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March 21, 2014

On The Run column: The strange sounds of running

The next time you go running — whether it’s on the road, trail or treadmill — try this:

Just listen.

Specifically, listen to yourself. What do you sound like when you run?

Those runners who listen to music while they run probably never hear what they sound like. If you were to record the audio of yourself running, it probably would sound pretty strange out of context.

I ran a 5K in Cambridge last weekend and for distances that short, I never listen to music. All I could hear was my own breathing and footfalls — and those of all the runners around me. And we all sounded different.

I’ve got big feet that tend to clomp when I run, and in a race like a 5K I breathe heavily because I’m pushing myself harder than I normally do. Then there’s the spitting; I spit a lot when I run. So it’s quite the cacophony of not-very-pleasant sounds when I’m on the road.

The sounds vary, depending on where you are in the road race food chain. The elite runners aren’t carrying as much weight as the rest of us and are also much more efficient with their breathing, so you’re not going to hear as much noise from them. Most lead runners tend to almost glide when they run; it’s all about economy of motion. They even look smooth as they chug along. Watch the lead runners at the Boston Marathon next month; for most of the race, it doesn’t even appear as though they’re breaking a sweat at they tear through those sub-5-minute miles.

The middle-of-the-pack runners are more muscular and tend to carry more weight than your elite runners, so there’s more going on. You might hear more grunting and the occasional huffing and puffing, especially when a hill is involved. Form is less of a concern. You see a bit of arm-flailing, some serious foot-pounding and a whole lot of sweat after the first few minutes.

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