Why I listen to music on the trail, despite dangers

Why I listen to music on the trail, despite dangers
There’s a fine balance between connecting enough to your surroundings to stay safe and letting your music motivate you in outdoor pursuits. Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock

I’m tired of feeling guilty about taking my tunes whenever I go running or biking on the trails. Yes, I get the safety concerns. (Depending on where you live, as a woman, it’s arguable whether running alone on the trails, especially if you are distracted by music, is advisable.)

Yes, I’ve been accosted occasionally by someone old and crotchety who put me in a sad little place as one who can’t just “listen to nature.”

I’m not advocating you do anything that puts you in harm’s way, but in my neck of the woods I’m more concerned with dangerous wildlife than dangerous people, so to me tunes are a natural on the trail.

I’m ready to stand up for music’s magical motivating characteristics — and a few other bonuses that come along for the ride.

Motivation

trail running
Music has the ability to motivate and inspire, among other things. Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock
Perhaps you’ve experienced this as an athlete yourself in some form or another. While I don’t typically have much trouble motivating for a long trail run or mountain bike ride, I’m not always up for the task if I’m squeezing in a workout too late in the day, I’ve got some aches and pains I’m wary of reigniting or the weather looks threatening.

I count on music as my companion for solo slogs. It moves me like nothing else. And I find I don’t need to crank it up or listen to some pulsing techno mix to get my mojo back.

Even something as mellow and introspective as Bon Iver can make a long climb turn into a blissful, almost out-of-body experience. It lifts me out of a bad mood instantly.

It helps me listen to lovely lyrics rather than every solitary footfall. Occasionally, it even inspires me to push the pace.

Masking

OK, you might consider this a weird one, but music helps me focus on the good and essentially “mask” the bad. If I consider every rock my mountain bike tire must up and skid over, every freaky drop that I’m about launch off, every pound of my foot, strike after strike on a ghastly uphill, every squeak of my brakes or dirty chain, every creak in my knees, I focus on just that.

I concentrate on what hurts, how long I’ve been gone, what that skitter in the trees might have been and how much my bike needs a tune. With music, I don’t miss a beat.

It’s an ambient sound that carries me through the trails where, yes, there could be a bear or a cougar or a rattlesnake, but I’m just in the zone, for better or worse. Because I’m hearing only what I want and what inspires me to move, I find I can go harder, longer and happier — with less brain and body damage.

Natural obstacles are but a part of the melody, an extra-loud lyric, a good guitar riff.

Inspiration

running up stairs
Follow some common courtesies if you choose to move with music. Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock
I don’t know about you, but when I’m physically motivated, I get inspired mentally. For me, when I run or ride, for example, it’s not just for the material benefits.

I tap into some serious psychological stuff out on the trails. Music, I find, amplifies that inspiration. It takes my runner’s high to a new level, and that’s when all kinds of thoughts tumble around my brain.

Yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel taxing with tunes. Without music, I’m likely to focus on the overflowing laundry, the unpaid bills, the endless to-do lists that await my return. With music, I find my thoughts during exercise turn to bigger ideas — a title that seals a story I’m working on, a new business proposition, a nugget of wisdom for eating better or staying organized.

It’s almost like music taps a different part of my brain while I’m moving.

All that said, if, like me, you are going to listen to tunes on the trails, please keep in mind some common courtesies:

Find a smart setup. For me that has been a sleek, waterproof Nathan waist pack for streaming tunes on my iPhone.

I attach a tiny, skin-colored pair of earHero earbuds — which actually set down deeper in the ear canal as to avoid “blocking” it — which deliver music while allowing chirping birds, approaching tires and other important trail-related sounds to stream in as appropriate while not knocking out my music buzz.

Hone your other big sense. Since your hearing will be compromised, make your eyes work overtime. That means being extra cautious about what you’re seeing around corners, through the trees and in the shadows.

Slow down in tricky tight spots to allow for safe lead time for a possible face-to-face encounter and look behind you every once in a while.

Regulate your tune-age. It won’t hurt to have music up a little louder on a long, steady climb where few will approach you from behind and you can clearly see people descending, but crank things down a notch (or four) on the downhills, where speed could cause a conflict.

Better yet, try weaning yourself off music altogether when descending.

Be extra courteous. Since there will be some dissenters out there who might mock your choice to listen to tunes on the trails, kill ’em with kindness. I find this extremely easy to do because the music puts me in such a good mood anyway.

I follow typical trail etiquette to the extreme: cautioning people that I’m approaching on the left, whether biking or running; pulling off the trail altogether to yield to uphill bikers and runners in tight confines; and even singing a cheery “hello” or “good morning” or “what a beautiful day” to everyone I pass.

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