The Elite Experience- Chicago Marathon 2014

Thank you so much for all the positive feedback on my post on about the race. I was hesitant to put it up as it was SO long, and thought it may get boring, but it seemed like everyone enjoyed reading my raw, emotional response to the race. The feedback was so wonderful, and makes me want to keep going for that dream, no matter how long it takes. Thank you for that.

However, I think this is the post the runners out there are really interested in. How the elites are treated at the Chicago Marathon. I am pretty sure whatever you can imagine, it was even better. It was an incredible experience, and once I hope to replicate in the future.

Lets start with the very beginning. It is all thanks to Larry Rosenblatt.

Larry is the parent of an athlete I coached while at La Salle, who put in a good word for me with the Chicago Marathon race director, Carey Pinkowski. Carey was willing to give me the opportunity to run Chicago as an elite; all the perks, all the support, and the opportunity very few athletes have. I was one of a select group of 108 total; both gender runners and wheelchair athletes. That is really not very many!

For a few months, the elite athlete coordinator, Bridget Montgomery, one of the sweetest people I have ever met, sent us information about the race. She had us fill out paperwork, and just check everything was running smoothly. I was so thankful I got to know Bridget over this time, and loved her even more once I met her in person.

Steve and I drove to Chicago on the Friday. We decided to drive as O’Hare airport is notorious for delays, and it was only 6 hours….besides, that gave us the opportunity to check out wedding venues on the way home!

I have decided it would be easier to cover the rest of the weekend as a timeline, highlighting the events that involved the elite athlete experiences!

2pm- Arrived at the Downtown Chicago Hilton, and checked into my room….on the 25th floorIMG_6149

Tried to close my dropping jaw as I realized just how close we were to the course. Immediately I was concerned with how much this beautiful hotel would cost for a room during this busy weekend. Definitely a luxury I could never afford!

2:45pm Used my executive hotel room key to access the T1 Floor, checked in the elite athlete registration

  • Filled out paperwork for tax purposes
  • Received multiple “perks” of being an elite
    • Per diem for food and travel expense costs
    • Chicago marathon hoodie and t-shirt
    • Chicago marathon bottles for filling with our elite fuel. I actually did not need these as Enduropacks were kind enough to send me some to use. I did take some for souvenir purposes though 🙂
    • All-access passes for Steve and IIMG_6146

3:15pm Checked out the elite athlete lounge

This room is heaven. This is the view

Stunning view of Lake Michigan

There are bowls of candy, pretzels, trail mix all around the room, and unlimited supplies of bananas, coffee, tea, granola bars, gatorade for us.  I caught up with some friends, Melissa White and Her Husband Chad, and Alexi Pappas, who was my roommate for the weekend.

Alexi informed me that someone had been calling the room all day trying to get ahold of me; I had been randomly selected for drug testing.

3:30pm Cluster Interviews in one of the Conference Rooms

Each of the elite athletes are given a designated time where they need to be in the conference room, for photographers and media personnell to ask them questions. By the time my group was in the media center, there were not many reporters left in there, so I just chatted with some of the other athletes, including Sarah Crouch (who I have known for many years through racing in College), Melissa, and Lauren Jimison. We had a fun time talking, and going over drug testing experiences.

IMG_60604pm To the drug testing room

I hate needles. HATE them. To the point where I almost pass out every time, and steve had to hold my hand while I gave blood. Yes, that is pathetic! It was a shockingly detailed process involving selecting a tube from a random pile, and then selecting a bag to seal it into. I had to check the numbers matched up with multiple different pieces of paper, and remove all the caps myself. Lets just say the doping agency makes sure there can be absolutely no claims about mix ups! It was pretty intense, and funny that some people actually care whether they select bag number 65839628 over bag 2749538. Regardless, I survived!

5pm Hung oIMG_6071ut with Alexi in our room, staring at the view from our window

6pm Took the train to Rosebud on Rush for dinner with the Saucony athletes

Saucony took us out to dinner at a local italian restaurant that makes all its pasta, sauces, everything, fresh! I loved that! We were treated to a very lavish meal, and as much as I stuffed myself so full that I could not even manage ANYTHING for dessert (that NEVER happens), I did not even get halfway through the biggest, thickest bowl of pasta I have ever seen.

