Coach Mike Mead

An Ear for Safety - December 2007

I read in the news last month how some folks were in an uproar over the decision by the New York Road Runners Club to ban headsets from the New York City Marathon. The organizers were just following the regulations dictated by USA Track & Field (USATF).

I’ve touched on this subject myself a few times in previous columns regarding the use of headsets while running. One simple question I have to the folks who were questioning this ruling, “Are you an idiot?”

The issue with headsets is mainly safety. Every time I see someone out running with headsets, I want to yell at them. But they couldn’t hear me because maybe they are wearing headsets? I’m fine with folks in the health club setting listening to their private music. But out on the roads and trails, it’s a different matter.

With the advent of “noise reduction” headphones that eliminate noises beyond the headsets, how are you going to know if a car is about to plow into you. Or some creep is about to attack you, or dozens of other potential disasters. These headset advocates claim that they can hear about the decibels of their music. It makes about as much sense as people who use a cell phone while driving in the fast lane of an expressway – dangerous! It’s about having an ear for safety and some common sense.

But beyond the issue of safety, I question the seriousness one approaches running. I’ve never tried running while listening to music with headphones strapped to my head. Just too cumbersome and the records kept skipping (dated joke)!

On my long runs and easy days, I prefer to use the time to prepare for the day, or sort out whatever life issue I may be dealing with at the time. Usually the time passes quicker on my runs when my brain is engaged, even if some believe it has never been.

When it comes time for serious training – like interval work – and racing, there is no place for headsets. If you do not understand than you are not a real runner -- period. Some will argue that the music helps them with their pacing. That’s fine for practice, but racing is different and artificial pacing aids are illegal! Running in competitive races with headsets demeans the sport of running. To this day, I’ve never witnessed a baseball, basketball or football player wearing headsets while competing. Usually in golf, a guy like Tiger prefers absolute silence while lining up a key shot at Augusta. I don’t believe fishermen listen to music while competing in a BASS tournament. Now NASCAR is an exception to the headset rule but they are not listening to music, rather they’re listening to their crew chief barking orders, such as no right turns today!

The NCAA does not allow electronic devises within the competition area at its track & field championships. USATF does not allow said devises in sanctioned events, such as the New York City Marathon, and real runners should abide by these rules or join the spectators.

Head sets and the like have no place when it comes to road racing. Again, if you are a serious runner, you do not need the distraction, nor do your competitors. If you truly cannot run without your iPod and headphones, you’re missing out. Did you ever try doing homework while watching TV? Not very effective, was it? The same can be said about listening to music and racing; not very effective either.

Running has attracted many new folks to the sport in the past 20 years, but some were allowed to do things violating running protocol. Just like the boneheads who yell, “In the hole!” during Tiger’s backswing on a tee shot, racing with headphones is the same.

With the approach of a new year perhaps some folks have a viable resolution. If you want to be considered a real runner, lose the headphones for safety’s sake.