Friday, August 20, 2010

Running aware with the wildlife

I decided to write this, because I post my workouts regularly on a website called dailymile and in the description of each of my running or cycling workouts, I make sure to note any interesting interactions with people and/or wildlife I have while I'm out on my run. In Colorado, it is not uncommon to run into wildlife, so these encounters happen frequently.

I have noticed how often those who follow my training on dailymile comment on my wildlife encounters. Many people seem to really appreciate hearing those stories, and the ecologist in me really appreciates that. But I'd like to point out that the only reason I even notice most of the wildlife is because I'm listening and watching the world around me as I run through it. I'm not running inside my head with my auditory senses saturated by music from a set of earbuds. I don't run with music.

I tried to run with music when I started pushing my runs up to an hour or more months ago, but because portions of my runs were on roads, I became uncomfortable at not being able to hear approaching vehicles or bicycles. I would move sideways to avoid stepping on a rock I would have noticed earlier if I wasn't internally focused on my music, and almost into the path of cyclists riding by because I didn't really have time at the last moment to look back before I veered from my "line." 

I quickly realized that in just one or two runs with an mp3 player, I had become the inconsiderate, self-centered runners that for the year before I started running had veered unexpectedly in front of me on the multi-use trails around town, forcing me to brake hard or steer off the trail to avoid them. With their earbuds in, runners often forget about the world around them, and I guess that's the idea, to be distracted from the drudgery of a long run.

On the third day, I had forgotten to charge the mp3 player, so I had to run without music, and to my surprised... it wasn't boring at all. There's a lot going on, and running without music made me aware of much more of it. Foxes frolicking in a field I would not have even looked into as I ran by if I were singing Barenaked Ladies tunes in my head, migratory warblers in the riparian vegetation along the creek path that wouldn't even be in the area in another week or two, vehicles approaching with distracted drivers that might veer into me, dogs rushing me from a side street, pleasant and courteous interactions with complete strangers that I otherwise might not even know were attempting to reach out to me as they passed by.

It's not limited to runners, either.  I see obvious cyclists speeding down the path with their ears plugged with artificial sounds who are so distracted by their inner world that they fail to warn walkers and runners they're about to pass at high speeds. What is up with that? 

There is so much to experienced in the world every time we step out our front doors, that I would encourage people to leave the ipod or other mp3 player at home, and spend some time rubbernecking when they're out on a run. You notice things that way. You see some pretty cool shit. Plus, you're safety is enhanced, because you have all your senses fully available.

I've heard people say, "Oh, I keep the volume down, and don't plug my earbuds in tight," or, "Oh, I don't use sound-blocking headphones or earbuds, so I can hear." Yeah, well, that's what I was trying. Much of the problem isn't in not being able to hear what's going on outside, though. It's in failing to notice because your focus is elsewhere.

Anyway, this is why I gave up running with music, and I haven't been sorry. Just read about the encounters I have with people and wildlife on dailymile and you'll see what I'm talking about.


  1. I'm with you on the music. I run maybe once a month with it, and then on a really long run (20 miles) when I want my mind to wander a bit and when I don't go too fast. It's not even concern about safety, wanting to hear nature, or anything like that - it's just that I find the music distracts me from focusing on my running, and I want most of my runs to mean something.

  2. Just like the routes I run on, I like to mix it up. I would never run exclusively with or without music. My weekend long runs are usually with a group without it. The better the scenery the less likely I sport the iPod.

    Good post on a sometimes controversial topic.

  3. Totally agree Mark!

    I like to hear the rhinos running after me. :)

    It's especially fun at races when I cheer people on or others cheer me. It's disappointing when I cheer someone on and they don't hear me. :/

  4. Thanks. I've found it difficult to write on this topic in the past. Many who run regularly with music seem to take it very personally, like you're trying to take away their personal freedom, but I don't really see it that way. I just don't want to endanger myself or others. I have never cursed a runner with an ipod who wasn't doing something unsafe or was clearly oblivious to a potential danger. I have no doubt that many people alter their behavior on the paths and roads when they run with music, so they can avoid some of the dangers even with reduced awareness of their surroundings.

    I found it very difficult to avoid stepping or stopping in front of a cyclist I was unaware of, and had one or two close calls with vehicles I didn't know were behind me on roads in the small handful of times I tried running with an mp3 player. I run in a small city environment with a fair amount of traffic on the roads and trials, though, so I think being aware of my surroundings is more important than it might be for some people.

    I also found I was more bored when listening to music, somehow. When I started paying attention to what was going on around me as I ran, I found it impossible to be bored. I don't have the stress and worries that a lot of people have, however. When I run, I don't ruminate on anything. I suppose a person with something pressing on their mind might also have limited awareness that could be unsafe now and then.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Marvin. I'm with you there. I ran near someone for the entire half marathon last Saturday that I wanted to talk to, but I was deterred by the earbuds plugging her ears. it would have been nice to have at least a little conversation. We might have been able to offer each other some encouragement.


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