It was one year ago this week when I wrote about runners wearing headphones while running and racing. And this past Saturday while serving as a volunteer at the Frontier Run n' Fun 5K/10K, I was reminded why: if you cannot hear instruction, you will not hear danger later on.
This year's Frontier Run n' Fun was much safer simply because the course began and finished on the Frontier property along West Jefferson. Much of the course was on the Greenway next to Eagle Marsh. It was nearly impossible to get lost or run the wrong way.
Until the runners got to me. At the finish line. Where I gave clear and loud instruction.
The result was a parade of smiling, euphoric, fatigued _ and deaf _ runners going down the wrong path. Why? Because they were oblivious everything but the music playing in their ears. And they were certainly out of touch when the race director gave instructions before the race. There was even another volunteer 50 meters from the finish giving instructions that, obviously, were not heard.
My tone may seem a little harsh. After all, we are simply talking about the finish of a small, community road race. Who cares, aside from the timing company, if a 10K runner finishes in the 5K chute or vice versa? The answer? The runner when he/she isn't found in the results!
Seriously though, no harm, no foul, right? But, listening to music while running outdoors can result in plenty of foul and harm. Dogs attack from behind. So do humans. And if you are oblivious to your surroundings, you are even more of a target.
Unless you are running inside, wearing headphones is not something I recommend. Not only does it drown out danger (dogs, humans), it also drowns out traffic. And as we all know, the person driving down the road is likely to be distracted by their cell phone. It is the runner's responsibility to be completely aware of their surroundings.
There is another less-obvious reason for not wearing headphones. It is so we can remain cognizant of our own bodies and our current condition. While we'd all like to “zone out” and block the pain or discomfort of running, we owe it to our bodies to know our status. We must be able to detect the early warning signs of dehydration, muscle fatigue or other minor issues before they become major.
Finally, running to the beat of our favorite music is not as important as running to the beat of our hearts. Listen to your heart.