Do you rely on music to accompany your every run and workout? Or do you only turn to music occasionally, to push you through a particularly tough session or race? Or do you shun music all together and instead rely on your thoughts, and perhaps the cheering crowds, to carry you to the finish?

Obviously, listening to music or not is a personal preference.  If I’m racing or need to focus on my pace during a training run, I find music distracting, and at other times, I simply crave peace and quiet to clear my head and relax. But I do turn to music once or twice a week when I hit the treadmill for sprints or tempo runs.

Running with Music: Claire’s Do’s and Don’ts:

~I DO use music on the treadmill to prevent boredom and to keep me motivated. Otherwise, I find the treadmill unbearable!

*Try this:

If you’re training for an event, try visualizing your finish while listening to a  song that particularly inspires you. When I was training for the NYC marathon and felt myself really struggle towards the end of a sprint or tempo session, I would turn on my chosen song and imagine myself entering Central Park, picking up the pace, and seeing the finish in the distance. As the music hit a climax, I would feel the adrenaline rush through my body as I started my final sprint, my legs surging to the finish line as I mentally threw my hands up in the air beneath the giant clock that read 3:39:30.

The sense of relief as I finished my last sprint, combined with my visualization of finishing the marathon, really stuck with me. On race day, when I turned the corner and entered the park, out of nowhere the song entered my head and gave me the mental and physical boost I needed to propel me to the finish. And what did that clock say? 3:39:36!

~I DON’T use music when I’m racing, because I’ve found that it distracts me and ultimately slows me down. Music is a great motivator but it can cloud your perception at times, drawing your attention away from how your body is feeling. You have to be careful not to get so lost in the music that you start your race at a pace you cannot hold, or more importantly, that you push yourself to the point of injury. Additionally, if you are running a big race, you miss out on so many great things going on around you! I race with a shirt that says CLAIRE on the front, so in terms of motivation, it’s hard to beat hearing your name being yelled out every few seconds!

*Try this:

If you’re in the habit of listening to music every time you run, try going for a run or doing a short race without music just to see how you feel and compare it to past training runs and races. You might surprise yourself by how much you enjoy it, and maybe you’ll even find you run faster! Use the opportunity to pay attention to how your body feels and to evaluate your running technique. Is there something you can improve? The answer most likely is yes, but perhaps you didn’t notice anything previously because you were too focused on what you were listening to instead.

~I DO use music during some long or recovery runs outdoors, when I want to switch off and cruise along to whatever tunes suit my mood.

*Try this:

Compile a playlist of all your favorite tunes – preferably the ones that make you smile and occasionally burst into song, rather than the high intensity stuff you might listen to during a tougher session. Load it onto your ipod, go for a run and just enjoy yourself! Or, how about listening to a e-book? I haven’t done this personally, but I hear it’s quite fun!

~I DON’T use music when it’s dark outside, when I’m running near lots of cars, when I’m in a secluded and/or foreign place, or when in any other potentially dangerous situation that requires me to stay particularly alert. That said, with or without music, you should ALWAYS be extremely careful when running, and should wear brightly colored clothing if it is dark outside. You can never be too careful!

What type of music should you listen to?

Whether you use music frequently or just occasionally, you should tailor your playlist to the type of run you’re doing to help you stay on pace. Obviously, a song that gets me sprinting or makes me smile may not appeal to any of you, but just in case you’re interested, here are two types of playlists I often use:


For a vo2 max or tempo session on the treadmill, I tend to have about 10-15min worth of music that gradually becomes more upbeat as I do my warm-up, 30min of highly motivating music for the speedwork, and then 20min or so of lower key music for cool-down, stretching and weights. I try to change it up every month or so, because I get tired of listening to the same stuff each week, but there are certain songs that are permanent fixtures of this list.

Easy run:

For a chilled out run, such as an easy long or recovery run, I tend to have a mix of slower but energizing tunes with some of the songs from my speedwork list as well.

To see what my current “Speedwork” and “Easy Run” playlists look like, click HERE.

In the end, only you know what will get you moving, so play around with listening to different music and see if you can find that one song that really inspires you!