Audiobooks Instead of Music

When I go skateboarding I listen to fast-paced, action-packed music, and it truly helps me skate better and try things I wouldn’t otherwise try. When I got into triathlon, I figured I’d do the same thing. I had already tried running without music and found it to be incredibly boring, not to mention all I could think about was the pain in my legs. Music helped for a while, but I found that even the music got boring. With skateboarding your mind is constantly engaged because the obstacles, trick choices, and physical activity are constantly changing, and the music form a nice backdrop. But running, biking, and swimming are monotonous, constant activities. In races I’ve found my mind is occupied and I don’t miss the music and I think I would find it a distraction, but in training music isn’t enough for me. Then I discovered books on tape, which of course we now call “audiobooks” because nobody uses portable cassette players anymore, we use iPods.

Perhaps you’re different than I am, but I don’t think I would have the will power to train for a triathlon if I didn’t have audiobooks to listen to during my training. I think I would give up. It’s that critical to my training. In business we would call it a dealbreaker. That is, if I were told I couldn’t listen to audiobooks while running and biking, I think I just might quit.

Audiobooks are different than music in that; 1) you don’t listen to them over and over again and get bored of them, and 2) it keeps your mind actively engaged, rather than passively engaged as with music. The audiobook becomes your primary focus, rather than a secondary focus. This means I can go do a 12-mile run and I don’t get bored and I don’t notice I’m getting tired. The same goes for the bike. It makes it all seem much, much easier.

Now with swimming I’ve never listened to audiobooks or music. There are waterproof headphones and waterproof iPod cases out there, and if one of the companies that makes them wants to send me some I’d be glad to try them out and review them. But I’ve managed to do my swim training without them. I’m not sure if that’s just because I’ve never had the experience of having audiobooks while swimming and so I don’t know what I’m missing, or if I’ve just resigned myself to that fate.

Another huge benefit of listening to audiobooks is that they actually motivate me to train. I don’t know how many times I’ve woken up and thought “Man, I don’t know if I want to go biking today” but then I remembered where I was in the audiobook and realized if I didn’t go biking I’d have to wait until the next time I went training to find out what happened next in the book. I often get so involved in the book I’m listening to that I can’t wait to go on a long bike or a long run so that I can listen to another hour or two of the book. In fact, while recovering from a recent injury that took me completely out of training, one of the primary reasons I couldn’t wait to get back to my training was so that I could read some new books. I really missed having that time to listen to a book and learn something new.

I haven’t found any specific type of book to be better or worse for training. I’ve listened to fiction and non-fiction books. I’ve listened to books on history, economics, and business. I’ve listened to biographies, fantasy novels, science fiction, action/thriller, etc. Right now I’m listening to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and prior to that I was listening to Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy. Most books are 10-20 hours, and so one can listen to 1-2 books per week if you’re training for a full or half Ironman, and I have listened to a LOT of books over the past few years since I got into triathlon.

Some suggestions:

1. Get the iPod Shuffle (shown to the right). It’s small, inexpensive, and convenient. The one downside is that there is no display.

2. If you do get the Shuffle bear in mind it’s kind of a pain to use with Audible.com, the reason being that Audible.com books have HUGE tracks. Atlas Shrugged has several 8-hour long tracks. This means if you are in the middle of a track and you accidentally hit the skip forward button that means you have to fast forward through four hours of audio to get to where you were. I did this twice in one day last week, and each time it took me about 10 minutes to fast forward to where I was.

3. You can get audiobooks on CD from the library for “free” and import them into iTunes and then onto your iPod. However, after putting in 20 CDs for a particularly long book you might decide that it’s worth the $10 next time around to just buy the audiobook from Audible.com or eMusic.com or something.

4. If this is new to you, start out with a book you know you’ll like.

Happy running and biking! And maybe swimming too!

  • tenio

    For listening to audio books, I recommend the Sansa Fuze media player.

    It is cheap, has a screen, has a lock [to prevent skipping] and even remembers where you left off in the book.

    Also check your local library for downloadable audio books. The one near me has a huge selection of books that can be downloaded and put on your iPod or fuze.

    Great post.