The Great Running Debate: Should You Race with Music?

Should you press play on race day? An expert coach weighs in

There are advantages and disadvantages to both running with and without music. There are times when running with music is more appropriate than others, and it can even help to enhance your performance.

But what about during a race? Is it a situation where listening to music is appropriate, or should you leave your iPod behind when you’re getting ready to cross the starting line?

First of all, as a safety precaution many events completely ban the use of music devices and earbuds. However, runners often disregard the rule and are very rarely penalized for it (some events are more strict than others, though). That doesn’t mean we encourage you to do it, we’re just pointing out the honest truth. 

That said, when it comes to racing plugging into a playlist probably isn’t the best idea anyway.

 “Races are exciting and you'll be able to soak in all that the race has to offer if you aren't listening to music, like the cheering crowds or any bands on the course,” says Jess Underhill, a New York City based running coach and the founder of Race Pace Wellness.

However, if you spent most of your training time listening to music while running, Underhill does recommend bringing your earbuds along (if the event allows), but to only turn your music on if you hit a rough patch in the race.

“Turn your music if you need an extra boost of motivation,” she said.

At the end of the day, how you choose to race comes down to your own personal preference (and the rules of the event), so if you do choose to race with music Underhill recommends making sure that you’re familiar with all of your gear so as to avoid any mishaps on race day.

“Like with any other gear you should have at the very least ran with music enough times to know what kind of headphones work well for you and what's the best way to wear or carry your music so that it isn't an issue during the race,” she said.

She also recommended making sure that you know what music will work well for you. “Not all songs are good songs to run to and you don't want all of your songs to annoy you or be a negative distraction,” she added.

The bottom line according to Underhill: plan to complete most of your race without any musical motivation. But if it’s a helpful tool that you used during training and your race allows for it, have it ready to go on race day so that you can turn on your tunes if you feel like you’re in need of some extra motivation.

“I don't recommend listening to music for the entire race though. You’ll miss out on a lot of the fun,” Underhill said.

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