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Can You Wear Headphones During a Running Race?

Last updated: 5 months ago
6 min read

Is it against the rules to listen to music with headphones in a marathon?

The answer: It depends…

Can you wear headphones in a running race
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    Wearing headphones when running feels like a normal thing to do. If you love to be entertained while you run, putting on music or a podcast is great.

    Plus, running with music is faster, and you feel less fatigue.

    However, in some races, it’s against the rules to wear headphones.

    And think about safety; wearing headphones in a crowded race can be dangerous. But in a smaller race, it’s perfectly reasonable.

    The truth is, some races have banned headphones, some allow it, and in some competitions, it is merely “frowned upon.”

    Rules for Wearing Headphones in a Race

    Headphones used to be banned from all USATF (U.S.A Track and Field) races.

    They changed the rules in 2008.

    Now you can use headphones. But only if you are not competing for awards or prize money.

    A professional athlete trying to win the race is not allowed to wear headphones.

    However, it is allowed if you are running for fun, sponsorship, or beating a personal time.

    However, some races still don’t like you to wear personal music devices at the event. It’s a safety hazard, and organizers want to minimize it.

    It’s not uncommon for runners to get disqualified after finishing the race. Check the rules before putting on music, even if it’s on race day.

    Rules on headphones of the 5 biggest marathons

    Here are the 5 biggest marathons and their rules on headphones:

    MarathonRules on headphones
    New York City MarathonUsing headphones is strongly discouraged but allowed
    Chicago MarathonHeadphones are permitted, but not for athletes in American Development Program.
    Paris MarathonHeadphones are allowed
    London MarathonUsing headphones is discouraged but allowed
    Tokyo MarathonHeadphones allowed for non-competitors
    All marathon rules on the list also state to keep aware and wear headphones that allow you to hear your surroundings.

    Other big runs and their rules on headphones

    Bay to Breakers organizers, arguably the largest run in California (if not the USA), advise against wearing headphones and music devices. But they aren’t banned.

    City2Surf, one of the biggest runs in Australia, organizers advise against wearing headphones. But you won’t be disqualified if you do (it would be a shame to waste the entry fee).

    Cursa El Corte Ingles, one of the biggest races in Europe (2nd most popular in the world with 100k+ runners), allows wearing headphones though it’s advised against it.

    Bay to Breakers runners
    Credit: Bhautik Joshi | Bay to Breakers run often includes runners in costumes and even some lacking in clothing.

    The only time you shouldn’t use headphones is if you plan on attacking the first few spots and medals.

    In that case, the race director may ask you not to wear them because abuses have happened in the past. And some runners just get disqualified at the end.

    Somebody giving you pace advice over headphones is forbidden and will get you disqualified.

    A newbie runner should always check specific rules for each race.

    How to Find Out if a Race Permits Headphones?

    Don’t wait until the race before finding out if headphones are allowed or not. It’s also not a good idea to assume that they are.

    Generally, you won’t be banned if you wear them, but it’s best to check the rules.

    City2Surf run rules
    City2Surf clearly states it advises against wearing personal music devices (that includes headphones).

    Upon registration for a running event or a marathon, you will probably receive an information pack.

    This may be an email or sent to you via physical mail. Inside you’ll get your race bib number and also instructions for the day.

    People organizing races know there is a need for running safety tips and advice for their event to run smoothly. The information should be included here.

    Most running events often allow headphones for those participating for fun that aren’t trying to win.

    • If you can’t find it in the information the race director or planners have sent you, check their website or event page for FAQ.
    • As a last resort, email the director and ask if you can listen to music during the event. Many will be fine with running headphones, but it is best to check.

    Safety Concerns and Why Headphones are Banned or Discouraged

    So, what are the risks of wearing headphones while running a race?

    The safety factor

    Safety is the main reason why race directors may have objections to wearing headphones in marathons and races.

    Headphones weren’t banned just for the sake of it. The idea is that many of them block your hearing due to noise isolation. And this means you aren’t able to hear other runners behind you.

    Vehicles often accompany large runs. With headphones, you won’t hear them.

    In the modern age, some of the best running headphones don’t rely on noise isolation. Options such as bone conduction headphones leave your hearing free.

