Why running races ban headphones – and what to do if you depend on music

Man putting in headphones before run
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many runners like to wear headphones while running but when it comes to running races, this isn’t always allowed. We take a look at the reasons why headphones are banned in some running races, or not encouraged in other races.

Before we look at the reasons why some running races ban headphones, let’s consider why you might want to wear headphones – wired or wireless – when running.

Some runners like to run with headphones, such as AirPods, because of a range of benefits. These include motivating music, listening to trainers encouraging you to do different sessions and the distractions that listening to music or podcasts brings when you are working hard at your running or running longer, such as ultra distances

However, there are some potential issues to think about when wearing headphones while running, such as not being alert to dangers, including traffic or other people around you.

Another negative of wearing headphones while running is that you do not benefit from the mindfulness of running. Many runners also say they prefer to listen to the sounds of nature as they run. 

The reasons why running races ban headphones

So, when it comes to wearing headphones in running races, organizers might point to the above negatives as reasons why they ban runners wearing headphones.

The argument is that when runners wear headphones they may be less aware of their surroundings, whether this is fellow runners, race officials, traffic or potential other dangers and obstacles on the course. Even bone conduction headphones, which do not sit inside the ear, can cause distractions for runners and they are also not allowed in some running races. 

If runners are not aware of their surroundings this can increase the risk of accidents or collisions, especially when it is a race that is busy with entrants.

In addition, it is suggested that if you are listening to music or podcasts while running you might not be able to react to some signals that your body is sending you, such as fatigue, dehydration or poor fuelling. 

Three runners in a race

There are safety reasons for race organizers to ban headphones for runners (Image credit: Getty Images)

While it can sometimes be an advantage to have a distraction from fatigue during exercise, it can also be a danger if you are pushing yourself too hard or too fast and for too long, such as in a race. Ignoring the need to drink properly and eat enough can also lead to major health concerns when people are taking part in longer races.

Race officials would rather the runners are aware of their feelings, both emotional and physical, as well as what is going on around them so that they can participate in a race with the utmost safety. 

Apart from anything else, there will be races where volunteers and officials need to relay important information to runners, such as a sudden change to a course or poor weather ahead, and if people are wearing headphones and listening to music they may not hear crucial details.

Note that if you need to wear headphones for medical or psychological reasons, you should contact the event organizers to discuss.

What to do if races ban headphones for runners

You should check the rules of a race to see if you are allowed to wear headphones, or not. If you feel you really can't run without headphones, then you will need to find the races that do allow headphones.

If you do plan to enter a race than bans headphones, make sure you spend some time training without wearing headphones so that you are used to how it feels to run minus this running aid. 

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.