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The Focus, Energy and Drive of the Best Marathon Runners

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One of my favorite weekends in Chicago is the Chicago Marathon weekend. This usually happens the second Sunday of October. This year it was Sunday, October 9, 2016. People come from near and far to run this race because of the beauty of the course and the talent it draws in. The course stretches through many amazing neighborhoods of Chicago and has a long stretch along the magnificent lakeshore. This event is such a fun experience to be a part of. I felt so inspired this year by all of the energy and excitement that I am actually considering participating next year.

“Since the first Chicago Marathon took place in 1977, the number of runners has increased from 4,200 to 45,000, but the race has always been one of the largest marathon road races in the world, making it an obvious member of the World Marathon Majors.”

Every year, my goal is to see the leaders run by. You know, the guys who are running 5:00 minute miles like it’s easy and are barely out of breath. And the girls are not far behind them running about a 5:20 minute per mile pace.


In order to catch them, I have to wake up extra early in order to get a spot along the course that has a direct line of sight where the leaders will run by. This allows me to get the full experience which starts with the flashing lights from the police officers on their motorcycles making a clear path for the leaders . Shortly after the sirens and lights, you can see the truck containing the running clock and them boom–there it is–the most beautiful and inspiring thing you have ever seen.

Click to view video of the before “light show”


Seeing the pack of leaders making their way down the straightaway is truly breathtaking. As they get closer I examine everything about them including their impressive figures, long strides, facial expressions, the focus in their eyes, their breath and their ability to make it all look effortless. I get chills every time I see this, and it brings me back year after year. I find that I don’t even cheer as they run by because I am so in awe in that moment. These dudes are the best of the best. Although, some people may not think of it this way, watching these professional marathon runners run by is like sitting court side at a NBA basketball game and watching Lebron James perform. These people are the best in their field and seeing them perform at their highest level is incredible.

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Click image below to see video of the women leaders


The mindset they have to win is something I will never fully understand. They all think they are the best at what they do embrace their full potential to compete at their highest level.  They don’t let fear hold them back, they lead with passion and are internally driven to be their best self. Of course, these leaders have been training since an early age with the goal of being the fastest marathoner in the world and definitely know how to pace themselves for a winning finish. However, I find myself always wondering how they run 26.2 miles without listening to music or podcasts? Not one of the leaders runs with headphones. Being the ultimate racing experts, they must have a reason right?

After I watch the leaders run by, I also like to see how much time passes until I see the first person with headphones. This year it was about 20 minutes, which means these folks are running about a 6:00 minute/mile pace, compared to the leaders pace of 5:01 minute/mile.


With some research, I have found that elite runners (5 minute milers) do not listen to music because it interferes with their concentration and performance. Elite runners need to be able to focus on the way their body feels, their surroundings, the deepness of their breath, their mental focus, and be able to hear their competitors every move. This allows them to slip into an almost meditative state throughout the 26.2 miles. These runners must be physically and mentally present to allow them to compete at their highest level.

Running without music also seems to be a safety precaution considering that the leaders tend to run very close together in packs and every stride or subtle movement counts.

It’s said that amateur runners use music as a way to escape from the run itself. (It’s hard to use the word amateur for anyone who can run 26.2 miles. Anyone that can run 26.2 miles no matter how fast, should get an award in my book). But, many Chicago marathoners use music as a way to distract them from the physical and mental demands of the race.

Overall, these elite marathoners make running their life’s purpose. It’s much bigger than just receiving a medal. They literally run their heart out every time and many use their winnings to build better communities and provide resources to the underprivileged. Their purpose is what gives them the focus, energy, and drive to win.

Bottom line is that if you find your purpose—it seems focus, energy, and drive will naturally follow, allowing you to perform at your highest level.

Not sure what your purpose is? Here are some questions to help you find it.


  1. What are your core values? What are some rules that you live by?
  2. How do you spend your free time?
  3. What were some of your favorite things to do as a kid?
  4. Is there an overlap between how you spend your free time and what you value?
  5. What would you do if money didn’t matter?
  6. What are you good at?
  7. What makes you unique?
  8. What do people say about you?
  9. What makes you happy? What kinds of things do you look forward to?
  10. What motivates you? What energizes you?


These questions will help you to find your passion and your passion will allow you to find your purpose.