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Headphones

"Hey Jack, what do you call a runner with headphones on?"

"An organ donor..."

Okay, so it's a bad joke. But you may find that it is typical of an antipathy that some runners feel towards the headphones. To wear them or not - that's your decision. Those runners who use them see them as a needed diversion from the boredom of training, or as an aid to maintaining focus. 

Safety is a concern however, and even turned low or off you still have something stuck in your ear and a diminished range of hearing. Another consideration is that a large number of races forbid them. In fact, in 2007, the USATF effectively banned headphones at all USATF-sanctioned running events. Rule 144.3(b) reads: "The visible possession or use by athletes of video or audio cassette recorders or players, TVs, CD or DVD players, radio transmitters or receivers, or any similar devices in the competition area shall not be permitted."

Some runners see them as dulling the total experience of running, but while taking time to smell the flowers and listen to the birds is an admirable goal, there are miles and miles of treadmill running where the scenery never changes and the TV is turned to Jerry Springer and the gal or guy beside you is singing "Roxanne!" to contend with.

Is a middle ground possible? Surely. Be aware that your headphones will diminish your ability to react to your surroundings. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you will hear just as well as those who don't wear them - there are countless runners who will contradict you with stories of scaring the living heck out of headphone wearers by "sneaking up on them". But mix it up from time to time. Head out on your run with the intent of being your own Walkman or Discman. Let your cadence and breathing be the back beat to the tunes in the IPOD between your ears once in a while as opposed to letting something EXTERNAL set your pace.

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