Race Offerings for Sub-Elites


Behind the elite athletes on the front of the line of races like the 2016 U.S.A. Half Marathon Championship at the Cap City Half are sub-elites trying to chase them down.

Last week I explained who sub-elite runners are, but now it’s time to tell you what is available for those of you who are currently in that group and those of you with the goal of making it into that group. As you get faster and as your goals become more lofty, you will likely need more and more support to reach them. That support can come in many shapes, such as family, friends, training partners, and flexible jobs, but today I want to explain what some races offer in the way of support for sub-elites like current or future you. From major marathons to shorter road races to national championships, there are many races looking to help you reach your dreams. 

Major Marathons


Boston Marathon

Assuming you’ve met basic standards and are looking for sub-elite opportunities, the Boston Marathon will require an email to the elite coordinator. Generally speaking, there are two levels of elite entry at Boston. One is the John Hancock Elite Team, which includes sponsored pros and others at the top of the field, so probably not a good bet for a sub-elite. The level most likely appropriate for you is the BAA Elite Team, which will include sub-elite runners, providing them with some of the special treatment on race weekend, like their own bus to the start, fluid stations, or VIP tent at the finish. But do not expect the luxuries of a free hotel, flight, or meals.

California International Marathon

In order to be considered as elite for CIM, you need to complete an Elite Application for consideration. Basic requirements for women are a recent 2:50 marathon or 1:20 half. In the application you must provide your lifetime marathon PR, recent best marathon or half marathon performance, and any sponsor or team affiliation.

Chevron Houston Marathon

To run as an elite at Houston you must run at least a 2:32 marathon within 18 months of the race. But don’t fret, sub-elites! Houston also has an athlete development program (ADP), which “includes a limited number of runners that are provided the opportunity to have a priority starting location on race day.” With a qualifying time of 2:50 for a full or 1:25 for a half marathon, you get a free entry and start right behind the elite runners. However, an ADP entry does not include your own fluid bottles on the course.

Chicago Marathon

Chicago offers what might be the best opportunity for sub-elites, with its American Development Program. Qualifying standards for women are more generous than many of the other marathon sub-elite programs on this list: sub 3:01 full or sub 1:21 half within 18 months of the race. The American Development Program includes a separate and secure start and finish area tent, private toilets, gear check, an AD start corral 15 minutes prior to the start and directly behind the elites.

Grandma’s Marathon

“Whether you’re running a mile or a marathon, prove your running chops and you could get elite support,” boasts the Grandma’s Marathon website. While there are no set standards, you could qualify for travel, lodging or food assistance. To apply, send “your complete running resume highlighting your best times during the past three years in distances from 5k to marathon.” You can email them to the elite coordinator here, fax it to 218-727-7932, or mail it to PO Box 16234, Duluth, MN 55816.

NYC Marathon

Besides simply qualifying to get in, information regarding sub-elite or elite entry is hard to find for NYC. You’ll need to email them. A Letsrun forum mentioned that the top 50 fastest entries after the elites gain “sub-elite” entry status. In 2015 they released their sub-elite qualification standards for men as 2:35 for a full and 1:12 for a half, and women in 3:05 for a full and 1:27 for a half, but when you try to access the current sub-elite qualification standards you need authorization.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Half & Full Marathons

The RnR series eliminated its elite-runner program for a stint, but have since brought it back, thank goodness. Let’s break it down:

  • For travel & hotel, the standard for women is a sub 2:33 marathon or 1:11 half.
  • For travel assistance only ($250), the standard for women is a sub 2:35 full or 1:13 half.
  • For race day VIP consideration, the standard for women is a sub 2:51 full or 1:18 half.
  • For comp entry (for most races), the standard for women is a sub 2:59 full or 1:25 half.

*Half Marathon time standards must be run within one year, while a marathon qualifying time must be run within the last two years.

Prize purses may vary depending on which RnR race you do, and some offer performance bonuses too.

Twin Cities Marathon

To qualify for the elite race at Twin Cities, the qualifying standard for women is a sub-2:49 marathon run within the previous two years or an equivalent performance in a shorter or longer race. If you don’t quite have these marks, you can still ask to be included, as the elite coordinator is allowed to add to the field at his or her discretion.

Major Non-Marathon Races 


Bloomsday 12k

This is my favorite race of all time. To qualify for Bloomsday as an elite the race website says if an entrant is “at least 13 years of age and have a reasonable chance of finishing in the top 50 overall, male or female (5:15 pace for men, 6:30 pace for women), they may qualify for Elite Seeding. After mailing an entry form or entering online before the posted on-time deadline, runners who wish to be considered for this category should email information verifying their ability to Elite Seeding Coordinator John Neill.”

The website also states that “the Lilac Bloomsday Run has a limited budget for travel and lodging expenses for top competitors. Runners who believe they have a chance of finishing in a prize money position MAY be eligible for travel and/or lodging assistance.”

