Meet The World’s Fastest Tutu Runner, Stephanie Telek

Stephanie having fun at the 2014 Columbus Marathon. All photos courtesy of Stephanie Telek.

While the announcers on NBC fixated on Kara Goucher’s age and repeatedly confused Galen Rupp with Ryan Hall, many other Olympic Trials stories ripe for the telling were unfolding, stories like Chris Barnicle’s, the guy who bills himself as the World’s Fastest Stoner, which we have all now heard. Today, I’m going to share another one, the story of the young woman in the tutu who qualified for the Trials but didn’t show; the story of 22 year-old Stephanie Telek.

While others worked years towards qualifying, Stephanie almost literally accidentally qualified. She never competed in high school or college and only took up running for stress relief and fun, which is one of the reasons for the tutu. While others gave her tutu the side-eye at the starting line, they soon gave her respect as she worked her way up to a personal best of 2:44:40 at the 2014 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. The Trials were not even on her radar screen, as she was too busy worrying about things like transitioning to vet school, but on December 11, 2015, the tutu chick found herself an Olympic Trials Qualifier.

Although ecstatic to learn of her achievement, the Trials were not Stephanie’s end goal and with such short notice and, in her words,”not enough time to regain that shape from my qualifying race,” she passed on bringing her tutu to the streets of L.A. Instead, she focused on adjusting to her transition from Ohio State undergrad to UC Davis veterinary medicine student.

What has been your progression as a runner? Were tutus always a part of the process?

I started running in college as a form of stress-relief and a chance to escape the crowded dorms. As a natural maximizer, I wanted to see if I could keep going farther and farther. Finally in the fall of my sophomore year, I decided to try a marathon to legitimize myself as a long distance runner. After that first race, I had fallen in love with the sport and couldn’t wait to sign up for another. It just so happened that the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon was going to be on my birthday that year, so I decided that I wanted to celebrate by wearing a tutu.

As a naturally quiet person, running in a tutu was a whole new experience. The crowd loved it, especially the little girls. As all runners know, support from the crowd can really help when you’re feeling tired, and they really helped propel me along. The comments from other runners during and after the race were pretty funny too. While I certainly didn’t qualify for the “elite” status at that point, many people were surprised that I was able to finish at my pace in a tutu. At the finish line, I even had a few guys come up to me and say that they saw me at the beginning of the race but couldn’t keep up with the tutu in the end. I was proud to show that even something as girly as a pink tutu with braided pigtails can be tough. From that moment, I decided to wear a tutu for all of my marathons (now totaling 11). I wanted to do my part in disproving the female stereotype as less-respected runners. Women can be strong runners and we can look girly doing it too!

What has been the feedback from other elite runners in regards to the tutus?

Their attitudes vary drastically from the start to the finish line. Most seem confused about why someone with a tutu is in the first corral. Then by the end of the race, however, many will compliment me (slightly incredulously) on my form and performance. It’s fun to watch their preconception of tutus change, hopefully gaining a little more respect.

Stephanie took a cold dip into the Atlantic after the Virginia Beach Marathon, with her tutu of course!
Stephanie took a cold dip into the Atlantic after the Virginia Beach Marathon, with her tutu of course!

What has been your proudest running moment? Your biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? Your worst setback?

My proudest moment was the first race that I was considered elite, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon 2014. I was extremely nervous standing in the elite warm-up room and at the start corral, especially since I was drawing quite a few stares in my tutu. I befriended some of the volunteers and talking to them helped to calm me a bit. I had run this race the year previously, and my only two goals for this race were to beat my previous time (3:08) and high-five every Patient Champion (26 patients are chosen from the children’s hospital to represent each mile and they are given foam hands to high-five runners). I am proud to say that I achieved both! The kids loved the tutu and I finished in 3rd place for the women with a time of 2:45.

So far, there haven’t been any huge obstacles or setbacks, besides the usual balancing classes and training. I’ve been very fortunate and thankful for that.

What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever received?

Never forget why you run. Everyone starts running for a reason and although that reason may change overtime, never forget it. I run for many reasons, ranging from anything as simple as exploring the local area to the feeling of freedom and control when life becomes overwhelming.

selfAs one of the youngest qualifiers, what are some of your future plans for running?

Mostly, I just love running for fun and I hope to continue doing that for the rest of my life. My long term goal is to run a marathon in each state and hopefully try a few in other countries as well (running is a great way to see the world and truly experience any place you go). And who knows what will happen in the next four years, but maybe I will be fortunate enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials again in 2020. I would also like to try ultra-marathons to see if I like them too!

Oh! And a bonus question… any tips for running in a tutu?

My tips for any future tutu runners is that making a homemade tutu isn’t too difficult and allows you to personalize it and make it as big as you want! People ask if it creates too much drag, but I think it helps me run faster because it generates a lot of crowd support and all runners know how helpful that can be. Also, I have found that using safety pins to attach it to my shirt prevents it from bouncing too much or chafing. I highly recommend that everyone tries it at least once – everyone needs a chance to laugh at themselves and keep running fun.

Good luck, Stephanie! We hope to profile the successful vet in the tutu at the 2020 Trials!

I run and work as a mental health professional. I write about mindfulness, my own experiences with depression and anxiety, and the professional sport of running. I'm currently taking a break from competitive running, which means I'm brushing up on my swimming and yoga skills.

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8 comments

  1. I love this and think it’s awesome! “never forget why you run” is so important, and something I try and think about often!

    I’m curious…does she train in the tutu? Never wear anything new on race day?!

  2. My favorite thing about this is the way Stephanie’s tutu reveals the snobbery/love of judging others of some people. I can totally see the looks: “what are *you* doing here?” Like, why do you care what someone else, a total stranger, is wearing? I can think of some interesting answers to that question!

  3. I love that Stephanie is doing her own thing no matter what anyone thinks. That takes serious guts and it’s totally awesome! As for the tutu, it’s so cute, but a bit too girly for my taste. What’s the alternative for us tough girls who don’t wear pink and don’t want to be princesses? Just racing buns?

  4. When I learned about this woman I was so intrigued and now I just have more questions! She went from 3:08–>2:45?!?!? HOW??? Does she run shorter races? Was she aiming for a trials qualifier?