To iPod or Not to iPod?

I was at my office at the Boston Athletic Association in Back Bay the other day and decided to go for a run along the Charles River, something I did regularly in the '80s and '90s but haven't done too often lately. I wasn't actually taking a break from work, I was simply taking my work on the road. When I run, I multi-task.

It was 8 a.m. as I hit the pathway around the Esplanade. I began to notice one runner after another, all wearing an iPod or some other form of headphone. I couldn't believe it--just about everyone was wearing one except me. I actually counted--in total, I saw 62 runners. Of the 62, I was astounded to count 55 of them using a headphone device (mostly iPods)--that's 90 percent.

More amazingly, every woman I passed except one was using an iPod. I was beginning to think that they all were looking at me as the "outcast" since I was just about the only one running without wires coming out of my ears.

I noticed certain things about?all types of iPod aficionados. It seemed the ones that did pass me (going in the other direction, of course) without iPods were the real fit and fast guys. They were hammering and it was obvious that iPods were not part of their repertoire.

One runner wore an iPod with one earpiece in and the other out--I thought that was a creative way to balance listening to music and simultaneously being sensitive to his surroundings. As I approached one guy wearing an iPod, he seemed startled and turned to look at me before I even reached him, which indicated that perhaps he had his volume way down and he heard me approaching (and/or my breathing is so heavy these days that people in the next town can hear me coming). Many runners had the device attached to their arm with a Velcro strap--from a distance it looked like they were having their blood pressure taken.

Then I passed two guys running together while carrying on a conversation, however, one guy was wearing an iPod and the other was not--that seemed pretty perplexing. Next came the guy pushing his kid in the baby jogger--I thought, "okay, good, at least this guy is not wearing an iPod"--then I looked in the baby jogger and the kid was wearing one.

Rules and Regulations

So, what's up with this iPod phenomenon? Personally, I don't use one so I must be old school. Although I don't use one, that doesn't necessarily mean I am totally against them. However, as race directors of events sanctioned and insured by USA Track and Field (USATF), we are obligated to apply the rules they have established, and one of them is "no use of headphones" in all competitions. USATF rule 144.3b prohibits electronic devices, period. Whether you agree with the rule and its rationale or not, that is the current rule.

A?number of officials at USATF sum it up this way:

Participants wearing headphones are less aware of their surroundings and may not be aware of (1) starting line announcements; (2) instructions on the course from race management, volunteers and police officers; (3) warnings that a car is in the immediate vicinity or that participants have strayed off course; (4) friendly warnings from another participant that is approaching to pass; (5) finish line/chute announcements; and, (6) directions in the recovery area. In basic terms--when you can't hear what is going on around you, you lose one of your most valuable senses--at a time when you need all of your senses working. Even if a participant is cognizant of their surroundings and "wants" to be aware, the inability to hear clearly is a significant risk factor that cannot be ignored. Event personnel must be able to communicate with participants before, during and after the race.

I question whether wearing headphones in a race with a closed course is truly dangerous, but I can see where they can be unsafe in certain circumstances--which is enough to prohibit them. Certainly wearing them out on the open road can be unsafe. There are plenty of specific cases where runners and bikers have been hit by a moving vehicle while wearing a headset. However, this is a difficult behavior to control outside of a race unless a law is created prohibiting them in certain locations and at certain times.

I think it all has to do with responsible use (as with almost anything) like keeping the volume low so you can still hear what is going on around you and not wearing them in congested locations. It's up to the individual user to be responsible for themselves.

Why the iPod?

So, why do people use iPods while running? I suppose one reason is to be distracted from the physical challenges running inflicts. Another may be to get inspired and motivated by the music.

I do not even own an iPod. I have my own device and I never leave home it. Drum roll please...it's a small, 3 ?-inch, handheld voice recorder. I have been running with a voice recorder for about 15 years now.

I like to multi-task. When I run, I also work. By carrying my voice recorder, I force myself to have productive thoughts, and some of my best thoughts are out on the road. I would have lost a lot of planning and creativity if I did not record while I was running.

Carrying a voice recorder is also safe. There's no noise in the ear, so I can still hear all the cars and trucks. I remain both productive and safe while getting a good workout.

Now all I have to do is invent a way to install the computer chip in my voice recorder into my wrist watch so I don't have to carry the recorder with me anymore--but still have it with me everywhere I go.


Dave McGillivray has worked as the Race Director for the oldest and most famous race, the Boston Marathon for 20 years. He is also an athelete, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and philanthropist. Visit his website at www.dmsesports.com .

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