It’s been well documented that running to music can help your performance, keeping your cadence up, distracting you when things get difficult, and making the time go faster. Interesting that last one – it rather assumes that you don’t like running much, doesn’t it? Perhaps stop running round a track and find a more interesting route, drop the speed and savour the experience… Anyway, I digress.
Normally I prefer to run without music; my favourite two types of run are the early morning one when you can enjoy the peace and the wildlife around, and the social run with your friends, when you do as much chatting as you do running. And being plugged in would bugger up both of those.
But yesterday I tried something different. I made a playlist with different types of music to see what effect it would have on the way I ran. As luck would have it, my terrible taste in music is also eclectic enough to provide a wide spread, so this was what I selected: 50% laid back tracks (Acoustic Alchemy, if you’re interested), 30% upbeat faster tempo (St. Germain), and 20% more aggressive (New Model Army). The idea was to load these up and play them on random – logic would suggest that I’d slow down for the 50%, and run fastest to the 20%.
What actually happened was that I responded to the more laid back stuff by slowing my cadence, but my stride lengthened, whereas the 30% faster tempo resulted in a faster cadence to match the music, but my stride shortened proportionately – so the pace was actually the same.
Most interestingly, while I’d actually normally prefer to listen to the 20%, I enjoyed running to it less. I responded to it by increasing both my cadence and stride length, so I’d go quite a bit faster, turning a nice easy run into a threshold pace, or worse. Before too long, I’d worked out that the running would be a more enjoyable experience if the next track would be a laid back one, and indeed was quite disappointed when one of the other tracks started.
My conclusion: for me, at least, music doesn’t really enhance the experience of running but it does provide a useful stimulus for faster training sessions – and I guess races if you’re allowed. Given the choice, tuning into the rhythmic pounding of the shoes and your breathing to get into the zone suits me better. And if you’re also able to enjoy the sounds of nature, then what better soundtrack for your run?