No headphones rule

As I mentioned the other week, I often marshal for Go Beyond races.  The Go Beyond Race Director is a member of my running club and so far this year I have been spotted in the background at Country to Capital in January, Northampton Running Festival in April, I ran the Shires and Spires ultra in June, followed by marshaling at Coombe Abbey at the end of the same month.  Then last weekend I was Sector Lead at the Northampton Half Marathon.

I marshaled the same section of course at the race last year and enjoyed it.  My section started about 7 miles into the race and went through until nearly mile 10.  By mile seven, the runners have spread out a little and it’s much easier to be able to give individual encouragement to those starting to flag in the second half of the race.

This year, Go Beyond also organised a 5k distance race starting from the same place in the town.  The extra race in its first year meant that we required a few more marshals than usual and I managed to rope Dan into helping me on my section of the course.

Dan and me Marshaling at Northampton half marathonWe got there a little earlier than the other marshals in our section so that we could check the signs were in all the right places and so that we could begin to set up the drinks station in Great Houghton.  The drinks station was to be manned by village volunteers, although when no-one arrived until 10:10am, and I had been due to brief them 40 minutes earlier, I was growing a little concerned!  Last year, somebody had come out in the morning to remove the tops of the cycle blocks along the footpath, but this year none of the villagers could remember who had the key!  We ended up going ahead with the cycle blocks on.  Luckily, our lead bike made it to the footpath a fair way infront of the lead runner so was able to negotiate the smaller walking path before the runner arrived.  We placed spare fluorescent vests over the blocks to ensure nobody accidentally tried to run through them and no accidents were had.

I placed myself at the same spot as last year,- the footpath which leads down from the drinks station is narrow and contains a sharp right bend half way down.  The runners then must run back on themselves, before making a sharp left bend at the very bottom and continuing on their way.  I was at the sharp right bend point, and there was another member of WDAC at the very bottom to shout out to runners to be careful making the tight turn.

Marshaling at Northampton half marathon

Planning ahead, we each had a bin bag, ready to leap on any bottles, cups and gel wrappers that landed near to us out on the course.Collecting cups at Northampton half marathonDan was a little further along the footpath and I had sent him off with a bin bag a good half hour before we headed to our positions.  Cleaning as we went along saved us loads of time at the end.

Dan marshaling at Northampton half marathon

One of our instructions had been to jot down the numbers of any runners wearing headphones.  Where I was stood out on the course we were away from any roads, and runners headed out along an old railway line (Not sure if it is infact an old railway line, but it certainly looks like one.) and back towards Brackmills Industrial Estate.  Despite being away from the roads, it was still vital to hear the instructions we were shouting out, such as “Sharp right turn”, and “Mind the slippery leaves!”  The roads had been closed in the town centre at the start of the race, but once the half marathoners left the 5k runners, they were alongside the traffic out in the Northamptonshire countryside.  There were long sections of the course out on the road and therefore, necessary that the marshals could communicate instructions to all runners.  For this reason, the wearing of headphones had been banned for the race.Headphone ban at Northampton half marathonAs a runner, this would not bother me.  It is very rare that I run in headphones nowadays and I believe the only time I have ever worn them in a race was at London Marathon last year towards the end, but London Marathon is ran on entirely closed roads throughout.

Related: What are the most popular headphones for sleeping?

I remembered the number of the first runner that came through wearing headphones.  Caught on that the following runner was also in headphones a little too late to grab their number and then there seemed to be a massive wave of runners who were wearing them.  It was impossible to shout instructions from my position and write down numbers so unfortunately I had to give up with the headphone watching very early on.  Colin was the marshal on the road at the start of my section and he had managed to write down a list of about 30 runners, although admitted that he had also missed several as many of them came through in batches.  I would say there was probably a good 75 or more runners that decided to wear headphones in the race, despite the race instructions making it clear that they would be disqualified if they were to be caught doing so.

In the end there was such a high percentage of the race field that were wearing headphones, they were sent a caution regarding their lack of ability to follow the rules.  The caution made it clear that next time it would result in automatic disqualification.

After finishing her 5k marshaling duties in the town, my friend Laura was posted to the finish.  I did miss being at the finish of the race this year as I love getting to hand out the medals and see runners over the line.  I must admit though, I did appreciate the slightly earlier finish, as once the last runners had made their way through our water station all that was left to do was pack up the tables and remaining gels and tie our bags of rubbish to be collected later on by the Go Beyond van.

Have you worn headphones whilst racing before?
Do you think that headphones should be allowed during races and each person individually responsible for their own safety?

