So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Free Your Ears And Your Run Will Follow

My (wife’s) iPod crashed last week...right before a workout.  It wasn't a ‘good news, bad news’ situation.  It was more like a ‘good news, bad news, really bad news’ thing. 
Good news:  I had many of my favorite music files tucked away in my smart phone. 
Bad news:  The iPod required a reset to factory specifications.
Really bad news:  My computer was stolen a couple of weeks back; not only did I lose three years’ worth of training data, blog posts, articles, research and photos, but nearly two thousand MP3 files and podcasts, which were not in my iTunes account.  Thus, many of my favorite songs in that “sweet spot” tempo of 80-to-90 beats per minute would either need to be reinstalled from source CDs, or were gone forever.
I’ve written on many occasions how fickle technology can be toward the running athlete.  The more dependent we become on the technology to tell us what we think we need to know, or to make us happy during the run, the more earth-shattering it seems when everything “goes south.” 
My views on using personal music players vary from ambivalence and pragmatism to pity, depending on the shirt I’m wearing at the moment:
If I’m in running attire at a race the view is closer to ambivalence.
If I’m in a red or zebra-striped polo shirt I’m busy reaching for my notepad.  (My friends know what I mean.) 
I don’t run on the roads with a music player, but I’ll sing to myself when I run outside.  I tell my wife, for much the same reason I train on a treadmill, I want to control as many of the variables as possible.
One of the reasons people run with a music player is to dissociate, or to drown out the “stop already” messages the muscles, lungs and heart send to the brain throughout the course of a race.  Other runners use music players to reinforce run tempo (one reason they are prohibited in triathlon).  But there’s more that happens between the ears and the earphones of the individual runner when music is involved.
We have an internal clock which controls how well we move in the forward direction; run rhythm, stride length, run speed, and so on.  When fatigue sets in we need to grasp for some sort of cue to align with the “clock” in our head and normalize ourselves: music, lines in the road/on the track, telephone poles, etc.  The tempo of the music in the player may…or may not…be aligned with the "right" tempo for the individual runner.  Unless you’re a complete obsessive-compulsive it is highly unlikely your music is set aside in beat-per-minute playlists.  (In the interest of public disclosure, I do notate my BPM on my tracks.) 
That most likely means you are thinking more about what’s going into your head than what you’re putting out via your legs.
Do you sing in the shower?  Do you sing while cooking? Or folding clothes? 
And if you do, do you ALWAYS sing at the EXACT tempo at which the song was performed?
If you answered ‘no’ to the last question you may not need a music player to improve your running.  You can most likely sing your way to a better run performance.
Satoh and Kuzuhara (2008) assessed the time and steps of subjects walking along straight and curved paths while mentally singing a familiar song.  They were asked to listen to the song, clap hands while listening, sing the song, clap while singing the song, sing while walking in place, walk while singing, then walk while singing to themselves.  Analysis of the gait (degree of arm swing, the height of the knees and the smoothness of turn) was performed by a trained observer.
The patients reported feeling improvements in foot progression, ease of arm swing, knee raise and turning and fixation of walking speed. Qualitative evaluation of walking indicated higher knee lift, larger arm swings, smoother turns and less inconsistency in gait.  There was a significant improvement in the time and steps while walking a straight path and turning.  The researchers believed improvement would be more dramatic in the event of worse gait disturbance.  The study participants were able to use mental singing to recover normal pacing when pace was disturbed.
Athletes who moderate their run mechanics by the use of music will most likely benefit from simply singing to themselves during the run rather than placing their safety at risk by using a music player.

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