There is always a debate on whether people should listen to music when they run or not. I can say I have done both and I prefer not to listen to music when I run even if I am by myself while I run.
The reason why I do not like to listen to music when I run is because I feel like I am connected to the environment I am in. I am in tune with what is going on around me like the traffic or if there are any runners behind me on the path I am running on. Plus during races I feel connected to the race atmosphere, I can feed on the energy of the crowd, and I am more focused on my effort and the runners I am trying to catch.
Now I remember in high school when I ran I wished I could have listened to music during my races because I could imagine how much faster I would run and how the music would pump me up. Once I graduated in 2007 and started competing in road races I would put my headphones on and put my running playlist on and then go out for a run. I felt pretty good and thought this would be great for my races.
I made a race playlist where I picked out some of my favorite songs and made sure the total time of the songs added up to around the time I would finish. As soon as the horn/gun would go off for the race the playlist would start. The only benefit I could notice was I couldn't hear myself breathing hard therefore I did not know how tired I was getting and felt like I could run faster for a longer time. However my times were not improving at a fast rate. The fastest race I ran in 2011 was 21:12 at the Pace for Poverty 5K on the 4th of July and I did not run a faster time the rest of the year.
The downfall, in my opinion, of listening to music when running is I got to complacent. I did not speed up when I should and I did not pay attention to my race. I felt like I was in a bubble and disconnected from the race atmosphere. I was not in tune with the environment, the crowd, the other racers, and what I was doing when I was running. It was especially bad if I did not know another runner was chasing me down because if I did not have my music on I could have heard them and made sure I stayed ahead of them.
Last year in June I decided to give up listening to music when I ran and it was the best decision I made. The first race I did this was at the 2012 Kalamazoo Klassic and yes it did take some adjusting to, but later that summer I was able to break 21 minutes for the first time since 2007 at the 2012 Kindleberger 5K recording a time of 20:56 and my time kept dropping. By the end of the season I had set my best time of 20:25 at The 2012 Run for the Son and now my best time currently is 20:07 just set at the 2013 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Running without music is so enjoyable. When I run with my friends I talk to them and recapping on my philosophy I stated earlier, during races I am focused on other runners, feed off the crowd and I embrace each race. So next time leave the headphones at home and enjoy the natural atmosphere while running.