Running in silence

I’ve learned two important running lessons this week, both of which can be attributed to one 800m repeats workout. If I had done any other type of speed workout that involved repeats and periods of rests, I probably would have learned the same lessons. But there’s something highly sadistic about the 800 meters to distance runners. When we inflict that fast running pain, a stark opposition to our long slow days, a unique endorphin rave party is sure to follow. I love dancing at that party.

The first lesson: shut up and pay attention.

During her last interview on the Running on Om podcast (episode 219), Lauren Fleshman said all the things that have your head nodding and suddenly your arms up in the air like YAS, GIRL, PREACH. (That’s her MO.) During a recap of her experience leading the inaugural Wilder running and writing retreat, she mentions the silence they often sat in. She talked about how we try to avoid or avert discomfort by employing distractions, rarely letting our minds enjoy that silence. How the silence may really shove little discomforts that you’ve been avoiding in your face. Or at least that’s what I heard. And that hit me hard.

I remember a specific moment during my long run last weekend when the podcast I had just listened to starting playing again. Ughz. I pressed pause and ran in silence for a few minutes, not wanting to get my phone out and mess with it. In those few minutes I tried to distract myself with other things—the usual pace-work time math, route reflections, how many weeks until the race, traveling, life thoughts, etc.—but could barely get my mind off the fatigue for more than two seconds. I was in the last half hour of another long slug through a hot day; it wasn’t comfortable. I was approaching the last tempo interval. Silence wouldn’t work. I turned on another podcast so that my brain had something else to feed off of.

Sometimes I listen to music or podcasts during a race, sometimes I don’t. (Never on the trails, though.) I could say that running is my time to “catch up on” podcasts and such, but I choose how many podcasts I subscribe to. Running isn’t to blame for that long list. I could say I enjoy the quiet time to listen to those things and reflect on them. That is true. But I could also be honest and say it’s a nice distraction. Because when it gets hard, I don’t want to think about it being hard. That’s just more work to do.

Why not start with 800s?

Thanks to Lauren’s comments, I ran my warm up, and six 800m repeats in silence. Why not go big, right? Testing silence on an easy one hour run won’t shove any discomforts in my face. Each one of those laps around the track will. I was primed to fight. Shield up, defenses ready! I obviously had my earbuds with me and a podcast on deck, JUST IN CASE. That’s called having a safety net, softening the blow, not fully showing up. But it’s what I did.

I felt stronger and more consistent in those six repeats than I expected to. After the first few, I kind of loved the silence. Somehow, they seemed to go by faster.

Washington and Lee track

I’m really bad at math while I’m running, so I kept miscalculating how many hundreds of meters I had run so far and how many  I had to go, and then I kept being like “Man, you are a smart person and you are being real dumb right now.” It helps to keep things light-hearted, ya know? I also repeated Desi Linden’s wise marathon mantra: “Calm calm calm; relax relax relax.” I made an effort to keep the internal monologue positive, because that’s what has to be done. I felt all of it—tight muscles, fatigue, light feet, thirst, awe, gratitude, more fatigue, sunrise feels. Instead of barely having a clue what was happening and just going through the motions, while my brain processed someone else’s words and story, I paid attention.

— — — — —

My goal is not to be a saint who runs every run in pure silence. I know for some of you, this is your thing. You love it. For me, it’s not yet. But maybe it will be.

My goal IS to do this more often, to notice when my instinct is to shut my brain off and turn something else on. It WILL get hard, some days will not be great. That’s true in running, and of course, in life. (Ah, there it is.) I want to be able to sit in that fatigue, discomfort, feeling-du-jour, and reckon with it. I won’t solve any problems by tuning it out, other than shortening my podcast list.

(I’ll get to that second one later.)

Do you run with or without music, podcast, or some sort of audio?

Why or why not?


  1. September 16, 2016

    running is also my time to listen to podcasts. but I run in silence during my last half marathon. it went by fast and I was connected with myself. should definitely do it more often.

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