The great headphone debate

It seems recently UKA have changed their rules on competitors wearing headphones during races. From what I understand, if the race is (even partially) on single carriageway roads which are not closed off to traffic, then the use of headphones is not permitted under UKA rulings.

(Rule 240 (Road Races) has UKA supplement additions around issues like the course, refreshments and classification of the race, etc. Amendments are the addition of a rule (240 S4) stopping the use of headphones on single carriageway roads open to traffic and allowing more entries in road relay races in excess of 8 stages (240 S4). Taken from here )

This decision has sparked massive debate among the running community, with it being the focus of the most responded to Facebook Friday on Marathon Talk, as people put in their 2 pence and gave their opinions. It has divided the running world and also given some people the excuse to climb onto their high horses, taking the opportunity to blame everything that is wrong with the sport, and indeed the world, on the awful individuals who dare to wear headphones in a race. Of which I am one.

The aforementioned Marathon Talk post was discussing what runners thought about the (48, I think) competitors who were disqualified from a 10k race in Beverly, Yorkshire recently due to ignoring this new rule and daring to run with their headphones in. My response there, as it is here, is that there are two points to be addressed here.

Firstly, in this particular case, if the participants were told that they would be disqualified if they ran with headphones in and then chose to do so anyway, there isn’t really grounds to complain when they are indeed DQ’d. It’s fair enough.

However, my opinion on the wider discussion about the ruling in general is that it is a bit extreme. I understand that the concern is that if you are wearing headphones you may not be able to hear traffic or directions from race marshals and it is all to do with keeping everyone safe, but I don’t think that just because you are wearing headphones automatically means you lose all regard for everyone and everything around you. When I ran my first 50k recently, my headphones were a much-needed piece of kit when things got a bit tough in the last 3 miles or so, but I never run with my music or podcasts at a level that blocks out all periphery noise and always make sure I can still have a conversation whilst wearing them. I’m used to being told that headphones are worn at your own risk and that the organisers aren’t liable for anything which occurs as a result. And I am happy to take that risk on.

People have also raised the point that music can help runners with anxiety or mental health issues to keep calm on their run, it’s not all about blasting music and causing as much havoc as you can for your fellow runner.

This weekend I am running the Liverpool RnR marathon and I was very happy to receive the following, sensible notice from them on the issue:

There are many sections of the RnR Liverpool course where runners are in a closed road lane, but the adjacent lane is separated by traffic cones and open to vehicles. The wearing of headphones in such areas is now prohibited under UK Athletics rules 240 S5. As a race organiser affiliated to UK Athletics we are bound by the rules of racing and headphones are therefore prohibited. However we do recognise the motivational power that music provides and have arranged a line-up of over 50 of Liverpool’s best bands to entertain you around the course.

We will not be instructing officials to enforce this rule strictly by implementing disqualifications, but you should be aware that you will be in breach of UK Athletics rules and are running at your own risk. We will however enforce UKA rules which state runners can be disqualified for not following the instructions of a race official – this includes stewards controlling the flow of traffic and runners, and marshals at controlled crossing points.

Seems like a totally fair solution to me – run at your own risk with a DQ if you don’t follow instructions. Logic had prevailed!

What do my fellow runners have to say on the matter? Do you think it will affect the races you choose to enter in the future?


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