Post Race Ramblings – Should Headphones be banned?

Hey folks, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

So this weekend was a marathon weekend, quite literally, with the London Marathon taking place on Sunday – if you took part, you are an awesome human, and well done. I hope your legs are recovering and that you still have your medal on. I completed my 10th half marathon on the same day in Southampton,  this was the 3rd year the city has hosted the event, and they also had the first full marathon that has been hosted by the city in 30 years, which is awesome.

The race itself was great. The route has been modified a few times but I think they have cracked it for the half marathon – the first year was far too hilly for my liking and doing the Itchen Bridge within the first mile was a killer. I for one, was glad to have that at the end. They removed the bottleneck problem down at the quays which was a huge issue the first year, and running through the football stadium was pretty cool – even for me as someone who has very little interest in the sport, I couldn’t help but crack a (salty, sweaty, tired, sunburned) smile. The organizers did a cracking job this year, holding three races in one day is not easy to coordinate, but they did great. The T-shirt is one of the best ones I’ve had for a long time, and having a pint at the end was pretty good too.

My only issue with this race was that the full marathon was a lapped race, which meant that although those runners who took on the 26.2 started an hour early, they had to weave through us half marathoners on their second laps.  This is itself doesn’t sound like a big problem, but lets look at the numbers (official numbers supplied by ABP Half Marathon):

Marathon Participants: 1,350

Half Marathon Participants: 4,000

10k Participants: 1,800

(There was also the Mile fun run – 700)

That means at some points there were 7,150 odd runners sharing a course. Doesn’t sound like a big issue for some who have done big races like London, Boston, even Brighton, which can have well over 30,000 runners, but the difference here is that for a lot of those races both sides of the roads are closed to cars, so runners don’t have to worry about  any oncoming traffic, road crossings and such. You also need to be mindful that runners entering different distances tend to run at different paces, so you have the issue of tired half marathon runners trying to dig deep for the final few miles alongside fresher 10k runners who are trying to weave around them, and marathon runners who have been trying to maintain pace and may have gotten used to having the majority of the course to themselves are now having to go between both lots.  In those other races I mentioned, there are no laps, so no-one is having to keep out of the way of anyone else. You just, well, run. Right?

But Hollie, I thought this was about headphones?

I’m getting to it.

If you’re running a race, its common running etiquette to keep to the outside of the course (nearer the crowds) if you are slower, or walking, or need to stop. This allows runners who are faster to run in the middle. If you are on a lapped course, you keep to the left if youre slower, allowing the faster runners to have the right hand side of the path. How do you keep the right hand clear? By using race marshal’s, usually on bikes, who are at the front of the pack (you see them at VLM for the elites usually for the first half). The marshal’s are here for everyone’s safety, not just the faster runners, but everyone taking part. If emergency services needs to get through, or if a runner has been knocked down, they will be the ones on hand to help. On Sunday in Southampton they were cycling in front of the marathon runners and keeping us half marathon and 10kers to the left – but some people who had headphones in couldn’t hear them, and other runners would try to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to move – if they can’t hear the Marshall yelling they probably wont hear you though. This caused a lot of frustrations for runners and on Sunday evening on the events Facebook page a lot of people were calling for headphones to be blanket banned and anyone using them to be DQ’d.

Now, I totally get why people want them banned. Run Britain released a new policy on the matter last year:

“The wearing of headphones, or similar devices, (other than those medically prescribed), is not permitted in races on any single carriageway road that is not wholly closed to traffic.

This restriction does not apply to races held on dual carriageways provided that there are clear, structured separations between the separate carriageways. Competition Providers of races held entirely on roads closed to traffic may apply this condition where appropriate to local circumstances.”

Race Directors may apply the condition to any race where they consider the wearing of headphones to be a hazard – including, for example, where runners must be able to hear marshals’ instructions or on a lap course** (which Southampton is however there wasn’t a ban), and UKA has stated they will support the race director where that local condition is applied.

**The Southampton half website does state that if you are racing for a fastest time in your chosen distance, headphones are banned and you will be DQ’d.

Enforcement of this rule is a matter for the race director and referee and disqualification of runners who choose to ignore it is an option.

Race Directors should state at the point of entry and in all pre-race publicity whether or not headphones are banned because failure to do so could result in many runners appearing on the day expecting to run with them.

I would be pretty annoyed if all the races I entered had a ban on headphones. I have always had music on when I run, because I hate the sound of my breathing, the sound of feet pounding the pavement en mass weirdos me out, and I run much better when I have music on. Its been documented time and time again that runners generally run better with a beat of around 150BPM. Heck, Spotify can even put you together a playlist based on your preferred BPM. A lot of runners would agree with me on this. If races start to blanket ban headphones, then the number of runners entering races such as Southampton would drop dramatically. We would go back to the running club members only era, which comes across a little elitist in my humble opinion.

Banning the use of headphones in races like these would likely also discourage people to take up running in the first place, because the reason a lot of people start is to enter races, get medals, and feel like a superhuman. Why should those people be put off just because a couple of idiots have their music up too loud?

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand and agree that some races need this ban for safety, for example, if you are running on roads into traffic, or only one lane has been closed, but for bigger races like these I think common sense needs to be applied and reinforced by the organizers.

If you are entering a running race, the best advice for headphones is to buy sports specific ones which don’t drown out the noise from your surroundings. They sort of float over your ears and allow you to hear both your music and whats going on around you. Over the head headphones are the worst for running as they block out everything, plus they make your ears all sweaty. If you are wearing headphones in a race, or even when your out training, please don’t turn your music up so loud you can’t hear the crowds (the sound of people cheering you on at mile 18 will help, I can tell you that much) and make sure you can hear the marshal over your music. Most of the time, they are volunteers who have selflessly given up their time to be there at your race, so give them some respect and listen to them.

Always check if they are allowed before you enter if it is that important to you, and maybe try running without them every now and again. I’ve done a few on road races where they were banned and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, though running with music will always be a preference – Mcfly just helps me run faster and its a welcome distraction sometimes when you are tired as fuck and your jam comes on. Its like getting a second wind, just in your ears!

Thank you to ABP Southampton Half Marathon, Marathon and 10km volunteers, marshals, organizers, and the crowds of Southampton for Sunday, it was a great event and I will be back for the half again next year.

Now, I want to hear from you – whats your take on the headphones thing? Do you run with them, or prefer to cruise round with only your inner monologue and the crowds for company, and what do you think of lap marathons, love them, or loathe them?

Until next time, have a great week!





2 thoughts on “Post Race Ramblings – Should Headphones be banned?

Add yours

  1. I bought bone conducting headphones 🙂 can listen to music and instructions from marshalls. Mainly got them so can run races where they are allowed (ear phones being barred). But the bonus is safety from cars ect ect

    Liked by 1 person

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