One More Hazard For Runners: iPods

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Can 42 million iPod users be wrong? Well, yes, if they're wearing the popular and portable music players during a race, or even when they're running alone, according to race directors and the Road Runners Clubs of America.

Without sounding the safety alarm too loudly, headphones make it difficult for runners to hear even the most simple race-day instructions. And runners in a musically enhanced endorphin reverie can be as careless as drivers blabbing on cellphones.

The RRCA realized this back when the Walkman was the portable music player of choice and approved a guideline in 1991 recommending that headphones be prohibited in races and used with extreme caution when running near traffic and for women running in isolated areas.

Despite plain language on entry forms prohibiting headphones during races, most race directors are reluctant to pull headphone-wearing clients from the starting line, even if they could get their attention. But the proliferation of iPods is bringing the issue to a head.

Kathy Freedman, the co-owner of Capital Running Company, estimates that 25 percent of runners in this area's big races wear headphones. In order not to encourage such use, Freedman eliminates photos of runners wearing headphones from the company's Web site.

But even careful photo editing can't stop regular users. "When I'm running for fun or exercise, I absolutely have to have my iPod or else I become bored out of my skull," said Catherine Andrews, 26, from Atlanta. "But when I'm actually being competitive and trying to concentrate on finishing a race, I don't like to have the music to distract me."

RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack is not sympathetic to those who want to race to music. "Rules of road races should be respected by participants. They are there for the safety of not only the individual but the group as a whole. . . . While I think it could be potentially disruptive to other runners to pull people from a race field for headphone use, I do think a race director would be justified in not including someone violating the race rules in the official results or refusing to supply them with an official time or finisher medal."

Sensible rules, safety and courtesy are all good and obvious reasons to leave headphones at home during races. It seems that runners should be able to handle this issue themselves.

? HAPPY FOURTH: Online registration for the March 24, 2007, National Marathon opens Tuesday with a three-day discount of $50 for the marathon and $40 for the half marathon. After that, rates increase to $75 and $55.

? APRES RACE: A belated post-race party for registrants in last Sunday's washed-out Potomac River Running Twilight Festival Four-Miler is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on July 9 at the Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn.

-- Jim Hage

© 2006 The Washington Post Company