Have you ever just people watched when you’re out running? If you immediately say no, you are most definitely lying, if you hesitate and say no, I won’t dignify you with a response (who are you kidding), and if you say yes – thanks for honestly embracing the slight awkwardness of the question. There are plenty of technicalities runners observe about each other, whether it is stride, aerodynamic movement, or sounds.
One of the funniest and strangest looking things that I observe most often is when looking around, you can sometimes tell that a song has just changed for someone running with an mp3 player. When it happens and you’ve made eye contact with that person it sort of feels as though you’ve just witnessed a personal moment that you really weren’t suppose to. I sympathize with both sides. I’ve definitely found it humorous to watch someone very evidently change their pace to a song and if they are my friend call them out on it. On the other side, I’ve also been that person that has most obviously picked up the pace in my running and then worried when someone’s caught me doing it whether they think I’m obnoxiously trying to impress them with speed.
Anyway, while this pace changing can sometimes be intentional when a motivational song comes on, what about the other times when it isn’t? What are we doing to our bodies and our training when we are running to a shuffled mix that switches from Beethoven to the Beastie Boys, all in the blink of an eye? Could such a herky-jerky movement be beneficial in some capacity or entirely destructive?
When considering an eclectic shuffle of music with both high beat per minute (bpm) music and low bpm some benefits came to mind. First, switching from high bpm to low bpm in a way simulates a type of in-and-out speedwork and that can be beneficial to training. Nothing wrong with some sprinting. (Read: Fartlek Training) Second, switching gears during a long run may push you to strengthen your running by covering long runs much faster. Lastly, sometimes that one song that comes out of the blue (for me it is usually Roxanne by The Police) truly is inspirational to press on and finish a run. One of the greatest things is when songs like these come on right when you’ve gotten to point where you are sure you will be in thorough need of being scraped off the ground. “Roxanne, you don’t have to turn on the red light!” We have lift off. Not the greatest fan of high mileage, I graciously accept awkward pick-ups because the music is serving its distractive purpose.
Now to mention the down side. First, if you’re changing your pace so frequently during a run, switching between gears too quickly may make you far more susceptible to straining something. Second, to those who suffer from hitting the wall mid-long run take a look at the bpm of your music – you may be unaware that you are getting a sprint workout during your long run. I think we can agree that almost no one wants to wear themselves out like that. Arranging your music from slower to faster, may give you the gradual build up you require to complete that long run. Who knows, pretty soon you may be conquering it and ending in a full out sprint! Finally, shuffled music doesn’t allow one to adapt to a pace and really get a feel for it. Its a wonderful skill to know what a certain mile time feels like and concentrating too much on the music may be preventing you from improvement.
For those more interested in embracing the awkward pick ups consider creating a playlist that builds up and gets faster to help minimize the potential negative effects. A website I found called jog.fm/ is spectacular for just this. This site allows you to search for the bpm of a song, then suggests a comprehensive list of bpm songs, and also correlates the approximate mile time you would run listening to them.
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About the Author: Marie Walsh is a senior at Rice University, who runs for the Owl’s Cross Country and Track & Field Team. An avid runner, she loves to learn whatever she can about the sport and spread the knowledge.
Follow Marie on Twitter @MarieAWalsh