I recently ran two half marathons, both of which had long on-road sections and policies on the use of headphones.

The Dundee Half Marathon (Half DRAM) pre-race notes stated no headphones. When the race organiser was asked to clarify whether headphones could be used in certain circumstances, he confirmed that it was at the runners risk, and that the event organisers would not be held responsible for any accidents resulting from the use of headphones. I wore headphones.

The Haddington Half Marathon pre-race notes stated no headphones. There was no social media Q&A forum for pre-race discussion. I wore headphones. I was criticised for this on my race report.

Why do I listen to music when running in a race? As I said on a post back in May, music increases my concentration, provides stimulus, engenders positive vibes and passes the time on a long run. In exchange, I am willing to accept that I may miss out on meeting other runners or miss out some of the entertainment that is sometimes provided.

Now this may sound like a contradiction, but I am a strong believer in three tenets. First, racing etiquette – respecting fellow-runners in a race, hearing them coming, not impeding them them. Second, personal safety – running on semi-closed roads with the need to hear traffic coming from behind and instructions from marshals. Third, personal choice – the right of an individual to decide what they want to do, providing they don’t risk harm or cause offence to anyone else.

sennheisersI don’t accept that I am not aware of what’s going on around me. I wear Sennheiser PMX60 Open Dynamic neckband headphones. They are over-ear ‘phones and let in ambient sounds. I wear them when running around the city. Anyone who has been to Edinburgh knows the car drivers and bikers don’t take prisoners, and it a matter of personal survival to hear traffic. So I don’t play music loudly. I don’t play games with my personal safety. I call myself responsible.

The internet is awash with comments on this subject. Headphones are generally not prohibited by athletics bodies for use in distance races (except for runners competing for prizes). In fact, rules governing the use of headphones in races in US have been relaxed in recent times. It falls to each race organiser to decide to impose a ban, which some clearly do, for health and safety reasons. Some race organisers adopt a pragmatic approach, discouraging use but emphasise that it is at the runners’ individual risk. Others take a more draconian approach. A common stance is called for.

I believe that certain headphones should be approved for use in races, even those which take part on public roads, providing the following conditions are met:

    1. The headphones do not block ambient sounds (i.e. instructions and traffic can be heard when they are worn). An approved list could be created and sanctioned by athletics bodies

    2. Any runner who wants to wear ‘phones signs a waiver absolving the race organiser of any responsibility for accidents which arise from the runner’s use of headphones

Then it is a matter of personal responsibility and personal choice.

haddington half mid way headphones highlighted

Note: I have no affiliation with Sennheiser and purchased my own headphones.

  1. Fiona Edwards says:

    Yes, I believe headphones are a matter of choice. After all if I get knocked down by a car it may not be the fault of me wearing headphones. The reason the car hit me was that the 160 year old did not obey the marshall’s signals to stop! So we can ban all old or careless people from the road when races are on – simple!

  2. mockjogger says:

    Right on, Fiona!

  3. I was quite shocked at the headphones comment, and was disappointed with how negative the comment was. I don’t run with music, but that’s my choice. You do what you want, as long as you’re responsible and safe 🙂

  4. mockjogger says:

    Yes, it came out of the blue. If I was a psychologist I would be tempted to guess the author’s profession 😉 I plan to carry on being responsible 🙂

  5. TartanJogger says:

    Really interesting post, MockJogger.
    Like you, I insist on music when running, and agree about being responsible.
    As I run on roads around my village, safety is absolute priority.
    I’ve recently bought Yurbuds, and I’m impressed with their comfort and ambient noise allowance- surprising for in-ear buds!

    • mockjogger says:

      Thank you! I’ve heard some good reports about the Yurbuds but also a couple of folks who had problems with them staying in. I might give them a go, if only to try something a little more unobtrusive than my Sennheisers.

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