Can You Listen to Music While Running a Marathon?


Running to music

With the rise of mobile smartphones and media streaming services, listening to music has become convenient and easy to integrate into many parts of our lives. It’s no surprise that many more people are streaming music now, and one popular trend that has emerged is that people are starting to stream music while they run and workout. People mainly do it to make their experience more pleasurable, but others believe listening to music during a marathon can help you physically.

Listening to music while running in a marathon can actually benefit you in terms of your physical running performance and your sensation of physical exertion. However, it’s important not to rely on music too much during training and regular running.

For many, it seems pretty intuitive that listening to music while you run could benefit you physically and allow you to boost your running performance. But when you start to think about it, it may seem illogical to believe that merely listening to music can influence your physical body. The rest of this article will discuss the factors that make up this phenomenon while also discussing the actual logistics and regulations behind listening to music while running a marathon.

Physical Effects of Listening to Music During Running

Nowadays, it seems like everyone listens to music in some way. At the same time, they work out or run, and many people believe music’s apparent physical benefits come from the fact that people feel more hyped and motivated to run while they listen to music. There is some truth to this, and it is based on underlying psychophysiological factors that are complex in detail but are generally understandable in concept.

It’s not so much that music affects your physical muscles and body systems; it’s more that listening to music can actually alter your perception of your body performance. It’s a classic case of mind over matter and, when used properly, it can be used to greatly enhance your performance without extra physical exertion or training.

The three main principles behind the phenomenon are:

  • Influence of attentive focus
  • Psychological factors
  • The perceived sense of exertion

Let’s first discuss the findings from some key medical studies.

Reports From Medical Studies

The basis of these medical studies comes from one key concept that’s been observed for not only runners but also other types of athletes. This concept is the relationship between associative and dissociative focus:

  • Associative focus is the attention runners have on their own body 
  • Dissociative focus is the attention runners have on their environment

The strategy for long runs and marathons is to decrease associative focus and increase dissociative focus to cause a lowered sense of physical exertion.

Listening to music is used as a strategy because it helps decrease associative focus. It essentially acts as a distractor for runners, causing them to feel less fatigued than they should be, leading to greater performance. 

This also explains why music is more beneficial for long marathons than for shorter runs and sprints because its effects are only noticeable over a long period. This also allows some runners to strengthen their pacing because they’re more focused on their environment.

Although many studies have given mixed results on the actual legitimacy of music’s effect on a runner’s perceived sense of physical exertion, it’s safe to say that this strategy could definitely benefit a lot of marathon runners if utilized correctly. Now that we’ve discussed the general factors, we can now focus on the actual findings between two main studies that we found.

First Study (Victoria University)

The first study’s goal was to find the effect of runners listening to music during the first and last parts of a marathon because it’s been found that a runner’s pace in the first part of a race can greatly affect their overall finishing time. It’s also been found that music’s influence on pacing can only generally apply to the first parts of a race, and they wanted to compare its effects on the last parts of a race as well.

The study’s finding concluded that listening to music helped runners in the first parts of a race, causing an increase in running speed and general racing performance. However, it was also shown that music didn’t really have an effect on the later parts of the marathon. Lastly, the study also showed that the actual physical exertion was the same regardless of whether runners listened to music or not, which further shows that music’s effect is mainly based on perception and not direct causation.

Second Study (The Sport Journal)

The second study shares the same main concept in the sense that listening to music while running can alter your perception of physical exertion and fatigue. Still, this study focuses more on the emotional and psychological arousal behind the influence on your perception. It essentially focuses on how your emotions can cause a change in your perception and how you can use them to boost or hinder your physical performance from listening to music.

This study was interesting because it similarly concluded that listening to music generally boosted the performance of runners. Still, unlike the previous study, it found that music didn’t really have an effect on the runners’ perceived sense of physical exertion. It should be noted that this study was done with a much greater emphasis on numbers and statistics, so when they say that music didn’t have a significant effect on runner perception, they mean that in a purely statistical sense.

The numbers generally implied that music could possibly affect the runner’s sense of physical exertion, but not enough to be deemed significant by the study’s own standards. Lastly, this study also found that music with a faster tempo will often lead to a faster race pace, even though they didn’t control what tempo the runners planned for listening. This suggests that even the type of music can also have an impact on your racing performance.

Rules and Regulations for Music During Races

You should now see how listening to music would probably benefit your running performance based on the studies and science, but it’s important to know that you shouldn’t rely on music too much during your runs. This is especially important for your training runs because listening to music while running too often can ruin your sense of pacing and timing if you don’t pay attention. It’s also important not to rely on music for running because you may find yourself in a race where you’re not allowed to at all.

Listening to music is widely banned during US races and marathons because of these main reasons:

  • Racer safety
  • Fair competition
  • Race efficiency

Restrictions to Listening During Marathons

To summarize it quickly, whether or not you can listen to music during a race will depend on the specific rules of the race itself. So it’s up to you to figure that out. 

In general, the past rules that have banned listening to music have started to loosen up. 

In 2008, the USA Track & Field body repealed the rule banning headphones and music listening for races. However, it’s still not allowed if the race has prizes, awards, or medals. Even then, most racing officials prefer to have music listening banned.

In the UK, British Athletics is clear that ‘in ear’ headphones should not be used on races that are run on open roads. Most marathons are run on closed roads. 

Why Music Listening is Banned

If you’re confused as to why listening to music is banned for most marathons, it comes down to maintaining fair competition and your safety. We’ve discussed the general effects of music for running. Still, the problem is that it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, and that’s something that would be very hard for races to regulate and standardize. Even if the effect is based on psychology, it’s best just to ban the use of music for races to make sure everyone feels the race is fair.

Additionally, races and marathons typically have many audio cues and noises that runners need to be prepared for and paying attention to at all times. If runners were allowed to listen to music during races, they could miss some important audio cues and negatively affect everyone else’s race. This can include the race start cue and false start cue. 

One last aspect to think about is also runner safety. If the race has any potential of encountering traffic, whether that’s other racers or any kind of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, runners shouldn’t be allowed to listen to music. This ensures they’re attentive and aware of certain hazards and dangers.

Summary

Whether it has a strong impact on you or not, it has been shown that music can significantly alter your racing performance for the better, and a lot of people have started to take advantage of this fact. 

Music’s effects ultimately come down to psychological factors, but knowing how to use it properly can greatly benefit your own physical performance, whether that’s racing or any other type of sport or workout.

Sources:

http://vuir.vu.edu.au/23137/1/Main%20document_final.pdf

https://www.verywellfit.com/can-i-wear-headphones-in-races-2910927#:~:text=Despite%20the%20official%20change%2C%20some,rules%20on%20headphones%20and%20earbuds.

Mark Norman

I've been running for over 6 years and now try to balance it with life as a dad to two young kids. I'm not super quick, I just try to run consistently, not always easy! I'm lucky enough to have run the London Marathon twice along with countless other half marathons and 10ks. I'm also one of the Run Directors at my local parkrun.

Recent Posts