Headphones Are Safe Again

Brandes radio headphones, circa 1920
Image via Wikipedia

In case you missed it, the USATF is now permitting runners to wear headphones again.  Yes the USATF recently changed the rules again for its sanctioned and insured events (official release).

The sudden change of course throws a curveball to the many races that disqualified runners for wearing headphones.  I’ve heard at least one story of a streaker whose streak was officially broken because they were DQ’ed after completing a race wearing headphones.  Will they continue enforcing the ban as is their right? Should they reinstated runners who were DQ’ed after reviewing marathon pictures? I doubt they will reinstate runners but should they continue enforcing their previous bans?

The USATF has decided to leave the decision about headphones up to the individual race directors, except in the case of USATF Championship races, where those competing for awards can’t wear portable audio devices.

I personally am not a fan of wearing headphones while racing and have had an occasional problem when trying to pass someone who was wearing them.  It is one thing to train with headphones, but to me racing is a more pure component of running and it is easier to enjoy the event and surroundings without them.

This quote from The Final Sprint sums it up well:

“The difficulty in enforcement was part of the reasoning,” said USATF Rules Committee chairman John Blackburn through a news release. “However, several good-sized races have demonstrated that they were able to enforce the rule. There were strong opinions on all sides of this discussion, both understanding the issues related to athlete safety, race organization, difficulty of enforcement. This resolution appeared to be the best position for USATF overall.”

Many race organizers thought the genesis of the ban was due to safety concerns; runners may be listening to music which is so loud that they cannot respond to instructions should an emergency arise. Indeed, the issue had been couched that way by many who supported the ban, who also argued that plugged-in runners were discourteous to their fellow athletes, running in their own world and blocking race courses.

While the rule modification will certainly provide race organizers with much-needed breathing room, it will do little to quell the debate amongst runners themselves. Many serious recreational runners don’t want to line up next to headphone wearers, afraid that their competitive efforts may be impeded. The new language of the rule may prompt some event organizers to offer headphone-free starting corrals to mollify those concerns.

What is your opinion on wearing headphones during a race?

HT Run to Win

HT The Final Sprint

[tags] USATF, headphones [/tags]

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4 thoughts on “Headphones Are Safe Again

  1. Blaine Moore

    Actually, the rule wasn't only changed once. The USATF didn't change any rules when they enacted the headphone ban; they merely enforced a rule that's been on the books since before portable audio devices became so common.

    If somebody was DQed in a race for wearing headphones, then they should remain DQed. First, because it is a race by race decision now, and second because at the time they broke the rules they were breaking the rules. Just because a race might allow you wear them next year doesn't mean that they can retroactively remove the ban from last year. That wouldn't be fair to the people that wanted to wear them but refrained.

  2. pchieng

    My first thoughts about the title was that wearing headphones were bad for you, which I could sort of understand for those in-ear earbuds.

    I never ran a race with headphones before and I don't think I ever will. Sometimes when I run with my headphones, I get distracted by the music and lost in my thoughts. But when it comes to race time, I want to be concentrating on the task at hand.

  3. kent

    My personal rule is that headphones are great for training but never in a race, even if allowed. My guess is that some races were seeing a migration of headphone users toward races that allowed them or were expecting a drop in the number of registrations due to economic forces and were willing to give a little to encourage the headphone demanders to stay on.

    I'm a Stillwater, MN runner and stumbled on your blog while researching the Stillwater Marathon. I've enjoyed your commentary on running in our varied weather conditions and your gear ideas for dealing with it.

  4. crossn81 Post author

    @Blaine thanks for the clarification about the rule. Your point is well taken about reinstating times for previously DQ'ed individuals.

    @pchieng Yes, I wonder if ear buds are healthy for us or not! I've not seen any research on it and don't want to find out!! I like your point about concentrating on the task!

    @kent Welcome to my thoughts!! I think you are right, especially with so many new races popping up things like headphone use will make a difference in which races runners chose.


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