Runners are hearing no evil

Though barred, audio devices will be common at Sunday's Philadelphia Marathon.

Posted: November 16, 2007

If you're one of the 16,000 runners in Sunday's Philadelphia Marathon, leave your iPod at home.

A ban on iPods, MP3 players and other electronic devices that require headphones will be at least the official policy of the marathon, now in its 14th year, and of USA Track and Field (USATF), the national governing body of running, which sanctions the race.

But the reality is, everybody, including the race organizers, knows full well that plenty of runners, perhaps thousands, will likely willfully and knowingly defy official policy - you know, hoof it to Hootie and the Blowfish or whatever personal mix of tunes gives them the inspiration and energy to make it to the finish line.

"We strongly discourage the use of electronic devices on the course," Randy Giancaterino, a race spokesman, said, quoting official policy.

"We will have monitors on the course, and if we feel it is interrupting the flow of the race, we will react," he said. "But I don't want to say we will be hard-line, pulling people out."

For the last several years, for safety and insurance reasons, USATF's position was to "strongly discourage" iPods and headphones. But starting this year, it instituted an outright ban for races it sanctions, including the Philadelphia Marathon.

"The reason for the change is simple: safety," Jill Geer, a USATF spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Although there have been no iPod-wearing runners hit by buses during races and no costly and messy lawsuits, safety concerns cited by USATF's insurance companies are an issue.

Runners lost in their own world of music can't hear warnings or race-related announcements. Geer also has tales of runners wearing headphones who veered over to grab a cup of water, inadvertently cutting off a runner behind them they couldn't hear. During a call-in radio show on a Los Angeles station last week, Geer heard from a runner who slammed into another runner in front of him when the runner in front dropped his iPod and stopped to pick it up.

Just how strictly to enforce the ban is left up to individual races.

At one extreme, at Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., in June, race officials went among the 7,000 runners, collecting iPods to be returned by mail.

At two more recent and much larger marathons, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington late last month and the New York City Marathon a week ago, iPods and MP3s were "officially discouraged" but generally ignored.

The most widely distributed photo from the New York race was not of the winner crossing the finish line but rather of Katie Holmes, the actress and wife of Tom Cruise, crossing the finish line hours later sporting earbuds.

Ironically, the headphone ban comes at a time of two interesting developments.

One is the advancements in technology that make iPods and MP3 players smaller and lighter, and therefore easier to run with or hide.

The other is the growing popularity of distance running. Once the province of the elite runner who wouldn't think of dampening the experience by listening to an iPod, the sport is attracting more recreational runners whose goal is not to win but to finish.

"They are the ones who tend to wear headphones, people who finish mid- and back-of-the-pack," Geer said. "We do not begrudge them their enjoyment. We actively and warmly welcome them. That said, with more people wearing headphones, it becomes more of a safety issue."

Bottom line: If the winner of any of Sunday's races - the marathon, the half-marathon or the Rothman Institute eight-kilometer run - strides across the finish line wearing headphones in blatant defiance of the rules, he or she will be disqualified, Giancaterino said.

But, Geer said, "if someone doesn't enforce the ban," the organizers "won't have their sanction pulled."

About 16,000 runners are expected to compete in the marathon, which starts at 7 a.m. The half-marathon also is scheduled for 7 a.m., and the eight-kilometer run for 7:30 a.m.

A new feature is a walking tour of the course that starts at 7:15 a.m.

If You Go

What: 2007 Philadelphia Marathon.

When: Sunday, 7 a.m. start.

Starting line: At the steps of the Art Museum on the Parkway.

Course: On fast and flat terrain, runners visit Fairmount Park, Society Hill and Kelly Drive in the 26.2-mile run. The course will be open for seven hours, and the race is sanctioned by USA Track and Field.

Purse: The first man and woman will receive $3,500 each, the second man and woman $2,000 each, the third man and woman $1,000 each, the fourth man and woman $750 each, the fifth man and woman $500 each, the first Masters man and woman $1,000 each, and the first Philadelphia man and woman $1,000 each.

New this year: A "Run With the Olympians" is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday. Free registration begins at 8 a.m. Runners of all ages and ability can run a four-mile course with former Olympians Tim Broe, Carrie Tollefson and Todd Williams. Broe, Tollefson and Williams will run different paces to accommodate runners of every level, and runners can choose their own distances on the out-and-back course.

Online: .

Contact staff writer Joe Logan

at 215-854-5604 or

Read his recent work at

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