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GeoffG's picture
Awareness outdoors

I came across an article on The Register this morning reminded me that using an iPod/MP3 player while training outdoors is not a good thing from a self protection standpoint.

The article was about a man who saved a drowing woman, which in of itself is a feel good story, but the thing that stood out was that "The cries of a drowning woman were missed by headphone-sporting joggers, leaving her to be rescued by ....". So not only could you not hear someone coming to attack you, you might also miss someone's cry for help. I'm sure its not as clear cut as that, but it certainly something to consider when out alone using a iPod/MP3 player.

From the article:

“As usual there were joggers on the path. I saw a group of them run straight past her before I got there, but they had their headphones in and they couldn’t hear her. “They should just keep their headphones in one ear so they can hear what’s happening around them.”

I'm not sure whether that's a good idea. What do other forum members think?

If you're interested the article is avaliable at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/08/03/headphones_rescue/

Steven's picture

I like music and I like exercise to music but I never wear headphones or earphones when walking or running.  Having said that, without the right habits or mindset it is just as easy to be completely unaware of what's going on around you even if all your senses are fully functional.


PASmith's picture

I have an MP3 I recorded myself that alternates rounds of running with walking, sprints, punch outs etc that I use for my runs. So I have that on. Although it is largely silence with the occasional instruction from me every so often.

Having said that I feel that accounting for other people being in need is just a step too far when it comes to awareness IMHO. I'm not sure where the stop point would be once you start doing that? Having your TV or music on low at home in case you miss the sound of breaking glass next door?

Nate's picture

As someone who very much enjoys music, I feel the dilemma. I find that I look around much more frequently with my mp3 player playing. Anybody know if there's anything that doesn't prevent hearing? It's hard to imagine anything as convenient as an mp3 player, but maybe there is something across the pond?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

GeoffG wrote:
From the article:

“They should just keep their headphones in one ear so they can hear what’s happening around them.”

I'm not sure whether that's a good idea. What do other forum members think?

When I’m running in built up areas I never listen to my mp3 player. There are obviously the self-protection issues, but there are also the wider personal safety issues of not being fully aware of approaching traffic, etc. My hearing is not fantastic and hence I should not impair it further.

It’s a little different when running on the hills and through the fields. You can see very long distances and there is no traffic to worry about. I am therefore quite happy to use the mp3 player in that environment. I do, however, have a rule of knocking it off if I’m approaching other people and taking the earphones out. This is primarily for politeness so I can exchange greetings with a fellow “wander in the wilds”, but it also has the added advantage of communicating awareness. The chances of me getting attacked in that arena are minimal, but having taught masses of people around here about the importance of awareness, I feel it’s important I’m always seen to “practise what I preach”.

One thing we need to factor in is what people are actually listening to and how loud it is. Personally, I don’t listen to music when I’m running as I find podcasts to be a better distraction from the monotony (I also like to think I’ve also learnt something on the run and hence it’s been good for body and mind). People talking at moderate volume does not shut down the senses in the same way that music at high volume does. I also think that listening to a podcast with one earphone in – as was suggested in the referenced article – would not impair senses greatly. The very fact you had headphones visible would show you had something worth stealing, but it would not strike me as wholly inappropriate if running in a low crime area (and you should not be running in known high crime areas anyway).

As always, the bottom line is that the precautions need to be proportional to the potential threat. If the precautions are greater than the threat, that can be illustrative of paranoia and the fear of crime can be damaging on its own. If the precautions are lower that the threat, you leave yourself venerable and make yourself and attractive target.

Having one earphone in would strike me as reasonable when running in suburban, low crime areas; as much for traffic awareness as anything else. If there are higher levels of traffic, I’d say having headphones in is not a good idea. Personally I think I’d find one earpiece in iterating, so it would not be something I’d do, but I can see the appropriateness of that in the right circumstances.

All the best,


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Nate wrote:

 Anybody know if there's anything that doesn't prevent hearing?

Years ago we used to have a comms system in the Fire Service called Diktron - yeah really - that used a skull plate to transmit messages so hearing was unaffected.  It was held on by a rubber 'spider' and as you can imagine was really uncomfortable.

I'll stick to my mp3.  As mentioned, I don't insert the earpieces until I get to the park.  I just hope if I'm ever approached I'm on one of the sprint bits, not the jogging ...

In all seriousness though I never give being SP aware a second thought when I'm training.  If someone wants to attack me when I'm already ticked off and sweaty, fairplay to them.  Game on!


dragon's picture

I have often watched people running, and travelling on public transport in Perth Western Australia and wondered if they have actually ever considered their own safety while using headphones with ipods. It strikes me that the manufacturers have not had to put an important note within the packing, much like cigarette packaging must show warnings about health effects on the packets.