There are two main upsides to running: It’s a great and efficient form of exercise, and it’s also a way to get lost in nature and thought for 45 minutes to an hour (or however long your run is) with few to no distractions.
Sure, a pre-made playlist can pump you up for your run or help you keep pace. But if you want to truly free your mind, suggests Martin Fritz Huber in Outside Online, try running without music.
Huber’s argument is that running outside is one of the few times people, particularly city dwellers, can immerse themselves in the natural world, without screens, text messages or notifications clouding your vision.
When you preselect a soundtrack for your run, you are trying to tacitly control your experience. And in many cases, that is precisely the point: pump-me-up music to get you through those painful final miles, for instance. But, as that example illustrates, so much of our music comes loaded with preconceived mental associations; we already know how a certain song is going to make us feel. One of the great things about running is that it can provide a chance to get away from all that, if only for an hour or so.
He calls it a “microadventure” for your brain: while you might be able to run your 3-mile loop blindfolded, you never know where your mind might wander.
It’s also a way to reclaim your run as a time strictly for yourself and your mental and physical well-being. Rather than listening to podcasts to try to learn something during your run, or putting on music to speed it along, you’re immersing yourself in the run for the run’s sake. Taking in the sights along your route more fully, listening to what’s going on around you, letting your brain take a break for a little while.
“I don’t think we always need to be ticking off the boxes of some invisible checklist of life improvement—especially when engaged in an activity that is fruitful in and of itself,” he writes. I’ll run to that.