(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from July 2007.)
USA Track & Field has picked a fight that is probably unwinnable as well as unnecessary. The sport’s rulers want to take away runners’ iPods and other music-players. If we don’t surrender them voluntarily, we can be disqualified.
Good luck with that. I see confrontations coming, both physical and legal.
This ruling reminds me of how USATF’s ancestor, the AAU, used to act. It once barred woman from long-distance races, and occasionally tried to remove them physically or penalize them legally for defying this edict.
The rationale was safety. Women were delicate and needed “protecting” from efforts this extreme. Women fought back and finally won.
The iPod ruling also is safety-based. But race day, when traffic is controlled, might be the safest time to run with plugged ears. The worst time to wear one is alone on a busy street.
This anti-iPod action doesn’t sink to the level of sex discrimination. But it does make rule-breakers of runners who don’t need to be.
As with the women of 40 years ago, runners will find ways around this ruling. They’ll conceal their iPods from the enforcers or find a race that ignores the rule. They won’t stop the music, except maybe voluntarily.
Forcibly removing someone’s iPod strikes me as wrong-headed. But giving a runner good, positive reasons to leave it behind by choice on race day is worthwhile.
A young runner on my marathon team wasn’t aware that iPods weren’t allowed in his race (which wouldn’t have enforced the rule anyway). Tim Cole always trained to music, but on Eugene Marathon day he chose to go without – and won his age group.
Tim is uncommonly wise and well-spoken for 19. He said after that race:
“It was the first time I had run without my iPod. This came from advice from the first marathon runner in my family, my mom. The experience of the race would have been incredibly tarnished by such artificial sound.
“In hindsight it was the quickest three hours and 13 minutes of my life. After the marathon, many of my fraternity brothers asked me, ‘What did you think about during the race?’ The truth was I thought less than I expected.
“I did not need to escape. I enjoyed being right where I was.”
I own two different iPod models, and love their sound quality and portability. On the campus where I teach, I’m one of the world’s oldest iPod wearers. A student once joked as I fumbled at the buttons beneath a jacket, “What are you doing, adjusting your pacemaker?”
Music, from a computer library that bulges with more than 2500 songs, travels with me much of each day. But the sound goes off when I go for a run. Don’t want it then; don’t need it.
UPDATE FROM 2015
The rare exception to the last line above is when I train extra-long for a marathon. I don’t have enough good thoughts to last all those hours alone and need some outside help.
But on marathon day I leave the iPod Shuffle in my hotel room. Wearing it would block out the live voices of race day, the exchanges with other runners and cheers from the supporters, which sound sweeter than any song.
[Hundreds of previous articles, dating back to 1998, can be found at joehenderson.com/archive/. Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. Latest released was Going Far. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Memory Laps, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]