There is also Second Seeding and Senior Seeding opportunities. Can I also just say this race only costs $18!

Vancouver Sun Run 10k

As an International race, the standards for elites vary and encompass a larger scope of talent. “Leading local, national and international athletes are invited to compete for a prize purse of $25,000. Subject to availability, The Vancouver Sun Run will provide travel assistance, complimentary accommodation, complimentary entry, and VIP treatment to qualifying athletes.”

If you are interested in participating, applications for elite assistance must be received by March. Standards for elite women is 34:30 and includes travel assistance, complimentary accommodation, complimentary entry, and VIP treatment. Those women runners with a 35:30 qualifying time can get a complimentary accommodation, complimentary entry, and VIP treatment. And those with a 36:00 may receive complimentary entry and VIP treatment. International and Masters athletes have their own standards, which can be found here.

Races like the Gate River Run 15k,  Peachtree Road Race 10k, and the Beach to Beacon 10k require an email to the elite coordinators in order to be considered for an invitation. For Gate, contact Richard Fannin. For Peachtree, please contact Elizabeth Unislawski. For Beach to Beacon, please contact Elite Athlete Coordinator Larry Barthlow.

Have you ever raced as an elite in a local, regional, national, or international race? What were the perks? How did you qualify? For everyone, any questions about the process?

Spikenard is a writer, film librarian, wine P.O.S. artist, Saucony Hurricane and co-founder of Bellingham Distance Project, a post-collegiate competitive women's running team in Bellingham, WA. Outside of drinking copious amounts of wine, she nourishes herself in literature and thrifting. Most of her writing centers on relationships, food and travel. She is training for an eventual Beer Mile and the 2020 Olympic Trials in the Marathon.

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  1. Great info! Two more that I know of:

    The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon offers an elite field for women under 3:00, with a limited number of comp entries. Typically includes fluid stations, hospitality room near the start/finish and an escort to the corral. There’s also a seeded field that starts right behind, sub-3:10 for women. It’s a fast course and usually a really fast field. Pacers provided typically for 3 hours and sometimes 2:45 (or the OT standard of the day) if there are women going for it. http://www.monumentalmarathon.com/faqs.html#41

    St. Jude Memphis also does comp entries under 3:10 for women, expedited check-in, seeded start and finish line area. This was my first and third marathon, although I wasn’t part of the fast crowd. It’s a great race in a fun city, for a good cause. https://www.stjude.org/get-involved/at-play/fitness-for-st-jude/memphis-marathon/participants/elite-athletes.html

    1. +1 on Memphis, I ran as an elite there in 2014 in the marathon. The few minute buffer from the rest of the race was nice, able to get in groove quicker without everyone sidestepping. Like you said though- fantastic race/cause either way. I cried like a baby when we ran through St. Jude campus and all the kids were out cheering.

  2. Thanks so much for this information! Are you able to elaborate any more on the Boston sub-elite options? I’ve never heard of this one! Do you know if the sub-elite women would have to start with the elite women and what the general time expectations are?


  3. Don’t forget the cushiest elite standards out there:
    Our own favorite Akron Marathon: 3:05
    Jumping Fences owned races including the San francisco Marathon: 3:01
    Dexter to Ann Arbor (a non-sanctioned race with a number of problems last year) 1:28/half, 19:00/5k
    most of the midwest local competitive races like Columbus and IMM, 3:00

    Pittsburgh with its unpublished standard let me in at 2:58:54. Most of the elite women were in the mid to low 2:50’s

    In the Majors races with an elite women’s start, Boston told me 2:45 and New York appears to be around 2:48.

      1. Yeah I know people who have run elite in Boston and NYC with PR’s around 2:49-53ish. I think it depends how well you market yourself and who you know(this is a big one), I don’t think it’s always a hard and fast time rule.

  4. And if you are getting ready to make your first elite/subelite qualifying attempt, don’t forget to ask for elite amenities like elite fluid bottles and front field start. even if you are paying for your entry. The races that really truly believe in elite development like Akron, Columbus, and IMM, will totally consider your request.

    1. Definitely! My coach is the IMM elite coordinator and I know he does everything he can. They like to see people go fast. 🙂 He had a list of the current records on a big sheet of paper in the elite hospitality room and crossed them off as they got knocked down this year.

  5. I think my biggest advice is, it doesn’t hurt to ask. There have been times I have been close but not at the elite standards for the race, but emailed anyways making a case for myself and they either gave me some of the perks of the elites or just let me in as elite. The worst thing they can do is say no. Take chances and put yourself out there!

    1. Agreed! I’ve wiggled in more than once just by asking. If you’re at the sub-elite level, it’s worth putting together a running resume you can send out to races and potential sponsors.