One of the things you will often hear me grumble about in my race reports is when people wear headphones during races. In part, this is because I think it’s a basic safety issue – the runners we try to navigate around who have headphones on are almost always more surprised and less able to react in a safe fashion when we come by. And since the absolute last thing I want to do is to cause an injury in a race, this alone seems a pretty important reason to take the headphones off.
But there’s two, much bigger issues at play here.
The first is that we are missing out on the chance to let our minds wander – to allow ourselves to be bored.
In a TedTalk in April 2017, broadcaster Manoush Zomorodi highlighted many of the issues at play in our brains when we are bored – and what happens when we don’t give ourselves the chance for our minds to wander:
Zomorodi points out that activities that we do on autopilot – including folding laundry, doing dishes or going for a walk (or a run!) – are some of the best ways to allow your brain to go to the deeper connections that we need to be able to reflect well on the past, plan for the future and tap into our creativity. (3:34) Boredom “ignites a network in your brain called the default mode.” (3:13) This default mode allows us to – among other things – tap into the emotionally vital processes of reflective thinking and creative planning that allow us to emotionally regulate better, make better decisions and live more fully into the people that we were made to be. Which is pretty awesome, isn’t it?
The second issue is that we are tuning out from our bodies – just at the point where we most need to tune in and listen to them.
By tuning in to their music or podcasts, people who use their headphones are tuning out from their bodies during training and races. And that’s a problem! Because if we want to train to our maximum potential, avoid injuries or develop a healthier, more integrated relationship with our bodies, then we will need to listen to what our bodies have to say.
That twinging muscle at the back of your calf? It means something! It might mean that you are low on sodium, that you’re dehydrated or that your gait is incorrect. The pain in your right hip? Also means something! Possibly overly tight hamstrings, or the wrong shoes, or a subtle knee or ankle injury that means you’re holding increased tension in your hip to try to limit the movement further down. These are just two examples, but the possibilities are as endless as the infinite combinations of joints, muscles, tendons, hydration and caloric levels, macronutrients, micronutrients, and immune systems of the body are.
And the body’s messages can be subtle, so it’s important to be paying full and complete attention – which we can’t do if we’re tuning out.
Tune in tomorrow as we continue this three-part series.