Clear and Present Danger — Outdoor Running with Headphones

running dangerRunning with headphones results in a reduced awareness of your physical surroundings. Like it or not, all runners (esp. women) must run defensively at times.

Today’s Featured Article is not about nutrition, injury prevention or how to run faster.  It concerns a more serious matter – personal safety.  Many runners consider headphones a mandatory article of clothing.  You can’t run without tunes.  However………

Safety (a.k.a. proving a point to your teenager)

Running with headphones results in a reduced awareness of your physical surroundings.  If you are treadmill running, by all means, hit the playlist. Outdoors, being less than totally conscious of your physical surroundings compromises your personal safety.   Like it or not – all runners (especially women) must run defensively at times.  Headphone wearers range from being less attentive to totally oblivious of other people, cars and dogs – all of which are potential attackers that can pose real threat to a runner’s physical safety.

A few years ago, Runners World online posted a story about a headphone-wearing young runner who was struck by a car and was seriously injured.  He was running a night-time 10K and took a wrong turn, straying off course and onto an open road.  He did not hear the runner behind him shouting a warning.

A bit closer to home – a few years back, our daughter (then a teenager) and Bennett got into an argument about wearing headphones while running. She insisted that she could hear what was going on around her, with or without headphones.  He waited until she left the house for a run.  He put on his running shoes and took off after her.  He’s not heavy. But you can hear him coming. He ran up behind her.  She was absorbed in her music, unaware of his sudden presence.  He tapped her on the shoulder, startling her.  She’s lucky; Dad’s a safe guy.



When you are in tune with the tunes, you’re not in tune with your body.  When we run, our bodies provide us with valuable feedback.  We learn what a certain pace feels like, how our breathing, heart rate and muscles all respond, especially when pushing the pace. We continuously integrate this data, making appropriate physical and mental adjustments in response while running.  When we race and receive the same signals we experienced during training, we can stay calm and in control because we know we’ve previously experienced the discomfort brought on by faster running and we’ve handled it. Headphone wearers can easily miss their bodies’ subtle cues and the race day lessons to be derived from them.  It’s tough to listen to music and your body simultaneously.


Peak Running Experience

A few years ago, we were volunteering as course marshals at the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon.  The off-road course runs through a section of Toronto’s scenic park system.  During one race, an elderly woman was walking past us.  She stopped and astutely observed: “Those women (referring to some of the headphone wearing race participants) are running through beautiful nature but they won’t enjoy the chirping of the birds or the smell of the flowers”.  Yes, she was correct on her first point….and likely on her second point too.


I run for the feel of the textures of the earth underneath my feet.  I know of no
time when I am more fully alive or intimately at one with the physical world

Roger Robinson, running historian, columnist and author


The sounds and scents of outdoor running in a natural setting, one of running’s great joys, are no competition for Lady Gaga.

Hopefully, some readers will think twice before reaching for their headphones when heading outside for their next run.

© 2017 Savvy Runner Inc.

Run with tunes or not? We welcome your feedback, suggestions and comments.  Please post them below.

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One Response to Clear and Present Danger — Outdoor Running with Headphones
  1. Michael Brennan
    September 24, 2015 | 7:54 am

    Glad to see the article on headphones… SO many women are using them and I think are putting themselves at risk in some places. Why do so many wear them at group runs? Isn’t the point of running with a group to socialize with others? AND many runners at races are not hearing instructions/directions by marshals which puts them at risk, never mind they miss the cheering from spectators. If you want to be encouraged at a race, you have to hear the cheering!

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