I had my MRI follow-up today. Medically, I am in one piece. Medically, there is no next step, at least not with this doctor. He sent me off with instructions to stop heel-striking, lose weight, and possibly go back to Superfeet inserts (that another doctor said were a main contributing factor to my first running injury in 2008). I’m mired in this muck of opinions — I’m a heel-striker! I’m a midfoot striker! I’m a severe overpronator! I’m a “textbook neutral runner”! (someone told me that two weeks after the severe overpronator comment) I’m too fat to run! Maybe I should run more to be less fat! I need orthotics! No, not those orthotics, different ones! And heavier stability shoes! I need to go minimalist! I need to go to yet another $400 running clinic not covered by insurance where I’ll hear some combination of the above again! — and I’m not seeing a path through it at the moment. So I’m going to talk about something else.
I’ve said before that I started running because I wanted an excuse to buy an iPod Nano. I love making playlists. I love seeing a new podcast pop up in iTunes and knowing that I’ll get to listen to it during a long run. I love hearing a new song and thinking, “I can’t wait to race to that.”
But triathlons don’t allow headphones or music on the course. (They also, according to the Wildflower athlete guide I received today, don’t allow crawling.) So when I started training with TAG, I quit running with music cold-turkey.
Lots of people in my group train with music. On our longer runs, I see iPods and headphones come out of pockets and fuel belts around mile 2; the group’s split up, we’re running on our own or running too hard for idle chatter, and the music kicks in. I’ve had my Shuffle with me a few times, but I’ve resisted. I needed to get used to hearing my breathing, my footfalls. I needed to know that I could run on my own with only myself to listen to.
I’ve done it before; my first race was a no-headphones race. (Granted, at that race I latched onto a girl who was playing music through her phone on speaker and didn’t let her go till we crossed the finish line.) So I knew I could leave the headphones at home. What I didn’t know is if I could enjoy running without them.
I know a lot of people think of music as a crutch for runners, and I’ll admit that’s true for me — but beyond that, it’s a key part of what I love about the experience of running. My long runs are my chance to see the ocean, check in on the Golden Gate Park buffalo, and catch up on Pop Culture Happy Hour. It’s the most enjoyable form of multitasking I can imagine.
As it turns out, running silent hasn’t been as hard as I expected it would be. I still prefer running track intervals with Kelly Clarkson keeping me company, but running till I want to puke feels like running till I want to puke whether I have a soundtrack for it or not. And my group runs are reasonably social; usually I’m with a group for the first miles and the last miles and only have to entertain myself in the middle. Sunday’s race was actually the first time in six weeks that I’ve longed for music; I wanted so badly to hear anything but my own ragged breathing. But it’s survivable.
So what do I do when I’m running without headphones?
– I sing to myself. All the damn time. I wish I could change these songs the way I’d move to the next song on a playlist, because I’m the queen of earworms and bad at actually knowing lyrics, so I’ll get the same 30 seconds of music with three words stuck in my brain. (Last Tuesday, I saw Jeff Mangum play; on Sunday, I spent my entire race with “do de do do do do in the aeroplane over the sea/ something something soft and sweet do do do do do do do do do do do dooooo” on an endless loop.)
– I write blog posts. Like this one. I’m a cliche of myself.
– I think about television. Like, I’ll recap an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in my head. Old habits die hard?
– I bargain. “Run to that intersection and then you can look at your watch.”
I wish I could say I contemplate life, or my career, or the state of world affairs. Instead, I’m ranking the best all-time Project Runway contestants and singing 2% of an indie song with the wrong words.
This should be the point where I say something like “but I love it! I feel so free running without music. I understand it now! I’m more in touch with the world and nature and my body!” But oh, hells no. The headphones are back May 7. I have 500 unlistened-to podcasts, for starters, and I cannot wait to have a Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me quiz to escape into when things get rough during a race.
But it’s been good for me to try. I know that. And I’m not afraid of running silent anymore. I know I like it better when I have the option of music, but I don’t need to shy away from races that don’t allow it or opt out of a run because I forgot my headphones (yeah, I’ve done that). Not my favorite tool, sure, but one I’m glad to have in my toolkit nonetheless.