I am always amazed to meet people who don't listen to music when they run. I'm sure they are more in tune with their breathing and running than I am. They probably like running a lot more than I do. I've tried running without music once or twice (i.e. was forced to run without music when my ipod crapped out on me) and although it was tolerable, it is not something I would do regularly.
How about running a race without music? I don't think I could do it. Yes, I know that in most races headphones are "illegal" but it's not like I'm trying to qualify for Boston or something. And really, who's going to be out there policing that? For me, music helps me keep a steady pace. I strategically create my race-specific playlists based on the challenges that the course will bring. I always start out with a couple of slower songs so I don't go too fast right out the gate. Then the music starts to pick up a little bit. I usually save the hard-core, inspirational songs for the end when I know I'll be dying to get to the finish line. If the course is hilly all the way through, I'll sprinkle those songs throughout so I have a good mix as I go up and down the hills. I mostly only make playlists for races and then I use those when I do non-race running. (It's great to put them on shuffle and then I don't get bored with them as quickly.)
Recently I read about a cool website in Shape magazine that is perfect for someone who tailors their playlist to help keep a steady pace. The site is http://jog.fm/. What you do is enter your desired pace and it gives you pages and pages of songs that are around that pace. So when I put it 8:00/mile I get songs that range from 7:36/mile to 8:24/mile. I was excited to see that many of the songs are already on some of my lists. There are also a lot of songs that I wouldn't have considered running to but I'd like to try out. You can listen to the songs and then buy them from iTunes or Amazon. You can narrow the search by genre if you want but I like the variety that comes with not selecting a specific type of music. It helps keep it fresh when you can go from Lady Gaga to The Avett Brothers to Eminem to Weezer. And you gotta throw in a little Big Willie Style to keep it fresh.
Go ahead and check out http://jog.fm/ and you might also find inspiration in one of my playlists in the following race posts:
On the run: The Solstice Run - 10 Miles
On the run: Dexter-Ann Arbor 1/2 Marathon
On the run: Live Like Andi 10-Mile Run
On the run: Martian Invasion of the Races 1/2 Marathon
On the run: Riverview Winterfest 4-Mile Run
Do you listen to music when you run?