It was great to meet the other Saucony athletes, and talk to the Global Marketing Directors at Saucony. It was lovely to meet Clara Santucci (who ended up 2nd American, running 2:32!). One of the other Hurricane Guys; Phil, gave Steve and I some great advice about the race.

9pm Back into the room

Alexi and I sat chatting for a while, but we wanted an early night, as we can never sleep the night before races. Alexi was the pacer for the Olympic Trials A Standard this weekend, so had a very important job and also needed to rest up.

Saturday October 13th, 6:00am IMG_6065

I woke up, and headed down to the lobby so I did not wake Alexi. Walked around to get my legs moving a little, and enjoyed the quiet morning

IMG_60737:30am Met down in the lobby, waited for a few more people before our shakeout run

Deena Kastor and Lauren Jimison come to talk to us for a few minutes. They informed us they were going to do a Runners World Group shakeout, we watch them drive off in a taxi (and a few minutes later run by them!). I also talked to Dathan Ritzenheim for a few minutes about what to do if your bottle is knocked off the table. He gives me some very good advice, and convinced me to carry a gel with me for emergencies.

7:45am Pre-race run and stretch

Alexi, her coach Ian Dobson, and a few other athletes, went for a very easy 6 miles around Shed Aquarium

9:30am Meet SUZ in the hotel lobby!

We walked to Corner Bakery Cafe, and I enjoy my beloved Swiss Oatmeal. As much as I wanted to go for something more exciting, I had to be safe with my stomach. Non stop chatter for about an hour, before we have to head back to the hotel.


11am Uniform check

My Saucony logo is WAY too big for the tiny box that is legal for this race based on IAAF standards. A certain brand with a deep wallet makes it pretty difficult for the other brands to promote themselves at events like this. I am told I either need to race in something different, or cover my logo with tape on my jersey and shorts. PANIC!

This is what I ended up doing with my jersey to start the race

11:10am Call Brian Mahoney (Saucony Rep)

Brian tells me to come to the Expo, and he will see what he can do.

11:30am Take the shuttle to the Expo, tapping my foot the entire way as I am DESPARATE to pee, but at least I know I am hydrated!

11:50am Find the Saucony tent at the expo.

Brian is kind enough to let me take a few things I want from their selection, and a second option for a racing outfit if I do not want to tape my jersey.

Thank you Saucony for the new apparel for Steve and I!

1:00pm Take the bus back to the hotel

TooIMG_6076k a train to meet my Ferris State teammate Mikinzie, and joined later by another old teammate, Travis

2:00pm Fill elite fluid bottles with Genucan in the elite athlete lounge, and deliver to the drop off

At the elite athlete technical meeting

I wish I took a picture of my bottles, they were decorated with a union jack flag, yellow ribbons, my name, and an inspiring quote (which I did not pay attention to in the race).

3:30pm Elite athlete meeting

We are given details about the next 24 hours; what to expect before, during and after the race. We were also told what the Kenyan athletes had decided they wanted the pacemakers to go at. The men chose 61 minutes for the first half, and the women 69 minutes!

4:30pm Buffet dinner

This was the perfect pre race meal. I loaded my plate with marinara pasta, baked potatoes, rice, bread, and a toffee chip cookie. How is that for carb-loading!

After dinner, my table sat around talking for quite a while. It was so much fun, and we did not stop laughing. I had a good group including Alex, Ian, Steve, Patrick Rizzo, Christo Landry, Craig Leon, and Dan (I don’t know his last name). It was great to relax, and just talk about things other than running. We decided that our table was a mis-fit family, each with our roles.

I LOVE this photo! We are a family!

6:30pm Back to the room to relax

Alexi and I talked for a few hours, and just chilled out. This girl is amazing, seriously. If you do not know her, you need to follow her. She is currently working on a movie called Tracktown, with her boyfriend Jeremy. She is the writer, director, and starring actor for the movie! She is insanely talented in so many areas (including running of course), and just a wonderful person!