15 thoughts on “No headphones rule

  1. I never wear headphones if there’s any possibility that they might be banned. I rarely wear them anyway, but sometimes I need something to distract me from my anxiety and negative thoughts.

    I definitely don’t think headphones should be allowed on the basis of personal responsibility – what about the poor car driver who ends up hitting a drifting runner because they can’t hear the traffic? If people are put off because they can’t listen to music as opposed to being hit by a car, then they need to re-evaluate their priorities when it comes to running.
    Jess recently posted…Finally…A Vegan Quest Bar! Introducing Ds Naturals.My Profile

    1. Oh absolutely. I was astounded just how many runners were wearing them and couldn’t hear my shouted instructions, meaning that they also probably would not have been able to hear screeching tyres or instructions from marshals out on the road. It has been a long while since I ran in headphones, but when I did, I was always super aware of my surroundings to make sure I never put myself or anybody else in danger.

  2. It’s a tough one really. For my first few races I had headphones in to cover the noise of my breathing, as I got all panicked otherwise. But even then I had the sound low and could hear everyone around me- it was on “whisper” volume!
    I think most runners ignore it because people are not generally DQ’d because of it- how unfair if some people are but marshals miss others? Some people wear them in one ear so might not be seen. Now I don’t wear them in races, although I did pack some for Brighton just in case I needed a boost. I do agree though on open roads it can be really dangerous.
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Quest bars- a reviewMy Profile

    1. Yes, Dan protested the same – that he would feel rather mean writing down some numbers and yet missing others, or shouting out “Well done!”, knowing full well that their time would not be given at the end. The winner of the race was actually photographed for the paper wearing headphones last year, and with a lot of the course out on open roads it wasn’t a good advertisement for us runners.

  3. While I do like to run in headphones, I’m capable of going without – and if I’m in doubt, I won’t wear them. Tomorrow’s race does actually advise against non-essential headphones, but doesn’t ban them outright. I think I’ll have a couple of hours of my thoughts in the countryside – it’s a trail half, and getting a rhythm is going to be tricky anyhow.

    I am hoping I can wear headphones for the Berlin Marathon. 4 hours is a bit long for my own thoughts!

    1. There is always so much to look at and think about with a trail half anyway. Those are the races I never consider headphones!
      Most marathon majors seem to let you wear headphones, as the roads will most likely be closed. I usually resort to counting to keep focus, but that gets rather mind-numbing after a while!

    1. Yes, trail races are always much more interesting anyway I think. I was surprised how many runners wore headphones at Royston Harvest Trail Half Marathon yesterday to be honest.

  4. Excellent blog post, as always.

    It’s a tough one, I imagine. I know it’s for health & safety reasons and I assume for the smaller races along roads which aren’t closed, it’s also for insurance reasons. But I also think that runners should be responsible for hearing directions themselves.

    That said, what if there is an emergency and they don’t hear directions?

    A nightmare for the organisers!

    I personally don’t use them to run, but I wouldn’t want to stop someone else.
    Helen recently posted…Southwark parkrunMy Profile

    1. It was very frustrating as a marshal with runners not able to hear my instructions. They were important instructions, but not quite as critical as instructions given out by those on the road.

  5. If a race says strictly not to wear them rather than a) not mentioning them at all or b) just advising for own safety then I probably would wear them but always with the volume turned down. I hate not hearing what people are shouting at me – whether encouragement or advice and like to thank people.
    If a race says do not wear them I won’t. A DQ isn’t worth the risk. Also I can do a race without headphones, it’s just a bit harder if it’s a longer race as I get bored of my own thoughts! But if it’s a trail race then it’s fine as it’s far more scenic and there are things to occupy your mind.
    For Bournemouth marathon it says not to wear them which I have to say I am a little worried about. I didn’t listen to anything in Cheddar Gorge but that was so scenic. Bournemouth is going to be a bit dull in comparison and I’ve never done a road marathon without a podcast or a bit of music to keep me entertained. Saying that though, there are so many people from my club doing the marathon or supporting that I’m sure I’ll be fine. In fact, it would look a bit anti-social to wear them!
    Anna @AnnaTheApple recently posted…Back in the gameMy Profile

    1. I’ve found focusing over longer distances tough this year and yep, a bit boring unless offroad or with others.
      If so many others from your club will be out at Bournemouth then I am sure that you will have plenty to keep your mind occupied. We have had a huge support turn out at Milton Keynes over the past few years and it has been great to hear shouts from club members in the distance mid-race. A nice little boost!

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