USA Track & Field (USATF) says increasing “runner safety” as its reason for banning the use of headphones and other musical devices at its running events. As the governing body for long-distance running in the United States, USATF certifies the nation’s major marathons and brings uniformity and governance to the sport.
Until recently, USATF had recommended that runners do not use headphones during races. Now, they’ve created a rule, and certain races are strictly enforcing it. Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota, one of the largest marathons in the country, has announced that it will disqualify runners who use headphones during the race.
“This is absurd,” said one marathon runner. “If they created a rule prohibiting every possible unsafe thing you could do during a marathon (or any race for that matter) then the list would be infinitely long. There are so many other unsafe things that runners do that could also be taken into consideration. I’ve seen people run marathons barefoot. Or what if you have a heart condition? The list goes on and on, but you sign a waiver acknowledging the risks associated with running. You should be advised to wear headphones at your own risk, not be disqualified for doing so.”
Some runners suspect that the stated reason of “increasing runner safety” is a cover for the real reason of providing a competitive advantage. Some runners could be coached through the headphones, or could be using music to stay on pace. Even if this is the case, most people do not run marathons to win. The runners who are expected to finish before others are often categorized as “Elite”, and typically don’t wear headphones anyway.
“I could understand them not allowing Elite runners to wear headphones because of a possible competitive advantage. But I shouldn’t be held to those standards when I am running a race with over 20,000 people, and I am not running it to win,” said another marathon runner in a popular Internet forum. Most people run marathons not to win the race, but for personal fulfillment. These are the runners who would be most affected by the headphone ban even though they aren’t competing for the prize money.
Will this affect marathon participation? There certainly has been a sharp increase in the number of marathon runners since the invention of portable music devices like the iPod. “Running 26.2 miles is not easy,” said one marathon runner. “I need my music to get me through it. A marathon is a mental challenge and if I don’t have my music to keep me motivated, it just isn’t fun. I always check to see if they allow headphones and music before I register for a race. If they don’t allow it, then I don’t register.” Race directors who choose to enforce the USATF rule by disqualifying runners with headphones could see a decrease in participation if a significant number of runners take this position.
“I would hate to run 26.2 miles and then be disqualified as I cross the finish line because I have an iPod,” said another runner in a popular Internet forum. “I know they are looking out for my safety, but I keep the volume low and I stay aware of my surroundings.”
Is Grandma’s Marathon setting a precedent by strictly enforcing the ban on headphones? That remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however– runners are definitely not happy about this decision.