Tuning in vs. Zoning out

Nothing irritated me more as a coach than running up next to someone to ask, “How’s it going?” and receiving no response because the runner has headphones in and their music turned up so loud they weren’t even aware of me coming up next to them. The reason it bothers me so much isn’t because they’re oblivious to the pearls of wisdom I’m about to share… it bothers me because it is SO UNSAFE!

So here are a couple of my own tips:

A picture showing out-ear earphones. This part...
Image via Wikipedia

Zoning Out (aka, using headphones)
I admit to it… listening to headphones can be a great motivator. Training for my first marathon completely on my own I listened to numerous audiobooks while training.  Knowing that I could find out “what happens next” by going out for a run helped me get going on hard days. And having fun music is a great way to keep yourself moving. Lately I’ve been really enjoying listening to All Day by Girl Talk while I run.  But these shouldn’t come at the expense of hearing things around you.

Pop one of the earbuds out and only use one. This will keep one ear open to monitor your surroundings.

Keep the volume low. If others around you can pick up the song and sing along with your tunes, it’s too loud!

Have a friend or family member ask you a question before you head out when you have your headphones in. If you can’t hear them, you can’t hear anyone around you while you’re running.

Tuning in (aka, no headphones)
Running without headphones every now and then allows you to tune into your body, to really focus on what is happening. The other day I went out for a 4 mile run without any technology, just me and the run. This is such a good experience! The first time I did it I was a little flustered by it, I have gotten really good at tuning myself out (not just in running, but in many facets of life). Even if you’re not ready to take the plunge and do a whole run without the headphones, try removing them for 5 or 10 minutes.

Notice your footfall, is it heavy or dragging?
Notice your breathing, is it labored or wheezing?
Notice your posture, are you hunched over or leaning back?
Notice your hands, are they up too high or too low?
Notice your body, after a quick scan does everything feel alright?
Notice the world around you, have you ever paid attention to it?

I’m not saying that one way or the other is the ONLY WAY. I think there is room for both. But if you are running with a group or running with a coach, try to make yourself a little more available for communication and try “tuning in” rather than “zoning out”!


  1. “If others around you can pick up the song and sing along with your tunes, it’s too loud!” – Love it! I can always hear my husband’s music when he leaves to run… however, he always has one earbud out so he’s not being too unsafe. I’ve found now that I have running partners I leave my iPod at home a lot more. I still love it for when I’m trying to challenge myself and need the boost, but it’s nice not to need it all the time.

  2. Everyone can hear my music on the rare occasion I run with it. But then I don’t use the earphones with my Iphone 🙂 They don’t stay in my ears when I run so I rarely run with music.

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