right. I’ll be running the Philly half with my cousin, on the left. Be jealous.)

Music was my safety, my comfort, my calm. It was as much a goal to steal an hour of “me time” as it was to make it to the river 2.5 miles from home so as to hit the 5-mile mark, something that was rare during those early days in my running “career,” though I’d hardly call it that — I just can’t quite place my finger on what else to name the last 6 years.

The less and less I relied on music to whisk me away from the confines of reality, the more and more I began to listen to the kinds that would pump me up for 5 miles or more. And while tunes like Taj Mahal’s Lovin’ in my Baby’s Eyes still popped up from time to time, and I’ve been known to begin several half marathons now to the melodies of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album, I nevertheless shifted my penchants toward heavier, more uplifting selections — you can find a handful of them here on my Running Jams page.

Recently, however, I’ve shifted yet again.

If you haven’t noticed, Running Jams has remained stagnant for quite some time now, and it’s not out of being lazy or listening to the same music over and over again (though that does often tend to be the case). It’s that I’ve found music to be irritating lately. Sure, I usually head out with headphones around my neck as somewhat of a safety net, but I’ve found myself lowering the sound so that it’s barely audible — and sometimes even shutting it altogether for the duration of my runs — and instead spacing off completely.

It started during the Governors Island 10k when, after about a lap, I became annoyed with the music altogether and had to pause it for about a mile or 2 mid-race.

And then there was San Francisco. With a 9-mile run planned on our first morning in the city, I knew I’d want to take in Golden Gate Park’s sights unadulterated by electronics, and so Noah and I both left our iThings at home.

Then last week, jet lagged and cranky, I decided to sleep in on several mornings and to plan short 3-mile jogs home from work instead. Both days, I forgot my headphones even though I distinctly recall reminding myself over and over to pack them before work. Bottom line: I didn’t mind the quiet East River runs.

Nope, not one bit.

But perhaps the last 2 runs have been the most surprising to me of all. After 11 miles on Saturday around the tip of Manhattan without music (that’s about 2 hours of silent running and spacing out), I thought I’d be itching for normalcy. For me, that’s a 5-mile run from my apartment, around the lower loop of Central Park, and home to the beats that have pumped me up while working out at 7am for the last 3 years.

As soon as I hit Central Park, I knew something was wrong. I was irritated. I felt tired and angry. I shut the music, and almost immediately felt a sense of relief. Then I finished the last 2.5 miles in silence, only listening to the sounds of the cars, the people, the city life. I had found my calm again.

Anyway, maybe this is just a music lull. Or maybe, the past couple of weeks have been a total fluke. Either way, I’m glad to know what it’s like to actually enjoy running without the burden of headphones, if only for a moment, and I’m hoping that I can incorporate more of these mornings and evenings into my already loose and scattered repertoire if only to add a little variety to my life.

  • Do you prefer to run with or without music?
  • Are there certain settings that are better for one or the other?