5 Jun

The Beat

Runner with iPod

It's been over 10 years now since the iPod was first launched. The MP3 device and associated technologies have revolutionised the music industry. Although the impact on the exercise and fitness industry has not quite been as revolutionary, it has certainly been evolutionary.

The gym is full of people plugged up to their music headsets and it's a common sight for runners to be seen with wires streaming from their ears as they pound the streets.

It wasn't always so. Pre-MP3, people could run with a Walkman strapped to their waist and spongy earphones clamped to their head. But it was uncomfortable, impractical and not particularly stylish either. So few did.

One of the few solid connections between running and music was between Haile Gebrselassie and Scatman John. The Ethiopian running legend often made world record attempts in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the fast rhythmic beats of 'Scatman' or 'Scatman's World' thumping around the athletics arena.

Now music has a much stronger presence in the sport at all levels, be it Usain Bolt strutting onto the track with headphones casually draped round his neck or the Sunday jogger shuffling along with their iPod shuffle.

The UK now hosts two mass participation half marathons with a music theme. Last year Edinburgh hosted the Rock n Roll Half Marathon for the first time and this year's event attracted over 5000 runners with bands, DJs and dancers providing entertainment en route. London has hosted the Run to the Beat Half Marathon since 2008 with major artists such as Calvin Harris and Tinnie Tempah providing the tunes.

On the other hand, there are several UK races - often with long traditions rooted in the sport - that have banned the use of MP3 players during races, threatening to disqualify anyone found using one. Heavy handed and old fashioned? Maybe. But when they point to diminished awareness of fellow runners and an increased possibility of accidents, they have a degree of justification.

Ultimately though, they are fighting a losing battle. Particularly as scientific studies have indicated that music can actually improve performance.

In 2008, Dr Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in West London found that the stimulus of motivational rock or pop music can help some runners improve by up to 15%. It's largely down to music's capacity for distraction from fatigue caused by running. I think most runners relate to that.

On a personal level, I don't think anything will ever beat a fresh run along the coast with the only crashing waves for company. But, pounding the streets with Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' belting through the earphones is a pretty close second.