Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 30 Jun 2007 05:26:17 -0400

The Pod Squad


USATF has picked a fight that is probably unwinnable as well as unnecessary. The sport's rulers want to take away runners' iPods and other music-players. If we don't surrender them voluntarily, we can be disqualified.

Good luck with that. I see confrontations coming, both physical and legal.

This ruling reminds me of how USATF's ancestor, the AAU, used to act. It once barred woman from long-distance races, and occasionally tried to remove them physically or penalize them legally for defying this edict.

The rationale was safety. Women were delicate and needed "protecting" from efforts this extreme. Women fought back and finally won.

The iPod ruling also is safety-based. But raceday, when traffic is controlled, might be the safest time to run with plugged ears. The worst time to wear one is alone on a busy street.

This anti-iPod action doesn't sink to the level of sex discrimination. But it does make rule-breakers of runners who don't need to be.

As with the women of 40 years ago, runners will find ways around this ruling. They'll conceal their iPods from the enforcers and find a race that ignores the rule. They won't stop the music, except maybe voluntarily.

Forcibly removing someone's iPod strikes me as wrong-headed. But giving a runner good, positive reasons to leave it behind by choice on raceday is worthwhile.

A young runner on my Marathon Team wasn't aware that his iPod wasn't allowed in the race (which wouldn't have enforced the rule anyway). Tim Cole always trained to music, but on Eugene Marathon day he chose to go without -- and won his age group.

Tim is uncommonly wise and well-spoken for 19. He said after that race:

"It was the first time I had run without my iPod. This came from advice from the first marathon runner in my family, my mom. The experience of the race would have been incredibly tarnished by such artificial sound.

"In hindsight it was the quickest three hours and 13 minutes of my life. After the marathon, many of my fraternity brothers asked me, 'What did you think about during the race?' The truth was I thought less than I expected.

"I did not need to escape. I enjoyed being right where I was."

I own two different iPod models, and love their sound quality and portability. On the campus where I teach, I'm one of the world's oldest iPod wearers. A student once joked as I fumbled at the buttons beneath a jacket, "What are you doing, adjusting your pacemaker?"

Music, from a computer library that bulges with more than 2500 songs, travels with me much of each day. But the sound goes off when I go for a run. Don't want it then; don't need it.

Well, almost never. The rare exception was when I last trained extra-long for a marathon. I didn't have enough good thoughts to last me three or four hours alone and needed some outside help.

But on marathon day I left the iPod in my hotel room. Wearing it would have blocked out the live voices of race day, the exchanges with other runners and cheers from the supporters, that sound sweeter than any song.
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