Why Would Anyone Wear Headphones During An Early Morning Trail Run?


Running trail in North Carolina

This photo shows the running trail I used this morning, but it does not reveal the cry of a hawk overhead, the rustling of animals in the underbrush, or the earthy smell of fungi and a thousand other organisms.

Hi folks,

Cook Medical Zenith Aortic Stents

The stents that save lives, from Cook Medical (thanks from FitOldDog).

Rupert and I were out for an early morning trail run, thanks to Cook Medical and their magical aortic stents (mine’s called Rupert), when I stopped to listen to the eerie cry of a hawk overhead. As I stood there listening, I noticed the grunting of deer, and in the distance one of those weird noises that the coyotes make. There was also rustling in the underbrush, probably a possum, and plenty of fussing by squirrels. Then I spotted a toadstool and had a thought – I sniffed its earthy odor, waited for the scent to fade, and there it was, all around me. If I hadn’t known what to look for (with my nose) I wouldn’t have noticed that I was being bathed in the scent of fungi, and the general process of healthy decay that creates much of the Biosphere from whence we emerged so many eons ago.

Toadstool on FitOldDog's running trail

This toadstool had a lovely earthy smell.

Then on I ran!

It was pretty quiet for a while, until I came across several other runners, and they were all wearing headphones. When I said ‘hello,’ in my usual cheery way, there was either no response or a nod of the head, and on they went in their world of sound. They seemed oblivious to nature all around them, and to my salutation. Why they do that escapes me.

So, on I ran!

Alex Cooper, surveyor and interesting man

Alex Cooper, a land surveyor of 43 years working on the UNC North Power Bank, and I had a great chat about Chapel Hill and life in general. He asked if I knew the Fowler Family, and I said that I only remembered their great choice of beers way back in 1981, when their grocery store on Franklin Road was still open – he was a little disappointed, it seemed.

I eventually reached the construction site that transects this trail, which is where I came across an interesting young man, Runa A. Cooper (Alex), a local land surveyor, and he was not wearing headphones. We had an interesting conversation, which included his explaining that he now used a robot instead of a person for his surveying, so he no longer had to worry about people not turning up or being in jail, or something. But robots aren’t people, so it seemed a little sad that he could work alone, in spite of the increased reliability of his work. Alex agreed that I might use his picture on my blog, so I asked him his age, which turned out to be 62. In return, he asked mine, and seemed impressed that I was in such good shape for such an old guy, which I attribute almost entirely to my program of safe exercise for better health. I suspect that good genes from my mother may also have contributed.

I wonder if I received my abdominal aortic aneurysm from my Dad, whom I never had the good fortune to meet. He gave me many other wonderful gifts so I have no complaint.

And on I ran!

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Yes, and those sounds are where John Clare got all his poetry and where I find much of mine. Those noises saturate this environment. Music is for home or the concert hall. Nature puts on its regular symphonies and they always vary.
    Nature is interesting – but not always nice. Yesterday the fungi I found were Destroying Angels….Mushroom omelet anyone?

  2. My favorite for omelettes were ‘Trompette de la mort’ (things I met in French somehow stay in French in my head), or death’s trumpet (aka trumpet of the dead, or Craterellus cornucopioides, or many other names). In spite of their name, they are edible and delicious, especially in omelettes. Yes, the sounds of nature are not to be missed during an early morning run or walk. -kevin

  3. Kevin, I use headphones when I run because something about it helps me breathe better. No music and I’m out of breath in no time. I asked Nigel about it and he said he likes using headphones too. I would prefer to have the peace and solitude of the sounds of nature, but I run better with music. Any thoughts on that?
    Linda (Nigel’s office manager)

  4. Hi Linda, it is all a matter of distinguishing training aid from distractive device. If you run a hill without distraction you really notice the hill. Run the same hill talking to a friend and the hill goes by without notice. This is because your conscious attention is on the conversation and not the hill. It might feel better, but it is absolutely not better training (in my opinion). Your attention should be on both your internal and external environments as you workout. Dump the headphones and you’ll soon get used to the difference, and as long as the terrain is interesting you’ll be fine. If you run in town, headphones can get you killed (like a UNC student from Scotland, running in Chapel Hill only a few years ago). The only time I use music is about 4+hours into a bike trainer bike ride when the rhythm of the music keeps me going, because the monotony is extreme at this point. At the end of the day we have to each work out what works for us, personally. The key is to know when you are using a training aid, and when you are using a psychological crutch (like excessive use of the pull buoy in the pool – my current challenge). My advice is to drop the headphones whilst running and come back into the world, both internal and external. Happy trails. Kevin aka FitOldDog

  5. I’m all for that, but any tips to help with the problem with breathing? For some reason the music seems to help with my pace of breathing, if that makes sense. I had bought a metronome, but promptly lost it on the first run with it. I like running and want to get better at it, but I have to breathe. I’d really like to do all the elements of the mini triathlon that we did a few weeks ago as a relay. I’m fully prepared to put the time into training, but I don’t know what’s up with the breathing. If the music didn’t make such a difference, I’d figure it was physical and go to the doctor. Running in the forest with only the sounds of nature seems wonderful and I hope to get there.

    • Hi Linda,
      Ah! Breathing. I’ve written about that a bit. How do you breath, and what seems to be going on? I might be able to provide some pointers. The theory is that humans were able to undertake persistence hunting of very fast animals because they uncoupled breathing mechanics from forelimb movement, which is clever and reasonable concept – so they don’t need to be coupled. Do you breath into your belly or your chest when you run. Do you think about breathing as you run (I don’t, it just happens). There are lots of ideas out there on this issue. By the way, if you breath through you nose you will tend to belly breath, whilst (yes, whilst, Rory) if you breath through your mouth you will tend to take the air into your upper chest. This is an important issue as your pace picks up, because using your diaphragm to breath is much more effective. Send me a description of what is going on and I’ll see what I come up with. Maybe the music stops you thinking, and thinking is messing you up – there is a name for this, after some baseball player, that I forget. OK! Time to sleep. Cheers, -kevin

  6. Hi Kevin,
    I think I breathe through my mouth, but I do get a sense that I just tighten up around the chest. I think I also breathe very shallowly. The longer I run, the easier I seem to breathe, but never very easy without the music. I get the sense that the music sets a pace for my breathing. I also notice I do much better on the treadmill than on the road or trail. I do fine breathing when cycling.
    Thanks, Linda

  7. Hi Linda, whilst undertaking Kung Fu training for a couple of years I spent about 50% of the time learning about breathing. Breathing controls ‘chi’ and thus power, thus all the noises made by martial artists. You might consider taking a yoga course that focuses on breath. Learning to breath with your diaphragm (belly) is well worth learning, and it is encouraged by nasal breathing. One problem with breathing is that thinking about it changes it, unless you are a skilled meditator, when it is possible to observe but not influence (despite the theories of modern physics). Try som short sessions of belly breathing, practice breathing into your belly through your eyes, ears, back, and so forth (odd as that might sound), and report back. In the meantime, try to workout what happens to your breathing when you listen to the headphones, and report back. This issue is well worth resolving. -kevin

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.