The Case Against Running With Headphones

I have a friend who wears headphones on long solo runs because, he says, “I can’t spend that much time alone in my head.” I disagree. He can, and he should. Spending that much time inside one’s head, along with the voices and the bats hanging from the various dendrites and neurons, is one of the best things about running, or at least one of the most therapeutic. Your brain is like a duvet cover: Every once in a while, it needs to be aired out.

I am conflict-averse by disposition and funny by profession, and like the unpopular flavors of soda pop, my darker, angrier and more earnest thoughts tend to accumulate in the dispenser and gum up the works. When I decide to run alone, with nothing in my ears but the air and the occasional gnat, it gives me a chance to rehearse the things I’m too shy or self-conscious to actually say, and to put them into words with the help of my constant left-right-left metronome.

Often, my inner monologues are serious responses to the daily news my day job forces me to joke about — speeches that might be delivered from presidential podiums or witness stands or news desks that the actual person in question just apparently isn’t smart enough to give. They should consult me — in my inner cable news channel, my speechwriting always works, and almost always inspires a standing ovation, groveling apology, or both.

Sometimes, of course, these perorations are quite personal. In the declining years of my marriage, as our fights became more constant, and more frustrating, my runs became the place where I could say the things I was either too weak or wisely cautious to say out loud, condemnations and defenses that were never contradicted or interrupted because I was saying them into the air. On my runs, unlike in real life, there are no rebuttals, no counterarguments, no ripostes beginning with “Well, how about the time you — ” In my running mind, and only there, my opponents are dumb with sheepish recognition.

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