Welcome Back – The Biggest Loser Race Series Chicago 2016

The Biggest Loser RunWalk was one of our favorite races. Dan and Jackie Evans from TBL Season 5 took a lot of what they learned from Rock n Roll and used it for their smaller races. They brought a supportive race environment to a lot of small communities over their five-year run. I say it ‘was’ one of our favorite races because last year, after Panama City Beach, we saw the schedule disappear, much to our disappointment.

Earlier this year, we saw a relaunch under the name “The Biggest Loser Race Series.” Andrea Wilamowski, TBL Season 16 contestant and President of the Woodward Entertainment Group, took over the series and put Erie, PA and Chicago back on the schedule for 2016. Erie was on the same weekend and RNR San Diego, but Chicago was timed perfectly with Susan’s company quarterly meeting so we made the trip out, hoping that the’d maintain the standards we’d been used to seeing. The past contestant lineup was impressive. Nine former contestants came to speak, cheer and run in the event and TBL trainer Dolvett Quince was on the schedule to support the weekend including Season 17 winner Roberto and Season 14 winner Danni.

I got to the expo before it opened at 11 and volunteered myself for anything Callie needed. They had a lot of help, but they didn’t refuse an extra set of hands at T-shirt pick-up. Once things got rolling, I moved over to the Solutions desk. Larry, our race walker friend from Florida was working the on-site registration and I got to learn a bit about the mechanics behind Active.com. Plus, I had a prime seat to hear the contestants speak on the stage!

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Andrea kicked off the session, giving the participants a reminder about the heat the next day. There were about 1000 early registrants in the half, 5K and Motivational Mile with more signing up on Saturday. Entry fees were slightly higher than TBL R/W, but the additional VIP package (pre-race mixer, parking and post-race brunch) was still a bargain at $35.


Planet Fitness leads a 30 minute workout session

Danni is one of my favorite speakers, not just from the show, but ever. Her presentations are totally off the cuff and starts with “ask me anything! And there’s no such thing as TMI”. She’s been sidelined from distance running for a few months, but still plans on completing an IronMan at some point. She was recently named the new Chicagoland Director of seventeen Planet Fitness locations.


Bob’s family went through a lot of trials after he left the show, including two bouts of cancer and addiction. He described it as ‘dealing with crap. But you know what crap is? It’s fertilizer for growth.’ That’s a pretty amazing way to look at challenges.


Dolvett hit the stage next. When I watch the show, I am always amazed at how he can say things that are so spot-on to get people motivated and confront the underlying causes of their food addictions. I found out it’s not just editing. Every word he said on stage was perfect.


Season 17 twins Luis and Roberto talked about the most recent season. Both were doing their first half marathon this weekend. They had planned to do the 5K, but upgraded to the half on a whim (recap from the Tribune).


I really liked Lisa‘s perspective on self-control, something I have issues with still. Many people just have ‘on’ and ‘off’ settings when it comes to food. She suggested the ‘dimmer switch’. Instead of just denying yourself something you like, turn down the control for a bit, but bring it back up. Usually the first few bites is enough.


Sonya talked about some of the reasons why the TV show was on hiatus. About half of TBL participants put the weight back on after leaving the show and the publicity about the metabolic set point really put the program under a microscope. But she says regardless of how you end up,  you have to be willing to address the emotional ties to food addiction to start changing your life. “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I respond”. Charles Swindall. Attitude.


Susan was able to make the last hour of the expo to catch up with Callie before we headed to the race hotel (McCormick Hyatt). After checking in and laying out our race gear, we hopped on the bus to the Scout Waterhouse + Kitchen. Scout is known for some creative grilled cheese sandwich varieties and had a good selection of flatbread pizzas. We were there mainly to chat with the former contestants.

Danni and Marci from TBL Season 11. She brought TBL R/W to Crown Point.
Dolvett was the first TBL trainer we’ve met. He’s every bit as inspiring (and solidly built) as you think.
It was a great night for autograph hunting!

Sunday August 14th. Race Day.
It was about a 20 minute walk or 6 minute drive to the starting line on Waldron. With starting temps in the low 70’s and forecasted humidity, we chose to drive over since premium parking was included with the VIP package. An extra 10 minutes in the AC might be a good thing after the half.

The start and finish of the course were on the lawn, just south of Soldier Field. It was a medium-sized race feel with lots of space and a good ratio of porta-potties to participants.


We caught up with our friends Hyalker and Ainsley. Ainsley was one of a handful of people who ran over 20 Rock n Roll races in 2015! TBL Chicago would be her 50th half marathon. Ainsley’s friend Jen was running her first half marathon.


Given the heat and humidity and the number of first timers, I was really happy to see about a dozen Race Guards here. The out-and-back course along the water gave them even better coverage. I don’t think I went more than 5 minutes without seeing one of them during the race.


TBL has a walk division, but we weren’t quite sure where to line up. Usually, the walkers start after all the timed pace groups, but when Larry, Susan and I found ourselves being passed by the 12:30 pace sign, I figured it was as far back as we needed to be to avoid having to weave too much. After a great rendition of the national anthem by Danni, we were off at 7:35.


