After graduating from college in May, I found myself in a slump. I was lazy, I was gaining weight, and I was generally dissatisfied with life. I decided to do something about it. Like many people, I wanted to make running a part of my life, not only for my physical wellbeing, but for my mental sanity as well. Something about running rejuvenates both body and mind for me. But there was a hang-up. I was impatient. Very impatient. Even though running made me feel physically refreshed, mentally sharp, and generally satisfied, I couldn’t bring myself to run because I found it monotonous, boring, and generally counterproductive. I told myself that running for the sake of running was somehow a bastardized form of human activity. I was not running to get somewhere I needed to be. I was not running to reach a destination faster. I was not running from a predator, and I was not participating in some persistence hunt on the Serengeti. I was not running for any of the reasons human beings were meant to be runners. Something about running for the sake of running just got to me, and whether I was merely making excuses or whether this was a genuine concern, the end result was the same: Inactivity. I hated being sedentary because I wanted to lead an active life, but at the same time I avoided running because I could not get past what I saw as the futility of it. One solution to such a malaise is to listen to music while you run.
Several months ago, I found a solution to my exercise woes. I started listening to music and podcasts. Now, listening to music and podcasts, I feel as if I am doing something else to occupy myself. I’m not running for the sake of running anymore. I am running for the sake of listening, and that has made all the difference. Music does several things for me. First, it takes my mind off of the act of running itself. I feel I can run longer, faster, and with more ease than I would have run without the music. The effect is similar to running with a partner. Running with a partner, your mental energy is directed toward the other, not toward yourself and your stride. When I am alone, I find myself counting strides, sometimes cycling through by the hundreds. I’ll count to 100 and then start back at one. It is a grueling activity.
I also find myself obsessing over my breathing. Do I breathe through my nose or my mouth? What is that scratchy sensation in the back of my throat? Do most people pant this wildly? I am constantly evaluating my physical state, which is good if I am on the verge of heat stroke or something, but annoying when I am out for a casual jog. And yes, I obsess also about my appearance as I run. Is my face beet red? Do I look too strained? Am I sweating too much? When I first started running, I tried to find the most inconspicuous road I could find to minimize the number of onlookers. It was no surprise to me that when a family friend drove by, she stopped and asked me worriedly, if I was in some kind of danger. No joke. When I run, I look like I’m in danger. This is enough to make anyone self-conscious. But this problem, too, is remedied by running with a partner. Running alone makes the act of running into a chore, a laborious task that must nevertheless be completed. Running with a partner makes it a more enjoyable, less self-conscious activity. And if I have no partner, I find music is a perfect surrogate.
The second advantage to listening to music and podcasts while I run is that I feel like I’m improving multiple parts of myself at once – my body and my mind. There are multiple inputs and I’m feeding them both, so to speak. This is especially true of podcasts. I listen to a lot of puzzle podcasts, informational podcasts, and news podcasts. The affect of music on my mental processing is stimulating, to be sure, but the affect of a good podcast is much more exciting. I can learn new things, facts, problem solving skills, current events, jokes, etc. while at the same time, performing the basic motor skills of running and cardio activity. I get two for one! The beauty of it is that there are two things most people will say they wish they had more time for. Intellectual enrichment and learning is one. Exercise is the other. This way, you can partner them up and fulfill both needs at once. You can improve your mind and body at the same time. I am not one to set aside a time slot during the day where I do nothing but listen to music and podcasts. Not many people are. Nor am I inclined to set aside a time to run for a half an hour. But if I can do them both at once, I am more inclined to set aside that time.
Of course, listening to music while running comes with some inherent risks. While it is nice to be able to take my mind off the running itself, I also find it can be a hindrance in heavily populated or urban areas. Running with my head figuratively in the clouds is not suited for all environments. I usually listen to podcasts when I run in rural or safe places and music or nothing at all when I have to focus on other pedestrians, cars and bikes. But whatever I choose to listen to, the benefit is clear. I can confidently say that listening to music and podcasts saved me from a sedentary, lazy lifestyle. It got me off the couch, it cured me from the doldrums and depression, and it got me running again. I am slimmer now, I am eating healthier, I am more social, and I am more curious about the world. Listening while running gave me a much-needed boost and I now have a whole new lease on life. You might like to listen to music while you run too.