iPod Conflict Brews in Racing

There’s a growing conflict between the running establishment and the iPod wearers. More races are vigorously enforcing their ‘no-iPod’ rules. A half-marathon I was at recently wouldn’t start the race until everyone turned in his or her headphones.

On the other hand, the Portland Marathon has announced it is now MP3-friendly, encouraging runners to plug-in and use common sense on their closed marathon course.

The debate over whether to allow MP3 players during a race continues. But where is the line drawn between safety and freedom?

iPod Pros and Cons

The two sides officially line up this way. On one side you have the USATF and race officials. Any USATF race disqualifies headphone-wearing entrants. Meaning that if you were fast enough to win something but had worn your iPod, you would be disqualified. Your results expunged from the official record.

Race officials are forced by their liability insurance policies to publicly state in the rules that no headphones are allowed. Historically this has been a bit of a "don’t ask, don’t tell" rule, and they turn a blind eye.

On the other side you have your iPod-wearing participants. They love their music and it is an integral part of their running, training and racing experience. They will tell you that they couldn’t train without it. It's more than a distraction. It is a psychologically integrated part of their whole life process.

They feel that what they listen to is their own business and since they’re not hurting anyone, what difference does it make? The more militant among users will say this is a personal rights issue. In the “First our iPod, then our guns and homes!” genre.

It has really become an issue because at any given race 60-70 percent of the participants are wired for sound. Even at the race where they physically enforced the ban two to three percent snuck them in somehow. It was an interesting microcosm of human politics. That two to three percent went to the effort to smuggle their sets onto the course, and other participants were stopping at the water stops to turn them in! “Number 449 has an iPod and is laughing about it…”

Like Any Other Personal Issue There Are Absurd Polarities


The race directors and USATF officials are notoriously dogmatic. They will quickly tell you it’s a liability issue, but when pressed no one can back up those liability assertions with any hard facts or statistics. They will instead give allusions to incidents where some hapless iPod wearing runner wandered into the path of an oncoming semi.

Of course their first reaction is to ban the use, but as the RRCA has learned, you can’t stop these types of revolutions by decree and fiat.

The personal rights crowd can’t really explain why not wearing the headset is such an intrusion. Where in the constitution does it say you have a right to listen to AC/DC in a 10k? What’s the harm of leaving it at home for those 45 minutes?

If it is dangerous to society to race with an iPod then surely it’s dangerous to walk around a city, ride the subway and go shopping with them right? (I’m sure the activist socialists in my home country of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts are already working on a ban in public places. Soon to be followed by California.) Where is the line drawn? Is it a slippery slope?

What’s the Reality?

My personal experience has been innocuous enough. The negatives are when people can’t hear you and won’t get out of your way or are startled when you pass them. There are those stories about people causing pile-ups or injuries by not being aware of their surroundings, but I haven’t seen it. You can put the volume such that it is more of background music and you can still hear everything around you.

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