Monday, July 17, 2006

Outlawing iPods for Distance Racing?

There are more iPods per capita in trail running races than any other type of organized race (that's my guess, anyway). But iPods do pose safety risks. Should they be allowed in trail running races?
The Washington Post interviewed RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack for their story, "One More Hazard for Runners - iPods". Ms. Knaack was quoted:
"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."
I'm personally a big fan of the iPod and think they can be used respectfully. However, I'm now noticing that the fine print in some of the entry forms prohibit the use of iPods (for example, the Helen Klein 50m entry form states in the disclaimer that "radio headsets are not allowed").

I just thought I would bring it to everyone's attention. I would hate to see somebody get a DNF just because they were groovin' to the tunes.



  1. I would totally agree that there is a safe way to use any type of audio player. The problem is that not everyone does that. There are a lot of people out there who dont know proper race eticut to begin with, take that add the inability for them to hear and it's a problem. I say the race director should give some guidlines at the begining for what the proper use is and if its abused, DQ. It seems harsh, but it will increase safety and spread awareness.

  2. There was an indent at the 2005 Long Island Marathon with the lead wheelchair running between the legs of a woman half-marathoner who was wearing a headset. The wheeler had shouted to alert her of his presence. She apparently was startled as he came into her field of view and jumped sideways, creating the dangerous and indiscreet situation. The wheeler needed to come to a full stop in an instant to avoid hurting her. An argument ensued with a guy there shouting, "Slow down, buddy!" The wheeler was left to wonder why he should have to slow down, it's a race, isn't it? Uswed improperly, they're dangerous. (regarding the Klein race, the RD should probably consider a minor rule change, eliminating the word "radio", as it can be argued that since an I-pod doesn't receive radio, they don't violate the rules.

  3. Scooter -

    That's a good example of when headphones can cause a problem. I bet iPods are a road marathon RD's worst nightmare.

    The Helen Klein is also on a shared bike path, so I assume that's why the rule is there (albeit outdated).

    How about trail races? Do you think it presents a hazard there?

    Thx, SD

  4. I do. I ran the Angel Island Half marathon this year (Envirosports outlaws them, but people don't listen, wear them anyway.) there were many instances on the narrow trail when me and other runners yelled many times for people with IPods to move over please and they had no clue- didn't hear a thing- it was dangerous. Also rode a bike tour in Healdsburg this last Saturday where cyclists were wearing them- which is carzy- many times you need to hear other cyclists yelling that a car is coming- on very narrow road. I don't think they belong in trail races. Used to be people listened to nature and thought deep thoughts when they had long runs to do.....

  5. Maybe I should alter my iPod t-shirt design so that it has a big sign on the back that says "I'm deep in my tunes...throw rock to pass". ;-)

    The bike example is just insanity. The last year I did the Lavaman Triathlon, a woman was side-swiped and killed while practicing the day before. Rumor has it she was wearing headphones on the Queen K highway. Ouch.

    Thanks for the comments!


  6. I suspect the main reason for the ban is our insurance industry. Many Insurers probably require the headset ban. A long as the promoter does their due diligence and mentions in the the fine print and covers it in the prerace talk , they're probably ok.

  7. If you are wearing a headset, then you are probably not "racing" but just running. I would assume to run at the top of your abilities you would need to engage your mind. Another danger for trail runners wearing headsets is that they will potentially not hear dangerous wildlife on the trails such as mountain lions, bears, etc.

  8. I also think that many insurance policies for races are now putting this as a clause within the policy. The JFK 50 miler this year is saying they will enforce the rule by cameras on the course and disqualify anyone caught!

  9. this is ridiculous.
    I bought my ipod in April when I ran my first half marathon. I keep the volume turned low in the races and sometimes take the earpieces out. I love picking out my music to run to and really look forward to it.

  10. I ran a part of the TRT50 Mile with a MP3 player, and don't see what the hullaballoo is all about. Like any technology, it should be used responsibly.

    Since I work tangentially to the insurance industry, I highly doubt carriers' would put this type of exclusion in their policies. The policies for trail races provide coverage for liability of the race, not the runner's. That and each runner signs a liability waiver to enter.

    I do sense that hearing other runners or bicyclists or cars is the real issue. Since I mostly run trails, the issue I always concern myself is being able to hear someone who would like to pass, so I keep the volume fairly low. If I come upon a runner who's groovin' to tunes and can't hear me, I simply tap him gently on the same shoulder on the side I wish to pass. Seems to work so far. It does mean I have to slow a little, but it didn't put a dent in my time at TRT.

    Banning headphones on trails? Bad idea. On a bike path where you share it with speeding cyclists, or on a road with cars? There's a rule I'd certainly respect.

  11. This is a crazy idea. If someone is going to be stupid with their ipod on a run let them be stupid. I don't think races should ban them. They already have waivers you sign for the risk. Runners need to be aware of their surroundings and runners who could be behind them and might want to pass.

    I'll bet nike and ipod don't like this idea either since they just introduced that nike+ thing.

  12. Jeffrey:
    If I am racing, tapping you on the shoulder to pass is not feasable, and here is why. The only time I seem to pass people (on trail) is when I am flying down hills, I can't tap you on the shoulder and wait for you to let me through, because by the time I was close enough to tap you, you wouldn't have time to get out of my way. You need to hear me when I shout that I am coming through, or else we are both falling.

  13. To piggyback on that comment to Jeffrey- I read recently an account of a runner who was coming up on a girl with headphones on a trail and as he touched her on the shoulder to pass, she turned and sprayed mace in his face, assuming he was an attacker. So, really, you have to be able to hear verbal shout-outs.

  14. Scott,
    A somewhat tardy response to your question - I think that headsets can be used safely, but there is no possible way for an RD to tell who is using them safely and who is not. The result is that it is probably necessary to ban them. The problem then becomes enforcing the ban - if an RD does not enforce it, then they face potential liability because they tacitly allowed them.

  15. I have mixed feelings about tunes on the trail. I have been against them while trail running or skiing because it is so anti-social. You want to start up a conversation with one and they're getting annoyed because they keep having to take their ear-buds out.
    Well I broke my code of ethics for the TRT 100. I was running it without a pacer and I knew the field would be very spread out after the first 50 miles. So I put together a 14 hour play list and plugged in leaving the 50 mile aid station. For someone who has over 25 ultras this was a whole new experience. I have to admit it was pretty cool rocking to the tunes you love while out of a trail. However I found that I was a victim of what I hate most about them, every time I passed a runner or bike patrol and on foot patrol I would have to remove a ear-bud to have a conversation or just give a friendly nod and keep moving past. I don't know if I'll use them again in a race but they sure helped keep me company through the night. The iPod nano conked out with one mile from the finish.

  16. Ipods dangerous?


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