Sunday, September 28, 2008

Headphones or Not?

I'm back in New York after a 4-hour trip from Boston, irritated by a pod-phone wearing driver on I-95 who braked unnecessarily several times (and punctuated by an adorable 2-year-old who has a predilection for puking when she's on long car trips), so put this in perspective:

Jim Gerweck at Running Times, in a recent issue, raised the issue of headphones and wearing them during races (given the popularity of the iPod). His main point: They aren't safe for the runner and those who are surrounding them.

I'm reading the letters to the editor in the November issue of Running Times (not online yet), both pro and con, and it's leading me to think that perhaps the issue isn't being taken seriously enough, despite the USATF "recommendation" banning them in races (a move that may be overturned).

Some races have banned, them, others have not. (Almost all local Brooklyn races, with a couple of notable exceptions, haven't made a statement, and NYRR hasn't taken a serious stand beyond a suggestion that they not be worn.)

It's one thing if you're running in Prospect Park or Central Park and you cut in front of a runner to get a cup of water and you don't hear them calling out a warning. That ranges between irritating and unsafe. It's another thing if you're running on a road where there are cars and you can't hear the horn.

I've been running for 25 years, and my hearing is one of the most important parts of my training, whether it be in a controlled environment (treadmill) or not. So please explain to me: How do you justify putting yourself at risk by running with headphones at a volume that you can't hear other things? And if you are racing and oblivious to other people, how do you put them at risk?

I'm more than happy to turn up the volume on my iPod when, oddly, I need to concentrate (I would have the music loud when studying at college at, today, at times when I really want to zone in, I love having the music in the background, which helps me focus). But I won't wear the iPod while running because a) I like hearing the background and b) I don't think it's safe - -I rely on all my senses while running on the roads. (Even smell, which is why I run near a certain coffee shop in Dumbo early in the AM).

I know my mind is made up, but that's not the point (and never is on this blog): What do you think?


Janet said...

I think USATF was correct in banning headphones in races, and I think NYRR has refused to take a stand (other than saying they're "strongly discouraged", and then having photos of runners with headphones in promotional literature) because they have a business relationship with Nike, makers of the Nike+ipod system. Runners in headphones are either in their own little world while they run, or are yelling at their confederates while they run in groups, preventing others from passing them and being generally annoying.
However, it's amazing how many newer runners, who always use headphones on the treadmill, and rarely step off the treadmill except to race, consider headphones as essential to their run as their shoes.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Running has changed in the last 25 years. Many new runners are not considering the fact that a race is an athletic competition.

Anyway, I did think about putting headphones on for the NYC Marathon. But how many times can I hear My Sharona?

Janet said...

Good point. Even the folks who weren't competitive runners, in those days, ran races because they were communal events. Now the sense of community is often limited to small groups. When I talk to strangers--I always talk to strangers--I'm more likely to get a glare back than a smile or a comment in reply.

Anonymous said...

So I introduced myself to someone at a park race this summer and he says, "you're the guy who got ipods banned at races!" I really just had to smile and walk away.
It's almost one year ago in the Ridgefield half marathon that the EMTs just barely got to me in time with a defibrilator after driving around a few unhearing ipodders.


Janet said...

If it was "almost a year ago", you may be the anecdote, but USATF had banned them long before that.
I've since read the letters in RT, and the first writer lost me when he used the word "nazi". Nothing in any of those letters changes my view that runners who insist they "need" their headphones in races just don't get it: a race is a group event, not just another workout at which mile markers and water stations are provided for your convenience (and medals/race results provided for your ego)!