I’m going to lay out exactly why it’s stupid and wrong to ban headphones in a race. But first, let me issue a disclaimer. I don’t actually use them myself. There is no special reason, I just prefer to be able to observe my surroundings, and I suppose I find it a bit physically irritating.
With that said, I will vigorously defend the right of other racers to use them, with this caveat. The main reason they are banned by the IAAF under rule 144 has to do with providing an advantage to the competitor (in this case psychological), and with that I agree.
The problem comes when we look at the vast majority of casual or non-professional runners. There simply isn’t a compelling reason to ban something that positively and effectively enhances the running experience for a large percentage of runners.
Here follows my reason for not banning headphones:
we are not children
Adults can and should be expected to exercise caution when using music players. If you feel that they impede your ability to hear instructions (an iffy scenario I’ll get to later) or to be aware of approaching or passing runners, feel free to turn down the volume or use just one earphone, and chances are you will. do.
With children, one can be free to issue a blanket ban, but as adults, we can expect to receive censure only in an actual case of misuse or abuse. You do not punish the many for the sins of the few.
There is no ‘security’ problem
Really, the argument that there is a security problem with the headphones is a theoretical argument, not a real one. We are supposed to believe that there is a problem with the instructions given by the race officials. How often do you think this problem has actually come up?
In my experience, most of the instructions given are of the sort to stay on this or that side of the road, something that is communicated quite adequately by observing gestures and observing what others are doing. Add to that, the fact that most people will just pull out an earpiece when it looks like someone is trying to address them.
The second instance is supposed to be when another runner is coming up behind you and you can’t hear them. I’ll admit there may be some merit here, but only, I think, in the case of a single-track trail race. In most other cases, there is usually more than enough room to pass.
Lastly, very few headsets completely cancel out all sound and you would usually hear quite loud communication.
One more time. We are (for the most part) adults. If we believe there is a possibility that we are receiving verbal communication, we will adjust the volume or take other steps to facilitate this.
It allows for yet another reason for race officials to be petty.
We’ve all seen drunken race officials with their new headphone warning power. It’s a waste of time and energy, and it’s an ugly sight. Certainly, there are plenty of them who seem thrilled at the chance to disqualify a competitor.
Running to music has real benefits
For some runners it is the familiarity of the sources of motivation they have used in training, for others the raw energy provided, and even more it allows them to distance themselves from the pain they are experiencing. In many cases, it can genuinely enhance the entire experience.
Why regulate against this simply because of the theoretical possibility of abuse?
I simply propose that, at a minimum, at a minimum, the lower-seeded and back-of-the-pack riders should have the rule waived in their favor.
Unfortunately, this will not happen for two reasons. One is that there is no one officially advocating for the occasional runner, and secondly for the simple reason that regulations, once added, are rarely reduced.
So I’m afraid the harmless and pleasurable practice of running to music is unlikely to be allowed in races and, in my opinion, running is made worse for it.