One of our many photos we sent to Larry. I have never had anyone take a picture of me brushing my teeth before!

8:30pm Lights out for these racers

4:15am Alarm goes off 

Alexi and I head downstairs to the elite breakfast they have for us. I drink a hot chai tea with stevia, 1 1/2 bowls oatmeal, and a banana. We head back to the room, and get ready to leave

5:00am Wake up call for all athletes, but we are already up!

IMG_60895:15am Meet in the lobby 

Our bags are sniffed by dogs, bibs are scanned, there are photographers everywhere, and all the while, we are trying to stay calm!

5:30am Leave for the courseIMG_6092

We board the school buses that will transport us to the course. I sit next to Melissa, and we talk about Michigan to distract ourselves.

Police escorts help the buses make their way through the busy streets of Chicago. All cars have to move out the way for us, and sitting near the front, we got to see all the drama. It was actually really exciting; you feel like a celebrity being escorted around. They moved barriers for us, pulled cars over for us, and dropped us off right at the elite tent (less than 50m from the start line!). Between trips to the bathroom, we sit around together in the heated tent, staring at our watches until it is time to go.

6:40am Warm up with Melissa in the warm up area they have set aside.

While we jog laps of the warm up area, I notice the Kenyans are absolutely flying around! Probably running faster than my race pace!

7:00am Use the port-a-potty for the 150th time

“okay, last time Tina” (for the 3rd time)

7:10am Called to the course

We are taken to a small area to jog around, do final drills and strides. I am very aware that Bekele is right next to me stretching!

I remove my final layers, and try to enjoy the moment, while my heart pounds out of my chest.

7:25am The American Development corral gate opens

The men push towards the front, making it rather crowded at the start! With the other female elites, I am pushed towards the side. I noticed someone had peed on the floor. After wondering if I could do the same, I decide to ignore it and look at the skyline instead.

7:30am Horn echoes all around, and we are off!

Read my recap of the race HERE

10:30am Finally see the elite athlete tent, after walking around like a zombie for the last 15 minutes

Steve runs towards me, I start crying in his arms.

When we get to the tent, I spend about 1 minute trying to decide whether to sit or not; whether the pain of getting back up is worth the few seconds of rest sitting will give me. I decided to go for it. Steve helps me put some of my warm up clothes back on, I talk to Sarah Crouch for a moment, before going back to the hotel.

10:40am Shuttled back to the hotel on a golf cart with Lisa Uhl 

We talk about our experiences in the race, while we try to ignore the throbbing that is now starting to build in our legs.

10:45am Steves parents, and my friends Sam and Bill, are waiting for me outside the hotel. 


I talk to them for a little while, before I remember that I was meant to check in with the media center, Steve and I slowly walk down to the media center, and talk to a few of the other athletes about their races. The general consensus is that today was not a good day for most. I feel a little better about my performance, and then I see Alexi. Alexi gives me the biggest hug, and best pep talk. I felt much better after that!


11:00am Breakfast/Lunch in the media room

IMG_6094After a few minutes of arguing with myself about fueling, I decide that the idea of eating a wrap makes me feel like I want to throw up. I opt for a protein bar and banana instead, and force that down. I talk to a few of the officals (including legend Dave Bedford) about the possibility of racing in the London Marathon next April.

11:30am Shower, and pack up my bagsIMG_6114

12:00pm check out of the hotel, and thank Bridget one last time for a wonderful experience

From there, Steve and I met my bridesmaid Kelli, who was kind enough to bring me my favorite cupcakes. We got back in the car and went on to visit the two locations we are considering for our wedding along Lake Michigan!

And that was my weekend! Apologies if it was a little too long, but I really thought it would be best to show a real inside look into the perks of being an elite, but also to show that there is not a lot you can control over this weekend. You have to be prepared to do whatever they ask, and there are a lot of events you have to attend. I had a wonderful time, and I am so honored I was given this opportunity. I am hoping this is not my last major elite experience, but I think my next marathon may be an event where I do not feel so much pressure (from myself) to perform. Maybe one of the smaller marathons? We will see!

