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Why running in silence might make you a better runner (and help you enjoy it more)

Posted by for Wellbeing

Looking to shake up your running routine? Running in silence has more benefits than you could imagine.

Have you ever set out to go on a run only to realise your headphones have run out of battery and given up on the idea completely? I know I have. I don’t think I’ve ever ran without loud music playing, and if I have, I’ve found it very difficult. But as we enter a new year, I want to improve my fitness, including my running, and I’m looking for new ways to do so.

A friend suggested that I run in silence, which baffled me initially. The idea of running with no distractions seemed absurd to me. After all, the distractions are usually what I focus on to take my mind off a difficult run. But the more people I spoke to, I realised just how common running in silence is and how many people swear by it.

According to a 2016 survey by Runner’s World, 61% of people listen to something while running. So the silent runners are in the minority. But maybe they’re onto something when it comes to improving your performance and enjoyment during running.

We asked three women who run in silence why they love it so much. This is what they said…

It improves your mental strength

Running is as much a mental battle as it is physical, which is why it requires so much practice. Elle, 30, from Liverpool, has started running competitively in recent years and stopped listening to music in order to improve her mentality towards running. “I have learnt that mental grit can sometimes be more powerful than the strength in your legs and, for me, I need to run without music to have this strength and focus,” she says.

It also helps her when it comes to competitive running: “Don’t get me wrong – when racing and you hear a heavy breath behind you, it can be off-putting. But it also helps you become aware that someone is near to you and can spur you on to accelerate further.”

Lucy, 32, from Suffolk, agrees, explaining that she runs silently after taking a break from running, like over the Christmas period or when she’s training for a difficult race. “It makes me more aware of my breathing so I can concentrate on getting it under control so I don’t get a stitch. I find booming music in my ears stressful.”

woman running in woods
Lucy says running without music has significantly improved her performance.

It makes running social

Running with a friend, family member or in an informal race like Parkrun is a great way to motivate yourself and this is difficult to do with earphones in. Ally, 32, gave up on listening to music while running for good when she started running socially: “I had more awareness of people around me,” she says.

Elle also started to enjoy running more when she ran races with other people without music. “I started to run the odd half marathon here and there but I chose not to listen to music during these as these were more social runs, running with family.”

Running with other people is a great way to change up your routine and potentially increase your speed. If you are interested in running races competitively too, you’re often not allowed to listen to music, so it’s good to get in the habit early.

It might improve your pace and breath control

Breath control is a crucial part of running but it can be difficult to manage if you can’t hear your breath over your music. Lucy says that this is one of the main benefits of silent running for her: “I can concentrate on pace, cadence and breathing without the distraction of a podcast or music in my ears. If I feel in control when running, I’m more likely to enjoy the run session.”

Elle agrees that running in silence can not only help you focus on your breathing but your mind-body connection too. “By not listening to music, I feel even more focused and in a trance, totally aware of my body and my legs,” she says.

It can turn running into a mindful experience

Running 10k probably isn’t what you imagine when you hear the word mindfulness but running in silence can be an incredible form of meditation.

“Running is the only time I can just not think, just let my brain chill out for a bit. With music or a podcast, that was just another distraction,” Ally says. While running with music can be relaxing in its own right, it perhaps allows you mindlessness rather than mindfulness, which might not be as rewarding for everyone in the long term.

“When running without music, I can process everything that I need to achieve that day or have achieved that day already. I go over scenarios that happened that day and break them down into tiny chunks and everything seems clearer,” Elle agrees. “I often feel that my mind is going on a run and my legs are just there to carry me.”

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Images: Getty, Lucy Woods

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