I’ve stopped listening to music and am running 13 seconds/mile faster

In this article I’m going to talk you though how running without music has meant I now enjoy my running a lot more AND am running faster than ever.

Hopefully it will also give you the confidence to try a little experiment of your own.

But first a bit of background…..

For the first 12 months after I took up consistent running I listened to music literally every step of the way.

And it seems like most runners do the same.

A Runners World poll from 2014 showed that 74% of people believe you should listen to music whilst running.

It’s easy to see why music is so popular, as it has easy to understand benefits. This is a great article on the subject from Runners Connect.

Benefits of running with music

  1. It can help with our motivation
  2. It can help pass the time & stave-off our boredom of a long run
  3. Listening to music generally is an enjoyable past-time and, for some of us, running may be one of the few times we can do so un-interrupted
  4. It can also instantly improve our mood and aid our running by getting our adrenaline firing

I was someone who totally believed these benefits – a committed music listening runner as I felt I ‘knew’ that music was a positive aid for my running.


In my more honest, reflective moments, I also had a niggling thought at the back of my head.

  • ‘It’s not that you just enjoy listening to music while you run Chris, you NEED music to run – to distract you from the reality & hard-ship of the task’
  • ‘Actually, I’m not sure you can run if you don’t have music’

I came to recognise that rather than being a helpful, enjoyable tool to aid my running, music was actually a way to disassociate myself from the task of running and betrayed a lack of confidence in my ability.

It hung over my head and, rather than running being the ultimate escape (‘just get out and run’), music had a hold over me:

  • ‘What if I forget to charge my phone?’
  • ‘What if I forgot my headphones?’ and heaven-forbid….
  • ‘What if I don’t have any playlists set up?!’

I decided to tackle this head on and do an experiment.

Something risk-free.

I’d just try a couple of runs without music to see how I got on.

If I hated it I could always just go back to my headphones for every run.

This was at the end of November last year and I haven’t put my headphones back in since.

The first couple of runs were really hard as I came across a number of differences to running with music that were strange and took some getting used to:

  1. The thought of leaving the house without my music was deeply uncomfortable
  2. New noises that music previously blocked out (the sound of my footsteps, the sound of my breathing) were initially unsettling
  3. Simply having an hour alone with my thoughts was really scary!

However, these were totally out-weighed by the positives I’ve now come to find.

The No.1 benefit being….I’m quicker, A LOT quicker without music

I listened to music on all 21 of my runs in October and November (2016) and averaged 8:07min per mile.

I started my ‘no music’ experiment at the end of November (2016) and, to the end of January I ran a further 30 times averaging 7:54min per mile or 13 seconds per mile quicker across those runs!

The difference in my times, literally from the run I stopped listening to music, has been really surprising.

In October & November I averaged under 8min per mile on only 9% of the 21 runs.

In December & January I averaged under 8min per mile on over 80% of my runs!

So, what do I put this down to?

During this period I didn’t consciously change anything about my running other than ditching the music.

I did the same routes, with the same kit, got roughly the same sleep & nutrition and did the same warm-ups and post-run stretching.

But I am conscious that others factors I’m not aware of could have contributed to my speed gains.

I’m not therefore not going to say that ditching the music has been the only reason I’ve got quicker.

But I do believe it’s a major or the primary reason for my speed gains and I’m confident that’s the case as I’ve noticed quite a number of benefits from not listening to music whilst running:

  1. I feel far more ‘present’ & in tune with my body
  2. I’m truly focusing on the exercise
  3. I’m more aware during the run of how I’m performing and can recognise when I can push myself more and when I should back-off
  4. I enjoy listening to my breathing as focusing on it gets me into a more relaxed, mindful state
  5. I look forward to being alone with my own thoughts rather than trying to use music to suppress them
  6. I’ve come to realise how distracting an arm strap with a phone in it can be (I’ve bought a 2nd hand GPS watch to track my runs)
  7. It’s been a total  revelation to realise that I don’t ‘need’ music to run – I can do it on my own

I now feel I’ve ‘broken free’ from the emotional ‘need’ to listen to music and am enjoying my running more than ever.

Perhaps this article has given you the confidence to try an experiment of your own.

If so, let me know how you get on!


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