How running ‘naked’ made me a stronger person

Summary: By running ‘naked’ you cannot resort to music for motivation – you have to get it from within. This affects other aspects of your life as well.

Yes, you read it correctly – the title says ‘stronger person’, not ‘faster runner’, ‘tougher endurance athlete’ or anything specific. This short post is about how running ‘naked’ – i.e. without earphones, without music, just listening to whatever is happening around me and to the audio signals the body is giving me – made me a stronger person overall, both physically and mentally and both in sport-related and non-sport-related situations. I hope that if you haven’t discovered the benefits of ‘naked’ running yet, you’ll give it a go – and will give yourself some time to get used to it, not giving in at the first hurdle.

Running used to be excruciatingly boring to me (actually, it still isn’t the most riveting of activities that I could think of). The monotonous step by step, rhythmic activity of the muscles and one that, depending on the training, can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 4 hours. There’s a lot of time and opportunity to get bored and music used to help me get through it. I would listen to my favourite albums, funny podcasts and anything really, just to get my mind off the fact that I’m boring myself to death with this monotony. The fact that I had my phone with me at all times (back when I hadn’t had my Garmin yet and tracked my runs through the now disgraceful Nike running app), made running with music possible and simple – even though the big iPhone Plus dangling around in a pocket wasn’t super comfortable.

So when I got my watch and started tracking my runs that way, I organically stopped taking my phone with me to relieve myself of that uncomfortable and unnecessary object and this way my source of music would stay at home, ‘forcing’ me to run ‘naked’. It actually started slightly earlier, when I signed up for my first half-marathon and read that you can’t use music during the event, so I decided that it’s important to get used to running without it. And it was a blessing in disguise.

Sure, the beginnings were tough (and not only the beginnings, but that was to be expected, as I wrote here). The boredom was overwhelming, the thoughts and internal conversations were deafening (not talking here about any kind of schizophrenic voices, just the standard internal critics that everybody’s got – I am mentally different, but not in a clinical way) and I had no choice but to focus on how painful the whole experience was, both from a physical perspective, as well as from the point of view of having to deal with the monotony.

Everybody knows Will Smith’s famous speech about running and how important it is to not give in to that voice that wants you to stop. The comedian Louis CK once talked on Conan about how we’re so afraid to be alone and how uncomfortable it started to make us feel that we’re inadvertently drawn to our mobile phones to desperately try to take our mind off the anxiety / sadness / loneliness etc. I’m mentioning these two things because I noticed that running ‘naked’ has improved my persistence, perseverance, and my patience, as well as the keenness to take my problems head on, instead of numbing them out. Because that’s what you might end up doing if your runs are fuelled by music – every time it gets tougher, you just crank up the volume and overtime you begin to rely heavily on that external stimulus to keep you going (as per Louis CK’s analogy). Take that possibility away – and you’re lost. On the other hand, if you’re running naked, you obviously can’t do that – you can’t turn up the volume of your surroundings, you actually have to deal with the issue at hand, experience it, live through it and survive (which is Will Smith’s point). That makes you stronger every time you succeed. I would argue that it makes you a fuller person if you choose to experience both the pleasant and the unpleasant elements of running (or life in general, actually).

I have noticed that this skill developed through running ‘naked’ – this experiencing of the unpleasant state, having to deal with it, not being able to escape from it through numbing it out, having to survive boredom – has had impact on my ‘non-running’ life. If work’s becoming a bit harder, you have the perseverance built through ‘naked’ runs. You’re sensing a conflict coming up that is needed to increase the effectiveness of the team and normally you would do anything to avoid its unpleasantness, but now you are prepared to tackle it, experience it, not shy away from it, as the long-term benefits will far outweigh the short-term pains. I could be listing pages and pages of these – I’m sure you get where I’m coming from.

Every ‘naked’ run makes you stronger. It makes you reconnect with the signals of your body, it allows you to hear your breathing and identify your heart rate through it. It trains your awareness in general, awareness of your surroundings and attention to detail, making you a better observer through all of your senses. It gives you time to reflect on the day ( or plan the day if you’re running in the morning), which is something that is so often missed, as people forget the importance of just looking back on their actions, learning from them and appreciating all the great things that happened. All of these will have an incredible impact on your day-to-day live, trust me. Finally, from a purely practical perspective, running ‘naked’ is safer,  as you can hear cars coming and can react to other sounds that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to hear with headphones on. Most races ban the usage of earphones, anyway, so you might as well just get used to it now.

To finish this off, I don’t discourage running with music – not at all, if you like it, go for it! What I am recommending is not relying on it every single time to give you strength and exploring your own internal energy sources through running ‘naked’. Give it a go, what do you have to lose?

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