Running a 5K with AirPods Pro: Five questions answered

Apple AirPods Pro for Running
(Image: © iMore / Russell Holly)

Most reviews of the new AirPods Pro talk about the things you're going to use them for everyday. The new noise cancellation is great, the battery is essentially unmatched without a giant battery case, and the sound quality is improved, but not really enough to be considered near the high end. Like their predecessors, these are impressive earbuds, with a lot of smarts in them to make your life easier when you're just about anywhere.

But what about when you're running 3.1 miles around your neighborhood at 7AM, with the sun rising behind you and a fleet of cars pulling out of driveways to head to work? Are Airpods Pro the thing you want to reach for when running a 5K? I had a lot of questions, and after my run today found no shortage of clear answers.

Is Transparency Mode good enough to run on the road?

Running or riding near cars can be incredibly dangerous if you can't hear what's going on around you. And while many "sport" headphones offer a microphone passthrough similar to Apple's new Transparency mode, there's usually an audible delay in the sounds of the real world and the sounds in the headphones. It's not a huge delay, but enough to annoy me while I'm running and make me a little nervous.

Transparency Mode on AirPods Pro reduces that latency considerably and made running a lot more comfortable. The audio coming through was still nice and clear, but when a car came up behind me I could hear it with plenty of time to react. It made me feel just as safe as I feel when wearing my bone conduction headphones where my ears are completely uncovered, which I've never been able to say about another pair of earbuds before.

Are they loud enough to compete with the great outdoors?

Absolutely. My comfort range with AirPods Pro while running outside is between 50-60% volume, and with that, I can clearly hear and enjoy music and podcasts even when running near the airport with super loud planes taking off every few minutes.

But if you really need to crank it up, you absolutely can. These earbuds get plenty loud, and so far I've not found anything capable of drowning out the quality sounds they produce.

Does Hey Siri work outside?

It does. In fact, Siri in general works better than expected when outside. The microphones on AirPods Pro are exceptional and make it so, not only can you use this feature while running, but you also don't really need to raise your voice. I was running mostly alongside cars this morning, and in a conversational tone, could skip tracks in Spotify with ease.

This already worked pretty well on AirPods and continues to shine on AirPods Pro.

Is the stem button easy to use while running?

YES. This is so much better than tapping on the stem the way you have to with the standard AirPods. The stem button requires you to squeeze, which is way easier to do when your body is in motion.

The rate of misfire for tapping the AirPods, even when I was standing still, was frustrating and basically impossible while running. AirPods Pro is a lot easier to use, all the time.

People who love the tap on AirPods may find the squeeze a little less convenient, but I personally love this new method of controlling playback.

Will these things stay in my ear?

Easily the most important part of this whole test was making sure I could comfortably run outside with AirPods Pro in. Like I said at the top, my ears just couldn't hold the original AirPods and do much of anything physical without falling out. It was a huge pain, and ultimately made me return them and pick up a set of bone conduction headphones instead.

AirPods Pro, however, stay in my ear and fit nice most of the day.

On the first mile of my run, everything stayed in place exactly the way earbuds are supposed to, and they felt great. Halfway through the second mile, I could feel my AirPods Pro start to move around a little and slowly wiggle out of my ear. By the end of that second mile, I could hear the outside world clearly because the Transparency Mode seal had been broken as the buds slid out of my ears. Halfway through the second mile, it felt like the earbuds were falling out, so I pushed them back into my ears. But this wasn't a permanent solution. I could feel them start to slide again a few moments later. By the time I had finished the 5K run, I had pushed the stems back into my ears three times. The AirPods Pro never actually fell out of my ears, but the fit became far less seated and snug as I continued to run.

Ultimately, AirPods Pro are significantly more likely to stay in your ears and be more comfortable while you work out than original AirPods. And with the new Transparency Mode alongside the Stem Button and improved Hey Siri controls, AirPods Pro are a lot safer and more comfortable to use out of a gym environment. That doesn't necessarily make these great workout earbuds, especially if you're doing anything over a longer period of time, but they're good enough that most people could use them and not feel like they need a separate pair of headphones for when they're working out.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at iMore. He's a passionate futurist whose trusty iPad mini is never far from reach. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Reach out on Twitter!

10 Comments
  • Are they comfortable with a stocking cap or head band that covers your ears? This is good information for us Midwest runners that face cold mornings, well at least for me and my wimpy ears that get cold very quickly. The original AirPods feel great to me and work well under a stocking cap, but the Beats version don't so I don't look at ones like that.
  • Yup, I wore a knit cap when I ran this morning and it was super comfortable
  • So it seems like they aren’t good for running then. Pushing in 3x wiggling and stuff. May be less distracting to just put on a pair of sport headphones.
  • I feel like that's what I said at the end of this?
  • Great article! But I found your final sentence very confusing. Kind of a double negative?
  • Nice write up. But people are interpreting your article based on what they want you to say. They, for some reason, want (need) you to convince them not to buy them.
  • It's 1 article, and not indicative of every user. I've ran with the without issue.
  • I tried them on a few runs, and was annoyed that I still get the "ear bud thumping" with each footstep. The regular AirPods with the open design, sound so much better. I just put some slip on loops for running and they never move. I can't stand the "Runners Thump" with earbuds and these have it.
  • Totally agree. Ran 4 miles with them last night and the thump is real. They didn’t budge for me though - maybe that’s a matter of picking a big enough size tip. I also found transparency to be nerve-racking - for me, that mode with music playing blocks out way too much surrounding noise compared to original buds. I know the tech is amazing, so maybe that’s just something psychological that I will get over? I also found the squeeze control to be way harder to manage while running. It was very difficult to squeeze as intended while in motion without creating annoying pulling on the buds. One of my favorite things about AirPods (non-pro) is being able to thump indiscriminately on the side of my head with a hat, gloves, whatever else on - but that’s always worked very accurately for me. Going to try these for another week or so to make sure I give them a fair shot, but I’m leaning towards returning them and switching back to the originals. Glad to find this article - hadn’t seen one yet specifically speaking to running with these things in.
  • Update on this: Went for another run this morning in the cold with a running cap that covers ears. Transparency mode amplifies the fabric rubbing against the external microphone, and while in motion the effect was very unpleasant. I switched to noise cancellation mode, which worked fine, but made me nervous while street running. Also, I realized that the force sensor won't work with gloves on, as it's capacitive. Understandable, but could be annoying if you don't want to use Siri in certain situations.