What do you think? Is this what you expected?



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  • Ugh, the needle part. Never thought about that! Bleh, the worst. Give you credit! Love the hotel! The goodies are the best on club levels. Reminds me of the Ritz and Waldorf towers. I still think about the chocolate chunk cookies I used to snag…So proud of you still for this race. So much goes into it and I know you weren’t thrilled with your finish but I am : )

  • loved this post! It’s so interesting to see all of the ins and outs! Looks like a great weekend!

  • Love the behind the scenes tour, but you know me, if I had to choose which recap, it would be your previous recap over this every time 😀 I can’t believe the logo thing. That is so freaking silly (although strategic). I’m glad that you went with the pink–I love your pink singlet. I’m also glad that even as regulated as everything was, you were still able to find time to relax and collect, or try to collect yourself. It would have been terrible if they had put the big dinner super late, for example, and it was great that they let you use the Enduro Paks bottles, rather than stipulating that you use theirs. Those little expectations and mental preparations are so crucial to your peace of mind when out on course.
    Thank you so much for sharing, Tina! NOW GETCHOSELF BACK OUT HERE

  • Sounds like a fabulous experience. It’s fun to be treated like a VIP once in a while. You totally deserve it. Fun you got to meet Suzy-cute pic. OOh London next year sounds amazing 🙂

  • haha i think we stayed at that hotel for chicago triathlon. and james has definitely passed out with the needles too. LOL!

  • Thanks for sharing, it’s really interesting to get a peak into what it looks like for the elites – sounds amazing! You will definitely get another experience to race as an elite, this is just the beginning 🙂 I love those sweatshirts – they look so cozy!

  • Such a cool experience for you as an elite. I’m still baffled about the Singlet thing… I’m 100% certain I know which brand you are talking about that makes it difficult for everyone else. Insane that you had to put tape over Saucony!!! I knew a few other hurricanes running that didn’t have to but they weren’t in elite corral so that must be why they didn’t have to. Either way though, so ridiculous!!

  • Yuck for the needles and drug test! Needles also skeeze me out and I would hate to be poked and prodded just a day before my race. I loved reading this and getting a peak into the elite life, though. It looks like you and Alexi had a lot of fun rooming together and that you had an enjoyable time with all the other athletes, even if the race results weren’t what you wanted. Good luck if you decide to do London!

  • What an amazing weekend Tina! I am so sorry that the race did not go as you had planned and hoped, but you have much to be proud of and certainly have a 2:3x coming soon! Thanks for sharing your experiences with the race and as an elite. I loved reading it. You have lots of fans cheering you on. 🙂

  • Wow! Snazzy. Sounds exciting. I’m sure after awhile this treatment will be old hat for you! 🙂

  • Thanks for a peek behind the scenes and what the world is like for elites. The couple times I have been able to experience VIP at a race, it has been AMAZING. It makes you realize that there is this second world at the start and end of a race.

  • Oh Tina, you worked so hard! I devoured this post word for word. I’ve yet to read your rave recap, but it sounds like all the luxury and pampering of the trip with the fancy buffets and hotels came at a cost–the exhausting race. I hope you will make more posts like these. 🙂 (do you have a “Day in the life” post yet?)

  • I love getting a sneak peak into the elite experience, thank you for sharing! A whole different world. And quite a busy race weekend!

  • Thanks for sharing. It would be a wonderful experience to have, but yes very busy!!

  • Now that’s quite an experience — thanks for sharing, lady! But man oh man I’m not sure how I would have done in the drug testing… Needles are an absolute nightmare for me, and I -have- passed out having blood drawn before. Some things I’ve found that really help, though, are: laying down, tapping yourself on the thigh, and listening to really loud music through headphones. Anything to keep your attention!

  • Very cool experience! I always wondered what it was like to be an elite. Thanks for giving us an in-depth peak into it. 🙂

  • I loved reading this!!
    No way that this will be your last experience as an elite – many more to come!!
    Did Steve have to stay some where else?

