Wednesday, May 1, 2013

No Headphones Allowed

I am really frustrated with the new trend of road races forbidding participants to wear headphones during the race.  Whether or not your run with headphones on doesn't affect how elite or serious a runner you are.  Enough with all these so called running purists talking about how they connect better with their body and spirituality when they can just hear the sound of their breath and their feet hitting the ground.  If that's how you feel, good for you.  When I don't wear headphones all I can hear is the soccer moms behind me talking about their ungrateful husbands.  To each his own. 

I have been running road races for 21 years.  I didn't start running with headphones until 7 years ago when my husband and I started dating.  He always ran with his Ipod and recommended that I give it a try.  I haven't looked back since unless I'm forced too.  When I have my headphones on I can only hear myself breathing and the music.  I get muffled bits of conversation from the runners around me but not enough to distract me.  Hearing the songs that I love makes it easier for me to tune out everyone else, and tune in to what's going on with my body.  In those rough moments when I just want to quit, a great booty shaking song can keep me running for 3 more minutes.  I run faster, more relaxed and happier when I have music.  

I've heard other people say they like wearing headphones because it prevents strangers from talking to them during the race.  A lot of people listen to coaching and motivational messages or e-books while they run.  I'm sure there are some people who have their music up so loud that they couldn't hear a bus if it was 5 feet away from them but I think those people are the exception.  I always look when I'm crossing intersections, even when the streets are blocked off, because as a runner it's just become a habit.  In my 21 years of running road races I have only heard of 1 participant being hit by a car.  In that situation, a person drove through the barricade and ignored the police officer directing traffic.  Maybe the driver of the car had headphones on.   

I think there are 2 things that contribute to this trend.  1st, we are a lawsuit happy society.  When someone can sue McDonald's for making their hot coffee too hot then someone can just as easily sue a race director for expecting them to be aware of their surroundings. I ran a race last month that banned headphones.  This race was through a very rural section of upstate New York.  I went several miles without seeing another runner, let alone any significant road traffic.  I had an awful time running this race because not only was I by myself but it was eerily quiet.  I ran my worst half marathon ever.  I will never run this race again.  

The 2nd reason is that race directors think it makes their race appeal to more elite runners if they ban headphones.  This goes hand and hand with the new trend of setting ridiculous time cut offs for races that previously didn't have them.  The Mountain Goat Run is a Syracuse institution.  I have been running this race since I moved to Syracuse.  It's a 10 mile hilly course through downtown Syracuse.  Hundreds, and now thousands of runners participate every year.  Elite runners come from all over to compete for medals.  But 98% of the people are there for the challenge of the course, the support of the locals and the beautiful scenery.  Well this year they have established a time cutoff and headphones are forbidden. 

The time cut off is 2 hours and 10 minutes.  That's a 13 minute mile pace.  Most days I average a 12 minute pace and I end up in the bottom half of the middle of the pack.  There are always lots of runners behind me.  13 minutes per mile is running.  Hell 17 minutes per mile is running for a lot of people.  Run/walkers and walkers don't even bother signing up.  The message is clear: average runners aren't welcome.  Thanks for supporting this race for the past 30 plus years but we don't really want you around any more.  

They claim that they have problems managing too many people on the road once Sunday traffic starts.  The race has grown from less than 1000 participants in 2003 to a projected 3500 for this year's race.  During this time the start time has been moved to later in the day.  The last time I participated, a number of runners suffered from heat exhaustion and other heat related illnesses because an hour into the race the sun was at peak the temperature had reached well over 80 degrees.  If they really cared about the runners they would start the race early in the morning like most distance runs.  An early start would encourage more out of town runners to come in the night before and benefit the local economy.  If they limited the number of participants, they could better ensure their ability to protect the safety of the runners.

In 2003, 870 runners finished the race.  Only 1 runner finished above 13 minute mile pace.  In 2009, 1918 runners finished with 13 runners over 13 minute pace.  Last year 2,525 runners finished with 54 runners over 13 minute pace.  I think the popularity of the race has encouraged more people to participate.  More elite runners are coming out along with more average runners and everyone in between.  With a bigger race, you would expect to have a bigger range of participants.  
The increase in registration fees over the years seems to contradict the increase in the number of participants and additional constraints placed on runners.  The post-race has been lacking over the past few years as well so it seems like this is a sinking ship.  I have a feeling this will be my last Mountain Goat.  I love running but I refuse to support races that don't provide me with a happy and supportive running environment.  

No comments:

Post a Comment