Running With Hearing Loss

I’m not much of an athlete. (For a more accurate statement, eliminate the ‘much of’.)

But recently, when the scales told me it was time for some exercise, I decided to train for a 5-kilometre race (that’s 3 miles, in American). I want to be able to say, “I’m a runner” with that granola-smug look of marathoners and lose a couple of kilos (a few pounds) while I’m at it.

On the first two runs,  I learned that I don’t like running with my hearing aids. The weather was damp and drizzly and I worried about moisture getting into them.  Protective headgear was out because I just don’t do hats. But even more bothersome than the moisture was the noise.

 The smack of feet pounding the pavement.

The vroom of passing cars.

The rasp of my own ragged breathing (this after only one block!)

On the third day, I ran deaf. My hearing loss is severe to profound, so when those techno-babies come out of my ears, my brain discerns nothing. And on my run, nothing is what I heard – no feet, no vehicles, no breathing. I loved it.

But I was also cautious about my safety. The sun was up and I ran on paved sidewalks, well away from the curb. I kept up a 360º lookout – front, back, up, down and sideways –for possible hazards such as bicycles, people or, horror of horrors, dogs who don’t like runners. I steered clear of busy intersections and at small stop streets, I “looked to the left, looked to the right, and looked to the left again” in search of turning cars. I avoided lonely stretches of parkland, on the remote chance that I might not hear a mugger coming up behind me.

And despite the mild stress of constant surveillance, it was the most peaceful run I’d ever had. The trees were flowering and I swear that I smelled the blossoms, the grass and the rainy air more keenly than if I’d been running with sound. (A number of years ago, a friend commented on my keen sense of smell, and wondered if perhaps this sense was actively compensating for my decreased sense of hearing. I suppressed my first reaction – a withering, “are ya stupid?” kind of look – because she’s very intelligent and she’s my friend. But like many people personally untouched by hearing loss, she may have believed the myth that if one sense is weak, the other senses become stronger, e.g., people with hearing loss have better vision. Well, my vision isn’t so great either, but I’ve learned to depend on visual cues.) Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the sights and smells along my running route better than  the day before.

Today, a couple of weeks later, I ran with my hearing aids. I must be in better shape because my breathing is less shallow and my feet aren’t hitting the ground like cement blocks. To avoid the sound of traffic, I followed a quieter, more peaceful street and park route. Many joggers run to music, but using my iPod-telecoil-neckloop combination distracts me from my attention to safety. Besides, my t-coil buzzes beneath the overhead wires, and avoiding the static would mean having to run down the middle of the street – and how safe is that?

Running is the only sport, apart from swimming and sit-ups, that I would ‘do deaf.’ Playing ping-pong with my husband without hearing aids made me dizzy; I needed the sound of the ping and the pong to keep me balanced in the game. And I enjoy the satisfying ‘thud’ of the ball aimed directly at the chest of Mr. Ping-Pong-Champion-of-the-World himself.

Yoga has so far been unsuccessful. In my first class, the room was darkened and the instructor had a lip-covering moustache. Because I couldn’t read his lips or hear his soft-voiced instructions, I watched my husband’s attempts at oral interpretation while trying to copy his yoga movements. My husband is 6-foot, 6-inches of inflexibility and we were not a pretty sight. My friend dragged me to another yoga class where the instructor made us lie on the floor – eyes closed, please! – for visualization exercises. I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

Exercise classes are a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation for people with hearing loss. The noise is so intense that I can feel the beat in every part of my body, even without my hearing aids. But when you’re doing stuff you hate, like jumping jacks, lunges and stomach crunches, hearing the music helps to lessen the pain. But a question for instructors and gym owners: must the music be 100 decibels?! As a hearing health advocate, it drives me crazy to think of all these fitness instructors who may soon have a significant noise-induced hearing loss.

Regular exercise helps lower stress levels and people with hearing loss need all the stress-reduction we can get. I’m still looking for an accessible yoga class, but my 5K training is coming along, safely, one step at a time.

 

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About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a sought-after speaker for her humorous and insightful performances about hearing loss. Unheard Voices and EarRage! are ground-breaking solo shows that illuminate the profound impact of hearing loss on a person’s life and relationships, and which Gael has presented to appreciative audiences around Canada, the United States and New Zealand. A DVD/video version of Unheard Voices is now available. She has received awards for her work, including the Consumer Advocacy Award from the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Gael lives with her husband and son in Toronto.

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Kitty

I wanted to take a tai chi class. So I signed up for one with my 70-something year old Mom. She did great. Me – not so much. Every move had me facing a different direction and I could not find a spot where I could always see either the instructor or someone I could follow. Hubby signed me up at our local gym. I love the stationary bikes since I don’t have to worry about dangerous collisions. I take my faorite reading material and either “go deaf” or used my iPod/loop to block out the noise around me.

Leon Mills

Hello Gael: Thanks for another funny and information post. Like you, I like to exercise when work, family and other commitments allow, but wearing the hearing aids can be a problem sometimes when you sweat too much. However, I hate running as a solo activity. I like team sports, preferrably basketball, and, after getting dinged in the side of the head with a basketball, the impression left in my skull by my BTE convinced me that it wasn’t a good idea to keep wearing them. Also, when I exercise at the fitness centre, I usually leave both BTEs out and… Read more »

Gloria Knous

I began running last fall when in Victoria and I love it. So glad to hear you are enjoying it as well. Your talk about the loud music at arobic classes made me remember why I hated them. And I love exercise.

Tina

LOVE it!! My hearing loss is also Severe/Profound. I play competitive tennis 7 days a week and I’m working on becoming a teaching pro. I’ve tried working out in the gym but the blasted music makes it difficult to hear the Crossfit trainer. I’m not much of a competitive runner but when I do run I have to take my aids out. It’s much more relaxing that way. I just bought a yoga package at a new studio opening up near my house. I’m hoping to find a way to make that work for me. I love the thought of… Read more »