    • Thanks Kim! I hope not! He stayed with friends, he hung out with us during the day, but just left for bedtimes 🙂 nice to have some girl bonding time too!

  • I love reading about your elite experiences. 🙂 Sounds like they really treated you well. The view from the hotel room is amazing! I’m with you on needles–I had some bloodwork done three weeks ago and I was trembling so badly the nurse refused to let me leave after the blood draw until I stopped shaking. Not fun. Hope your legs are feeling a little better now!

  • What an awesome way to experience racing. You’ve earned it my friend. So well deserved.

  • I did not know what to expect but I found it very interesting! Than you for sharing from your world!

  • What a fun and unique experience! The positives would be worth the negatives. Glad you shared!

  • Very cool experience! Loved that you shared all of this – super interesting to hear what it’s like to race as an elite.

  • Loved reading this, Tina! Being an elite sounds so cool, but they definitely deserve all the nice treatment they get for how hard they work! Even if you didn’t get the time you were hoping for, I’m still so impressed and in awe of how great of a runner you are! Reading about your runs always makes me want to train my hardest and (maybe) someday be an elite!!

  • I raced in Chicago as well, although I ran with the American Development Program, not elite. At the start everyone took off and I was caught up in the adrenaline of it all. I saw you up ahead and told myself I read your blog enough to know I had no business being so close to you and that I could not pass you but then around mile 3 I passed you (oh, how I wish I could go back and slow myself down). Around mile 15 I slowed a bit but the wheels started to come off for me at mile 20 and shortly thereafter you passed me back (I told you good job, not that you would remember that). I ended up finishing in 2:46:31. I was gunning for an OTQ time so not the day I wanted but still a pretty descent PR for me. Anyway, I just wanted to say it was fun to recognize you out there even if you had no idea who I was and hopefully next race we’ll both hit the times we’d like (Chicago was only my second competitive marathon as well).

  • Great recap! This is the first look into what it is actually like racing as an elite that I’ve ever come across, so I really loved the sneak peek. A couple questions – why do the Kenyans get to pick the pacemakers’ pace? And what were the porta potties like in the elite tent? (I imagine they are nicer/don’t run out of toilet paper like the regular ones haha). It also looks like the runners you were with all were very friendly and supportive, which is awesome to hear. What was the mood like in the elite tent as race time approached?

    Thanks for the recap again and I’m looking forward to following along on your running career!

    • Hi Katie! Thanks for the comment 🙂 glad you enjoyed it! There will be plenty more posts like this in the future! As for your questions, the kenyans got to select the pacemaker paces because they were at the front going for the records! The Americans knew it was unrealistic for them to try go with them, so they get to choose what pace the front pace makers go at! I am sorry to disappoint you (or maybe not :p), but the porta potties were the same, just more per person so we didn’t have to wait 🙂 the mood was nervous, not tense, just you could tell everyone was just itching to get going! Looking at our watches every 2 minutes! Thanks again for your support! 🙂

  • Okay, I feel like this is nothing like I expected. Seriously, the anti-doping stuff is way more intense than I ever would have thought.

    Here is my thing about doping: as a runner, I feel like I take a lot of care to not put non-natural stuff in my body because running is super intense and the last thing I want is a heart attack. I feel like a lot of serious runners are the same way. How can people still dope?? Are they not terrified of their heart exploding?

  • Really cool to read about a race experience from the viewpoint of an elite!If only I could be that fast 😉 Going over to your recap now to read that too!

  • I had no idea about the rules regarding logos on singlets. Wow. That is so interesting. I also love the shorts you are wearing after the race. I’m in the market for a new pair and since Brooks doesn’t have a short tight pair at the moment, those Saucony ones look great. It sounds like it was an incredible experience leading up to the race. Congrats on being among this awesome group. Very cool and something you will remember.

  • Great to hear how the other half race, Tina.

    Just out of interest, whilst you were accommodated by the Chicago Marathon, did Steve have to look after himself (financially)

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