    In any run, there are certain rules for runners that will make you safer.


    • Stay visible with bright-colored and reflective clothing
    • At night use lights like those attached to a headband
    • Assume you’re invisible
    • When running on roads, always go against the traffic
    • Don’t go over your physical limitations. You don’t want to leave the race in an ambulance

    Consider the type of race

    If there are many people at the race, wearing headphones might not be the best idea.

    A big marathon with a huge number of people in attendance can be great fun, and it’s wise to keep aware of the crowd.

    Listening to cheering crowds and the energy in the air can be equally fun. Lots of runs include bands with live music and encouraging spectators. Don’t miss that.

    Stay aware

    Most races will pass without any incident, but you can never be too careful.

    Listen to any warnings that may be issued via loudspeakers.

    Also, emergency vehicles and supporting cars and motorcycles often accompany marathon runners. Even strollers can be the way sometimes.

    On top of that, don’t forget that faster competitors might be coming from behind and trying to overtake you. If you don’t hear them, you’ll get into problems.

    A smaller safety concern is if you have wired headphones that get in the way. You could potentially trip or get distracted trying to free yourself from a tangled cable.

    Pros and Cons of Wearing Headphones in a Race

    There are many reasons why wearing headphones in a race can be a positive thing for your mindset. These include:

    • Distracting you from any aches and pains.
    • Keeping you entertained and making it feel like the marathon is much easier. Setting the pace for a consistent run.
    • Setting the pace for a consistent run.

    Read more on how music affects running.

    It isn’t all positive.

    There are some downsides to wearing headphones in a race:

    • You might be less aware of your surroundings and any dangers throughout the run. This is especially true with noise-isolating and in-ear headphones.
    • our battery might die early, especially if you don’t have headphones with good battery life.
    • Your ears can experience fatigue or even hearing damage if you listen too loudly for too long.

    What if you can only run while listening to music?

    You can wear headphones, but keep extra careful about your surroundings. It will take more energy to do so, and you risk getting into an accident.

    Or get headphones with good awareness, like shallow-fitting earbuds, open-ear headphones, or one of the best bone conduction headphones (and keep the volume low).

    In some races, only open headphones are allowed, while other closed headphones, like in-ear, and earphones are banned.

    How to stay aware even if wearing headphones

    The debate used to be headphones or earbuds, and while this is still relevant, many true wireless earbuds have the ambient sound mode which allows you to hear your surroundings.

    Here’s how to stay aware:

    • Use ambient sound mode (or HearThrough mode)
    • Wear bone-conduction headphones
    • Wear open-ear headphones at a normal volume

    Ambient sound mode

    It records the surrounding noise with built-in microphones and sends it to the headphone transducers so you can hear it. It’s especially useful for talking with people without taking off the headphones.

    Most of the higher-end and premium headphones and earbuds with a companion app support this feature.

    Sony WF-1000XM3 ambient sound control
    In Sony headphones, “Ambient Sound Control” selects how much noise you want to let through.

    Bone-conduction headphones

    Bone conduction options are usually wireless headphones that create sound by vibration through bones. Your ears are completely open to the environment, so you’ll still be able to hear possible dangers and marathon runners behind you.

    AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones
    Bone conduction headphones like Aeropex are a great choice for awareness.

    Another relatively new design is also suitable.

    Open-ear headphones

    Open-ear headphones also leave your ears open. But instead of producing sound through bone vibration, they have small speakers that play music next to your ears without blocking the environment.

    TOZO OpenBuds driver opening
    Open-ear earbuds come in true wireless and headband design.

    What are other options?

    You can get classic earphones like the Apple earbuds that don’t block that much ambient noise.

    However, ensure that the headphones you plan to wear while running don’t have active noise cancelling if you are racing in public places (these are the most dangerous).

    Choose the Right Headphones for Your Race

    You can mitigate some of the issues by choosing the right headphones.

    Wireless headphones are less likely to get in the way, and durable headphones are less likely to break during the race.

    You can find the best running headphones and running earbuds here.


    To sum up the key points:

    1. Check the rules on headphones when registering for a race.
    2. Decide if it’s smart to wear headphones depending on safety factors.
    3. Choose the right running headphones.