How to Request Elite Race Entry

Posing with my sister while wearing the F1 bib at the Brookhaven 5k in Oklahoma City. I finished 2nd.

Alright speedsters, let’s talk about elite race bibs. You don’t have to be as quick as Shalane or Molly for this post to be applicable to you. Maybe you’re a perennial front-runner at local races or maybe you’re a NCAA veteran transitioning to post-collegiate running. If you’re someone with big goals or a fan wanting to learn more about the inner workings of the sport, this post is for all of you. There are several things you should consider when applying for elite race entry, detailed after the jump.

Run fast and just ask.
I’m not here to open a debate on what exactly “elite” means in our sport; there is no consistent objective guideline. But in general your projected time should get you on or near the podium. Also your performances will need to be fairly recent, within the last 6 months to 2 years generally.

Many big races will set their own standards of “elite” so you should always check the race’s web site for details. For example, the Twin Cities Marathon (host of this year’s USATF Marathon Championship) states minimum standards for entry with the possibility of additional perks for even faster runners. Whoa, I’m not that fast! you might be thinking. Smaller local races have less stringent guidelines — I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run where I pinned on my first elite bib.

Many races do not lay out their standards publicly.  Look at past results to see how you measure up and ask for elite entry if your time would put you close to those podium finishes.  Some races will not award prize money to someone who has not started with the other elite runners (so that everyone is aware of their direct competition).

Pick the appropriate race.
If your target race doesn’t specify information for elite runners, see if it has a prize purse; most races that have an elite entry program are fairly large and offer prize money. A race with 100 finishers benefiting a charity is not going to have a budget for complimentary elite entries. In addition, you’re not likely to get into a marathon with only 5k credentials. Unless you’re a superstar with a Nike contract in hand, most marathons will want to see at least a competitive half marathon time for elite entry.

Ask nicely and follow up.
This should go without saying, but draft a polite email inquiry. Give evidence of your accomplishments, including PRs and recent race results. If you are a local runner, say so; many race directors prefer a local component. Send your email as early as possible because some races are only able to give out a limited number of complimentary bibs.

We all know injuries  happen, so if it turns out you are unable to run, inform the elite coordinator as soon as possible. Consider offering to volunteer instead if you are still planning to attend the race. When I was pregnant this fall, I volunteered with the elite athletes at the Columbus Marathon, catching my good friend at the finish line as she won and qualified for her first Olympic Trials, an incredibly meaningful moment for me and totally worth waking up at 5 a.m.

Say thank you and be respectful of your opportunity.
Ideally, you will meet the elite coordinator and/or race director and thank him/her in person. A thank you note following the race is my standard practice as well. After the race, attend the awards ceremony, even if your prize will be mailed; it leaves a bad impression when a winner doesn’t bother to show.

Rejected? Try, try again.
Thank the elite coordinator for consideration anyway. See if it’s possible to start near the front while paying your own way. Consider it a challenge to earn your way into that race next year!

Elite coordinators and race directors: do you have any other recommendations for aspiring elite entrants? Salty readers, have you had experience with elite race entries you’d like to share? Comment below!

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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