Running To My Own Beat

This post about running without music originally appeared on FitApproach last Friday. I had no idea they were going to publish it so I wasn’t able to promote it like I should have been, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot and I hope it inspires some of you to give it a try!


Wind whistling against the leaves, birds chirping high in the trees, sneakers hitting the pavement with every step I take. These are the sounds I hear as I run along in the morning. In spring and early summer, there was more buzzing from the bees. Now that it’s autumn, the falling leaves dominate nature’s symphony, punctuated occasionally by the loud crack of an acorn hitting the ground.


Fall foliage in Ridgefield, Connecticut



This wasn’t my soundtrack when I first started running. Back in the spring of my first year of law school, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and set off, headphones in, several days a week until I was able to run three miles without stopping. That by itself was a major accomplishment. I grew up dancing ballet, but never believing I could make it more than a mile without huffing and puffing. In fact, I got my ballet teacher to write me a note to get me out of running the mile in gym class because it was bad for dancers! When I finally could run, I assumed I needed some noise to propel me – just as the score makes the ballet, the songs I played would determine the course of my run.


Sunrise on the Great Lawn



I was able to run further and further, always pounding to the beat of whatever song popped up on my iPod. After I finished the Couch to 5K program I was glad to be able to leave my phone behind and feel free, but I was consistently tethered to the much lighter and yet still dominating old iPod shuffle I’ve had for years. There were a few times when I left my apartment without it, and managed to make it four or five miles, pleasantly surprised at the sounds emanating throughout Central Park when I did. But never for a longer run, and certainly not for a race – I thought I couldn’t do it without my music.



NYRR Retro 4-Miler



That changed this summer. I was studying for the bar exam at my parents’ house, in the Connecticut town where I grew up. There were no city noises to block out, just an occasional car (which it was better to hear, safety-wise!) And I was forced to listen to bar exam review lectures for several hours each day. Running has always been my time in the morning to mentally refresh before tackling the day ahead, and I used to do that to music. But knowing I had to listen to someone else’s voice after the run was over, the last thing I needed was more noise from the time I woke up. Instead, I left the tunes at home, and began to run completely free, reveling in the silence.



fall foliage Ridgefield Connecticut



Of course, I realized along the way that I wasn’t in silence. The sound of silence is absent in nature no matter the season. As long as there’s life out there, there are sounds to be heard, as long as you take the time to listen closely. Sometimes I’d make a game of matching my steps to the chirping of a bird, or whatever else nature provided. But mostly, I’d just listen, and I began to run to my own beat. A beat no one else set the tone for. However I felt like running that morning, I’d run.






Maybe this isn’t a great plan when you’re training intensely, but for me it was the best thing I could have done. Running with only nature and my own thoughts to distract me meant that I would either use a run as thinking time, or as true mind-clearing time, both of which are necessary and which we often sacrifice to the daily hustle and bustle of life. I went on 6, 7, 8, even 9 mile runs without anything else, and never felt happier than when I was out there.



Summer sunrise



Last month, I toed the starting line of my fifth half marathon – and my first without musical accompaniment. It was in my hometown on a Sunday morning, and the small field of roughly 400 runners represented the only people who would be out on the streets. Everywhere I looked, I saw other runners with armbands and belts to hold their phones, so they could blast music along the entire route. As for me? I reveled as I ran the empty streets, hearing just my footsteps and those of the few runners in front of and behind me, and the birds chirping in the bright blue sky. I took in the fall foliage, the changing leaves that people make special trips to New England to see. And as I ran, I smiled.




[Tweet “Ever tried running without music? Read my story about running to my own beat #Running #Nature #NoMusicNecessary”]





Do you run with or without music?


Ever tried doing the opposite?







© 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.


17 thoughts on “Running To My Own Beat

  1. This is really interesting food for thought.
    I always run with music – or a podcast. I try to look around while running and take in the scenery as much as I can, but it surely doesn’t compare to running without any distraction and really noticing the sounds around you…


  2. I was much like you in the beginning — couldn’t run at all, couldn’t fathom running without music.

    Then 2 yrs ago I decided to train without because it was seriously discouraged in that race. And I’ve never gone back. While I do enjoy running to music (one of these days I’ve really got to try downloading some music to my phone because my vivoactive will play it!), I like the freedom of not having just one more thing on me.


  3. I haven’t run with music in over a year, which I prefer because it keeps me present in the moment and I feel much more aware of my body and connected to what I’m doing. I gave up music while running for a number of reasons. I love music and have always been really into it, but since we are able to burn out on songs, I didn’t want to take advantage of it. Another reason was that I don’t want to rely on music to the point where it would change my running if one day music wasn’t available to me.


  4. I’ve always run with music, but lately I’ve had a couple runs outside without music. It wasn’t bad. I know I absolutely need music when I’m on the treadmill. That’s a must to make it through the workout.


  5. I almost never run with music (unless I’m on a treadmill – then I’m all about having some music to keep me sane.). I could never figure out how to get headphones to stay on my head when I was younger (not to mention running with a CD player was MUCH more challenging than running with an iPod or MP3 player!), and I still can’t figure out how to get earbuds to stay in my ears when I’m running, so I’ve always found it to be more of a hassle than a welcome distraction (even on the treadmill, but drastic times call for drastic measures 😛 ). Otherwise, though, I’ve been perfectly happy to run without music. I like being aware of my surroundings for one thing, but I also find it quite soothing to hear my footsteps and breathing. I try to be present in my running, and minimizing outside distractions makes that much easier!


  6. For me it really depends where I’m running. If I’m in the city and running along a busy road, or in the gym on the treadmill? Then I definitely need music to tune out the noise. But if I’m out in nature then I prefer to leave the headphones off and just take in what’s around me. So peaceful and relaxing that way.


    • I just cannot do the dreadmill so that’s not an issue 🙂 But now that I’m running in the city mostly, I do find myself with music again on long runs since weekends there are too many people around to be peaceful! Weekday mornings I go without.


  7. I love to listen to podcasts. I find it akin to running with someone. Sometimes when the episode ends, I just let it go and finish my run with nothing in my ears. I agree, there is something beautiful about being out there with nothing. It feels so natural.


  8. Love this! I run both with and without music. You won’t catch me on a treadmill without music or a show on, but I often like to run outside without music. I tend to bring it on longer runs most often. I love music, and running is one of the few times I can listen to it without having to concentrate on school work!


  9. I absolutely love unplugging and just stopping to listen to all the sounds of the world around me, think, and slow down my mind to just meditate on the beauty of the creation around me!


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