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Malcolm Gladwell says running with music is “soft”

The acclaimed Canadian author talks to Outside Magazine about why he runs

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell and Dave Reid coming into the finish at an Ontario school race in 1978. Photo: Bob Olsen.

Acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell‘s running roots date back to his childhood in the small town of Elmira, Ont.

The then-national class runner was an Ontario high school (OFSAA) champion and to this day, regularly tweets about the sport to his more than 450,000 followers. Recently, the author best known for penning Outliers, The Tipping Point and David and Goliath, spoke with Outside Magazine about his relationship with running.

Gladwell spoke to Outside Magazine for an online piece entitled “Eight of Our Favourite Writers on Why They Run.” In the piece, Gladwell admits that his favourite runner, in the context of the conversation, is American Ben True, who has run 13:02.74 for 5,000m and is a multiple-time U.S. champion. True took notice of the shout out too.


The 53-year-old, who has authored five New York Times bestselling books, tells Outside Magazine that he never runs early in the day saying that “it’s a waste of the morning.” The author, who is introduced as a “self-described running obsessive who ranked nationally in high school in Ontario, Canada,” then speaks to listening to music while running.

“I think it’s soft to run with music,” he says. “It’s people who are running from their running. They’re trying to distract themselves while they’re running. That seems to me—what’s the point? If you don’t want to run, if the act of running is so terrifying to you that you need to blast music in your ears, then you should be doing something else.”

Instead of listening to his favourite tunes, Gladwell says he “free-associates” and pretends to be his favourite distance runner, at times not even realizing it. Citing True, Gladwell says the runner “has a very distinctive running style, sort of thrusts his chest out, with very high knee lift.”

You can read the full discussion with Gladwell, as well as words from Haruki Murakami, the author of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, here.