Can You Wear Headphones in Races?

Woman running with headphones and her phone strapped to her arm
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Many runners run with music during training runs and then want to continue to use music to beat boredom and stay motivated when running races. But are runners allowed to use headphones in races? The answer as to whether headphones are allowed will vary from race to race and some general rules have changed over the years. There are good reasons to run unplugged.

Headphone Ban Relaxed by USATF

While the use of headphones used to be officially banned in many races, over the years, the rules have been relaxed. In 2008, the U.S. Track & Field (USATF)—the governing body for long-distance running and track & field in the United States—amended their rule banning headphones and other music playing devices at all USATF-sanctioned running events. The USATF's rule previously had banned the use of headphones by all runners. Now it limits the ban to "those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money."

Check the Headphone Rules for Your Race

Despite the official change, many race directors still discourage use of headphones and personal music devices during races for safety reasons. When you register for a race, check their rules and instructions to see if they have a rule against headphones or earbuds. In some cases, if the roads are open to cars and other traffic, the race organizers may prohibit runners from wearing headphones. It's their race, so you need to run by their rules. If in doubt, email the race director ahead of time and ask whether headphones are allowed. If you know that headphones and earbuds are not allowed, you will be able to do your training runs without music so you will be used to it by race day.

Why Are Headphones and Earbuds Discouraged or Banned?

If you're listening to music during a race, you may not be able to hear instructions from race officials and other runners on the course. One of the basic rules of racing etiquette is that you can hear others, so you can move out of the way or stop, when necessary. That guy waving at the side of the road might be telling you of an important turn to make, not just cheering you on!

The other warning about wearing headphones during a race is that you'll miss out on a lot of the race excitement. You won't be able to listen to bands, hear people cheering, or talk to other runners. As more and more races are built around having on-course music, costumes, teams and fun, you won't be in on all of the fun if you are plugged into your own music.

There's also a chance that your music listening device could stop working during your race, so it's important that you don't get totally dependent on it. If you rely on your tunes to set your pace and suddenly it fritzes out, will you still be able to reach your PR? Or will you panic and not be able to get motivated to finish strong?

If you absolutely need your music to stay motivated or beat boredom during the race, try using it on a low volume or with one earbud out, so you can still hear.

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