What I Listen To While I Run

Five runners with differing tastes dish on their preferred sounds (or silence) while on the trail and road.

Runners, justifiably, are constantly seeking out ways to up their enjoyment levels during what can be a taxing pursuit. One method is to pop in earbuds for some audio accompaniment, which today could mean an audiobook, podcast or music. Some swear by it, others dislike it and many are somewhere in between, putting the running community in a good place for a robust (and fun!) debate on whether you should tune in or unplug while you run. 

Listening to music while running can have an array of positive benefits, according to some recent studies. Research has found listening on the move to result in higher motivation, increased performance and more enjoyment. So strong are the potential effects of music that in 2007, the USA Track & Field banned music devices for all sanctioned races, citing performance benefits among their reasons.

Two runners listen to music using earbuds while they run.

Do you tune in when you run or use it as your chance to tune out? (Photo Courtesy of AfterShokz)

But not all are onboard with sound effects while you run. Who would argue that the song of nature isn’t the prettiest one? Plus, in a society attached to their devices, is dragging your phone around the woods really the best choice?

Of course, the decision to listen or not to listen will always be a personal one. So, read on for the viewpoints of five runners from around the country—on what they listen to and why—and see if it leans you one way or the other.   

Dana “DC Dana” Ayers

Dana Ayers stretches on a track before a run.

Dana Ayers uses music to help motivate her on a run. (Photo Courtesy of Dana Ayers)

Age: In her 30s

Where She Lives: Washington, D.C.

What She Does: Ayers works as a strategic communications consultant. She’s also a Navy reservist and author of the best-selling book “Confessions of an Unlikely Runner.”

Running Life: She has participated in marathons, obstacle course events and relay races. “I’ve done it all over the years, all slowly,” she said. In 2013, she helped raised $50,000 for Boston after the 2013 marathon bombing via a 1,000-mile relay from Tennessee to Massachusetts with 26 other runners.

Noise vs. Silence?: I use it as a motivation trick,” Ayers said. “I’ll download my latest song obsessions and then I won’t let myself listen to them unless I’m running. Except for when I’m in a race, I listen to music while I run. I like to soak up the atmosphere in races, so I typically don’t listen to anything but the crowd and whatever bands might be along the way.”

What She Listens To: I like contemporary R&B, hip-hop and pop, to put some sass in my pace, and I like some EDM for the energy boost when the beat drops,” she said. “And let’s be honest, anything by Beyoncé.” Also: “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande, “All of the Lights” by Kanye West, “Kansas City” by The New Basement Tapes, “There Will Be Time” by Mumford & Sons & Baaba Maal.

Jason Friedman

Podcast host Jason Friedman listens to podcasts while running on a trail.

Podcast host Jason Friedman listens to—you guessed it—podcasts while he runs. (Photo Courtesy of Jason Friedman)

Age: 43

Where He Lives: New Paltz, New York 

What He Does: He’s an emergency room physician, exercise physiologist, running coach and host of the running podcast The Pain Cave.

Running Life: Ultramarathon runner since 2006 with more than 40 ultramarathon finishes. Top-10 finishes at national championships for the 50K, 50M, 100K, 100M and 24-hour divisions. USATF National Champion in the 40–44 age division for 100K trail.

Noise vs. Silence?: “On solo runs, I usually listen to podcasts and sometimes music,” Friedman said. “Listening to a podcast on a run almost feels like you’re running with someone else and just letting them manipulate the conversation, which is what I try to do with my running partners anyway. Plus it’s my main way of staying informed.”

What He Listens To: Podcasts: The Bill Simmons Podcast, The Starters, the Lowe Post, Men In Blazers, Revisionist History from Malcolm Gladwell, Pod Save America, and Ultrarunnerpodcast. Music: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Phish, The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus.

Jay Ell Alexander

Jay Ell Alexander with a medal around her neck after running a race.

Jay Ell Alexander listens to music only while running on the treadmill. (Photo Courtesy of Jay Ell Alexander)

Age: 32

Where She Lives: Richmond, Virginia

What She Does: The owner and founder of the Vaughn Strategy, a public relations consulting firm, she is also the CEO of Black Girls RUN!, a nonprofit created in 2009 to provide encouragement and resources to new and veteran runners. [Editor’s note: Black Girls RUN! is a national nonprofit partner of REI.]

Running Life: Mainly a road runner and a participant in half marathons, obstacle races and relay races.

Noise vs. Silence?: “I only listen to music if I’m on the treadmill,” she said. “Outside, it’s just me and the pavement, and I typically do not run on the treadmill, so listening to music is very infrequent. I normally choose not to listen to music because I can focus on my breathing. When I did my first half marathon years ago, my music playlist had my pace all over the place. Once I took the headphones out, I could get my body in sync and I just never went back.”

What She Listens To: “Anything rap, hip-hop and Beyoncé will always be in rotation,” she said.

Chris Cloyd

Chris Cloyd on a run on a scenic trail above Lake Tahoe.

Chris Cloyd prefers to listen to the sound of his own suffering instead of music. (Photo Courtesy of Chris Cloyd)

Age: 33 

Where He Lives: Truckee, California

Running Life: Trail and mountain runner who completed a 78-mile trans-Sierra Nevada run from Whitney Portal to Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park. He’s also summited all 15 of California’s 14,000-foot peaks via a combination of running, climbing and snowboarding. 

What He Does: Personal trainer and fitness coach at Truckee’s Performance Training Center.

Noise Vs. Silence?: “Music pulls my focus away from the presence I’m craving when I run into the hills,” Cloyd said. “I go there to find focus and awareness, not to actively distract myself from my environment and my thoughts, and I feel as though music or podcasts detract from the immersion I’m looking for in the mountains.”

What He Listens To: “As a non-music listener, I pay attention to the internal dialogue that usually gets drowned out by the everyday minutiae, but has room to speak up and be heard when running in the mountains. Also the pitter-patter of suffering,” he said.

Megan Roche

Megan Roche on a long run in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado.

If you like to dance as a prerun warmup like Megan Roche, then music helps. (Photo Courtesy of Megan Roche)

Age: 28 

Where She Lives: Boulder, Colorado

Running Life: The 2016 USATF Trail Runner of the Year at the ultra and sub-ultra distances, Roche is a five-time USATF National Trail Running Champion and six-time member of Team USA. 

What She Does: Running coach and co-founder of SWAP Running, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at Stanford University, and co-author of “The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer.” 

Noise vs. Silence?:I realize that music listening is a hotly debated subject right now, but I find it adds joy to my running and contributes to some of the dancing that I do as a prerun warmup,” Roche said. “A big part of music is connecting with the lyrics and the emotions the artists are evoking, and I find it gives me the freedom to have a meditative mindset or connect with a deeper state of thought.” 

What She Listens to: “Space Jam” by Quad City DJ’s, “The Seed (2.0)” by The Roots, “Till I Collapse” by Eminem, “Back Against the Wall” by Cage the Elephant and “Caravan” by Van Morrison.”