The course was pretty, following the paved lake shore trail south. Larry has had a busy 2016 race schedule so he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to hold a 2:35 or better. My best summer Chicago race was in the mid 2:30’s and I was still a bit freaked out by the second half heat-induced meltdown in Victoria Falls. So naturally, the first mile is my fastest. What impressed me was Susan was about 30 seconds ahead of me using her new “mircolight” form (and pulling away!). She slowed down after mile 3 when she started feeling light headed. Larry was on my heels for at least the first 5 miles.

There was lots of support for this event. In addition to the Race Guards, there were water/electrolyte drink stations at every mile and a half-dozen volunteers at each station. Though there wasn’t any gel, there were oranges in the later miles. Andrea had several boxes of noisemakers and cheer support supplies distributed and they were put to good use. The supportive atmosphere we’ve come to expect at TBL races was in full swing.

Another thing about the out and back was that we could look for any other walkers who may have started further up in the corrals. Even though this was an honor system, non-monitored walk division, we did want to keep an eye out for anyone who was actually in front of us. After all, age grade awards were on the line. Race entries specifically stated that you’re not allowed to run – at all – in the walk division.

I saw the twins just before I hit the mile 6.5 turn, so I made it a goal to catch at least one of them before the end of the race. I’d opened up about a minute gap in front of Larry as I headed back north. He started cramping at mile 7 and took it easy. Susan was just a few seconds behind him. Ainsley and Hyalker were pacing Jen a few minutes behind Susan. Jen picked a tough first race!


Larry finished in 2:46:53, quite a bit off his Panama City and Vegas TBL times, but a respectable showing in the conditions.

Roberto started cramping and had to slow down at mile 9. He was with a few Race Guards telling him to control his breathing.  I caught up with Luis a mile later. Considering just a year ago, they were a combined 250 pounds heavier, this was a banner day for them. They’d finish with a good appreciation for the distance. Word has it that they want to run the Chicago Marathon next year.

We could hear Lisa and Mark at the finish line a half mile off. With the winding lake path, it was really easy to take distance off the race by hugging the tangents. I finished at 2:30:57, easily my best time for 8 summer Chicago races.

Free downloads courtesy of TBL Race Series!

Susan took a conservative back half and came in at 2:36:19.


I grabbed a quick drink and headed back out to cheer people in. Bob and Sonya were already out there after finishing their own 5K’s.


The kids fun run/motivational mile winner came in at just under 10 minutes. It made my knees hurt just watching him cruise by.


We should have known Christina would be here. For once, she was free to run instead of being behind the scenes for TBL RunWalk. She took 2nd in her age group for the 5K.


This young lady carried the flag for the half marathon. She and her father have done the Old Glory Relay that Al and I are doing this year on September 23rd. If anyone is in the SF Bay Area and free (it’s a Friday), let me know if you’d like to run a leg somewhere between Petaluma and the Golden Gate Bridge. The team is also taking donations (find out more here).

I asked her if I could hold the flag to get a feel of the weight. It was light at first, but I’m sure it’ll be a good challenge to hold it for miles.

Luis finished in just under 2:40 for his first half marathon. His brother Roberto was a few minutes behind him.


After all was said and done, Susan and I finished 1-2 in the walk division overall and took home some nice plaques for fastest male and female walkers. Age group winners got free engraving at the vendor too!


Overall, this was a really well organized race. Support was awesome, aid stations and Race Guards were more frequent than most races we’ve seen and parking, logistics and the VIP experience were well worth the cost of registration. TBLRS now has races scheduled for El Paso (September 25th), Dallas/Allen (November 13th), Palm Springs (December 4th) and Las Vegas (January 29th, 2017). We have RNR conflicts with the first three, but have already signed up for the race and VIP in Vegas. Andrea mentioned that Cleveland and a few other east coast cities should go us as soon as the venues are confirmed.


A hearty Welcome back to The Biggest Loser Race Series. We’re looking forward to some great years ahead!


The Biggest Loser RunWalk had 799 finishers between the run and walk 5K and half. The Motivational Mile times were not recorded. About 25% of the finishers were in the Walk classification. J3 Timing used the B-Tag and I really like their results display. Full race results can be found here. There was even a new Competitive Division for the 5K and Half run that were awarded Garmin devices and other nice prizes. Winning times were respectable 23:23 and 1:25:05. 

Big congrats to Jen for finishing her first half marathon. I’ll warn you now that hanging around Ainsley and Hyalker could get you hooked.


A big shout out to Team USA’s performance in the Rio Olympics. They brought home a record 121 medals (46 golds) including 32 medals (13 gold) in Track and Field events alone. We absolutely devoured DVR coverage including a gutsy Bronze Medal by Galen Rupp in his second marathon ever. Xfinity even had full recaps of the 20K and 50K race walk events! Special thanks to our friend Tracy Sundlun who was behind the scenes as the head manager for the men’s track team. Given all he’s done for Rock n Roll, I’m sure Team USA appreciated his support. 

We have another month until we start up again at Rock n Roll Philadelphia then another 10 races in a span of 12 weeks. The last race this year will be the Honolulu Marathon. A fitting place to spend a 50th birthday.

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