Technology lets runners plug their ears to the outside world

Yeah, runners are different, as the recent ad campaign pointed out. But among our not-so-little community, the differences between runners can be just as vast.

Peoples preference for shoes, clothing, distances, and running styles are just the beginning. Some actually embrace the term jogging. Some make a habit of running at the crack of dawn. And some, God bless them, manage to wear neon colors in combinations that are perhaps best described as "interesting."

And for the most part, everyone gets along. Since we all have our own odd little tics and habits, we dont think twice about other runners doing things a little differently.

Except when it comes to one area: running with headphones.

That seems to be a dividing line that separates runners into two camps, each with the opinion that the other group has no idea what its talking about.

On the one side we have the headphone wearers. They tend to listen to tunes whenever they run. A Walkman (of CD player, or MP3 player) is as much a part of their running gear as shoes. Even in races, youll see people waiting for the start and adjusting the placement of their headphones and radio.

On the other side are runners who never wear headphones. Never. In their view, running doesnt need any distractions. Running is an opportunity to think and observe and headphones would only distract from that. To wear headphones during a race would be unthinkable.

Im definitely in the latter group, an avowed headphone hater.

I was in school when Walkmans were first introduced by Sony. Soon after, the cheaper models starting coming out, and practically every kid on the bus had one to play his Def Leppard or Michael Jackson tapes.

I eventually got one as well, but I never really used it much. Im sure part of it was that I never became a huge music junkie, but I also never really enjoyed the isolation that I thought came with the headphones. While other people liked the escape they provide, I much preferred to hear what was going on around me, even if it was only the latest gossip on who was going to break up with so and so coming from the seat in front of me.

Once in high school, my cross-country coach wouldnt even think of letting us wear a radio, even on our long runs. He would scold us with something like, You are runners! You dont wear those things, unable to even speak the name of such electronic evil.

The attitude rubbed off on me as well: Real runners dont wear headphones. Those folks who complain of boredom didnt understand the experience of listening to your body and its surroundings. Tuning out from those things is missing part of the running experience.

Once I started racing again after college, I was shocked that people would race wearing a radio. Having a Walkman-clad runner beat me in a race added insult to injury. (Now that Im older, and slower, that doesnt bother me so much.)

Of course, those who run with headphones probably dont understand what gets me so excited. After all, if they enjoy running with headphones, shouldnt they go ahead and enjoy it? And when youre running for a couple of hours, doesnt the music help you pass the time better?

And those arguments make some sense. But they do nothing to change my mind. For much of us, our days are spent interacting with electronic equipment. We wake up to the morning shows. We listen to the radio as we drive into work. We spend all day on our computers. We come home to more TV, MP3s, CDs, DVDs and videocassettes.

When I run, I use it as an opportunity to escape all that. To clear my mind and think about the things that you usually dont have time to think about. I dont mean to get into that Runners World-ly mushiness, but running is more than just the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other. If that were the case, we may as well just run on treadmills year-round. (And if that happened, I probably would have to resort to headphones.)

Of course, it used to be much easier to scoff at the headphone crowd, as they had to lug these big electronic boxes with them as they ran. Not any more. On my desk now is a radio that fits in your ear. Its smaller than headphones used to be. With MP3 players and new CD technology, you dont have to worry about skipping discs.

As a technology geek, that impresses me, and its probably a big reason why I see more and more people out running connected to wires. But the temptation still isnt there for me to move over to the headphone side.

Instead, Ill listen to the traffic. Ill listen to the conversations of those around me. And sometimes Ill even be lucky enough to hear one of those rarest of commodities in our modern, electronic world:


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