Running Without Music Can Help You Reach a New PR

I have a confession.

Now, this might come across as a little weird to some of you exercise enthusiasts, but I haven’t used music on a run in nine years … and I really like it.

Some people need music to run, and that’s fine. If it helps you pump out those miles, then more power to you! I just, personally, don’t use music when I run – even on long distances – and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon.

It all started in early 2008 while training for The Boston Marathon. I was midway through a 12-miler in the dead of winter when a tangled headphones cord and a sneaky patch of black ice led to a nasty face-plant on the sidewalk. ‘Scarred on Mile Seven’ was going to be the name of my book – a best-seller surely. Fortunately, I healed up just fine and never had to write a page.

A few weeks later, I got back on my marathon training regimen. The idea of running without music frightened me. What would I listen to? Where would my motivation come from, if not the emboldening sounds of Jay Z, Outkast and Wham!?

At first, it was an uncomfortable feeling. I was annoyed by the wind-whipping trees, honking horns and chatty people (ugh, God forbid) clogging up my ears. But, after a few runs sans-earbuds, I quickly realized how enjoyable and motivating the experience could be.

Jogging through city streets or along trails in a local park can be soothing. I often felt better connected with my surroundings and -- bonus! -- didn’t worry about my headphones cord or messing with my earbuds every 30 seconds. I started to appreciate nature more, as sappy as it sounds, and even began noticing some new and cool places that often went unnoticed when bouncing along to fresh beats. Running started to become less of a chore and more of an experience.

Whether it was up and down city streets in D.C., out on the beach in Los Angeles or along the Charles River in Boston, running became an adventure. What cool new spots could I find? Which new restaurants would I discover? What had I run by 100 times and never noticed before? It was like a daily edition of ‘I Spy’ every time I went out.

There was so much to see and enjoy, but I had been blinded by the music in an odd way. Each run turned into a new and unique exploration. It certainly offered new adventures and experiences, but it also provided added motivation to be better, faster and stronger.

I often found myself drawing up new routes to explore, which almost subconsciously moved me to run faster and push further. And when I did repeat an old route, I was even more motivated to beat my old times. I knew where the church was or how long it should take to get to the firehouse. I was more aware without the music and more motivated to do and be better.

Sure … sometimes the sights and sounds around aren’t the prettiest or most pleasing, and, of course, using music to work out has its benefits, especially when you're sore or dragging mentally. A little pump-up music can go a long way in pushing you through. But being alone with your thoughts for a few miles can be equally as inspiring and even get you jacked up to crush a new PR.

I've logged more than a few new PRs over the years without rocking headphones. I even beat my marathon goal by more than 15 minutes without fresh beats pumping in my ears. It is an exciting experience and can be extremely rewarding. If that sounds good to you, then toss the headphones aside and give it a try. I’m willing to bet you might even like it.

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