I tried running without music for two weeks — here’s what happened

a woman running without headphones
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When you lace up and head out for a run, it might just be instinct to pop a pair of the best running headphones on and blast your favorite playlist or get lost in a podcast. After all, running to music can really make the whole process easier, and more enjoyable. 

There’s even research to back this up — one study found that listening to preferred music actually improved running performance. Another study found that listening to music helped overcome mental fatigue, and we’ve all experienced the exhaustion that kicks in during the final miles of a run. 

Personally, I’m a huge music lover and find that listening to dance music really lifts my mood and gets me motivated to exercise. When I’m running, I find myself mouthing the lyrics or busting out dance moves as I clock up the miles. But, what would it be like to continue my marathon training without music? After doing some research, running without music supposedly allows you to devote your concentration to your running form and breathing, plus it could help build up mental resilience. 

So, in the name of good journalism, I decided to give it a go. Packing away my Apple AirPods with a gentle sob, I headed out for a run sans music. Read on to find out what happened during my fortnight of no-music running.

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I ran without music for two weeks — here’s what happened 

I had a lot of internal conversations 

Do you ever have those moments where you have an entire conversation in your head? Without music as a distraction during my runs, these fictional conversations became far more commonplace and I essentially finished each run having ‘spoken’ to several people in my life. I also found myself having several more of the ‘go Lucy, don’t stop now’ type chats with myself whilst running. Without the tunes, you really are just listening to your own thoughts. And on that note…

If overthinking was a competition, I’d win 

No music equals more thinking. Essentially, you’re in your own headspace, and whilst I wished I’d been able to use this time to focus solely on the run itself, I found it all too easy to slip away into my thoughts, especially on the longer, more tedious runs. The romantic in me would call this a form of meditation, but the realist thinks actually, I spent a lot more time overthinking the little things than I would normally. 

My pace was a little inconsistent

It makes sense that the pace at which you run is dictated by the beat of the music you’re listening to. On my long runs, I find when Avicii kicks in, my run becomes noticeably quicker, but then when Adele blares out of my AirPods, my run slows right down. It’s all down to the  Beats Per Minute (BPM) of the music and if you give BPM playlists a search on iTunes or Spotify, you’ll be inundated with various different lists of tunes that all stick to a similar beat. Going flat-out? Look for a BPM of 140. Casual run? Try 120 BPM tracks.

I tend to have pretty upbeat dance music playing which helps keep my pace up during runs — if my legs feel fatigued, the music can carry me a little. Without music, my running pace tended to slow down when I lost myself in a thinking bubble, sped up when I snapped myself out of it, and then slowed down again when my legs were tired.

Boredom is a thing 

I’ll tell you something for free — training for a marathon without music is pretty dull. Some runners probably love the silence, and I admire that, but the music keeps me engaged, it brings back memories, makes me want to dance, and gives me something to focus on. I’ve never understood people who find running boring, but I do now. 

I probably gave my hearing some respite 

Do you seem to wear your headphones everywhere you go? I do. A recent New York Times article suggested that if you’re using headphones in a noisy environment, and can hear the music and the words being said, then it’s probably turned up too loud, and you’re at risk of damaging your ears. I can always hear what I’m listening to, wherever I am, so, despite being bored, at least I was (hopefully) saving my hearing a little.

I became very in touch with my breathing

Well, you would, wouldn’t you? What else is there to listen to? I very much started to notice the rhythmic pattern of my breathing, and it was quite interesting to notice any changes. Most running coaches say that during ‘easy’ runs, you should easily be able to hold a conversation with someone next to you. As I do most of my runs solo, I’ve never really been able to test this, but by really tuning into my breathing, I noticed I was breathing much heavier than I should have been on certain runs, and forced myself to slow down a little.

I didn't last two weeks

Yes, reader, I failed this challenge. I simply could not get through marathon training without some form of music. After just a week, I charged up my AirPods and got stuck into a playlist, and, it was the best run I’ve done all training program. 

I tried running without music for two weeks — the verdict

Honestly, not a fan. A singular run without music is fine. In fact, dare I say, I did very much enjoy it. But for two weeks? No way. After a week of silent running, I was overthinking everything and I felt like I’d lost my rhythm, which isn’t ideal four weeks out from my first marathon.

Would I recommend giving this a go? Yes, if you’re someone who wants to focus on specific elements of the run — perhaps your breathing or your form, but if you’re like me, and find running pretty monotonous without music, then I'd swerve it. It is worth mentioning that all my non-music runs were 10km or more, and completely alone, so it could be a totally different experience if you’re planning on doing shorter runs with a running friend in tow. 

Read what happened when I rowed a mile a day for two weeks here, and when I tried Chris Hemsworth's 70-rep bodyweight workout

Lucy Gornall

Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.