For many years I've run listening to music. I had running playlists that I used over and over again. I even had certain 'power songs' timed so that they would play halfway and towards the end of my 5K runs. I felt I had to run with my headphones on to get that extra burst of motivation when running out of fuel.
I had noticed in the information booklets for some races that they 'discouraged' the use of headphones and thought that was pointless to ask since so many runners run listening to music.
Then one day something incredible happened that made me stop running with headphones on. It happened while running the 2011 Pittsburgh Half Marathon. At the beginning of the race it was mildly raining, more like a breeze that actually made it very refreshing to run. The combination of sweat and breeze made my headphones malfunction, which were obviously not sweat proof. I was tracking my run with the Nike+ application and this malfunction was causing my phone to constantly pause. After several restarts I got so annoyed that I just took my headphones off and continued running. I am really glad this happened, especially since this was my first time running a half marathon.
Up until that day, I had participated in may local 5Ks and 10Ks: the Race for the Cure, the Great Race, the Father's Day race and the Race for Virginia. Every time I had run in these events I was amazed as to how many runners and people in the sidelines would cheer for you and I felt very motivated when local bands played live music in some of these races, but I had never experienced anything like a Marathon crowd. Even though I was running only half marathon, in the Pittsburgh Marathon like in many others, the half marathon runners start with the full marathon runners, so for the first half you're the same pack and the finish line it's the same for all, so nobody cares if you're running half or full, everyone cheers equally for you. It was truly one of the best experiences in my life. Danny Dreyer could not have described it better on his Chi Marathon book: "Like an art museum or a symphony, a marathon is a great place to go when you want to feel good about the potential of the human race. Whether you cheer a friend on from the sidelines, volunteer at an aid station, or run the event yourself, you get to witness and experience a side of humankind that is both elemental and exalted".
This malfunction could have not happened at a better time. After I took my headphones off, I realized I was missing out on half the fun and the experience. Ever since then, I have run without music and I've enjoyed running much more, especially when running outdoors. It has also allowed me to improved my body awareness which is extremely important to avoid injuries. I'm not opposed to running with music on, for a long time I felt they were complementary and if it helps make your run more enjoyable, by all means continue to do it. But I also urge you to give it a try just once, run without headphones, especially when running a race, you will not regret it and it may help you find your 'inner power song'.