People often dream of leaving it all behind and finding a job in the travel industry. At Yahoo Travel we are profiling people who work in all fields of the industry — small jobs, big jobs, any jobs. This week we talked to Chris Heuisler, better known as Westin’s Running Concierge, the man who helps you prep for races around the country.
Chris Heuisler has his dream job — he’s a running concierge. (Photo: Westin)
Chris Heuisler always knew he loved running, but when he responded to an online ad for a “Running Concierge” with Westin Hotels, he never thought he’d be chosen out of 1,100 people and get the chance to live out his dream job. As a runner for more than 15 years and a running coach with Equinox fitness clubs, he had the experience that made his resumé very appealing to the hotel chain. But it was his audition video, which showcased his passion for meeting and helping people, that set him apart from the crowd and on his path to the ultimate “occupation,” as he refers to it, since he refuses to consider it a job.
Today, Chris has been working with Westin for almost a year and shaping a position that didn’t even exist before the chain hired him. We got the chance to catch up with him before he headed to Napa, Calif., where he was helping to guide a running retreat weekend with famed female runner Kara Goucher. Not a bad way to spend a summer weekend.
It’s the job of the running concierge to optimize your running experience while you are on the road. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Yahoo Travel: We have to ask you, what the heck does a running concierge do?
Chris Heuisler: I am going to be doing this for almost a year now, and I don’t think Westin even knew what it was going to entail. It was this blank slate. Originally the idea came from the hotel’s partnership with the Rock ‘n Roll [Marathon] running series, and my job was going to be to travel to the races where there’s a Westin hotel and, for about four days, be the onsite running consultant/expert both for our guests as well as the hotel. For instance, we have the Rock ‘n Roll half marathon in Philadelphia in September. I’ll fly in on a Thursday. Friday morning, I’ll run the course, so if a runner asks me for advice I can actually tell them what it feels like rather than just looking at a map. Friday and Saturday, I will be there when the guests check in. I’ll be in the lobby to help them with logistical questions from how do they get to the start to where they should go for dinner. On Sunday, race day, I am there to hold their hand a little bit more to make sure they’re getting to the start on time, that the hotel is opening up the breakfast early enough and that they have everything they need for the race.
Did you ever think hotels would be catering to the needs of runners? (Photo: Thinkstock)
YT: Are you the only running concierge?
CH: I am the only national running concierge. There are many properties in the U.S that have a local running concierge. Washington, D.C., for instance; their local concierge, Julia, is fantastic. Every Friday she does three-mile runs on the property for any guest that’s there, and it’s almost like a historical tour through D.C. The role of the local running concierge is to help the business travelers and tourists and give them a three- or file-mile run, depending on what the demand is, around that city. It’s almost like a free running tour.
YT: Do you interact with guests other than while on the property?
CH: Yes! Someone reached out to me via Twitter saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in Pittsburgh next week. Can you recommend any nine-mile routes?” Absolutely! I’ll reach out to the local concierge and let him know there is a serious runner coming, and we to map out a specific nine-mile route. This past weekend was the San Francisco Marathon, and someone shot me a tweet, saying “Can you help me get a late checkout?” Absolutely! I got in touch with the property and arranged it with them. That’s part of the amenity we offer.
YT: How do you shape a traveler’s experience as a running concierge?
CH: At the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with individuals. When a runner walks into a hotel on a race weekend, it’s not much different than a bride walking in for her wedding. They’ve worked really hard for it. They’ve trained for 12, 15, 20 weeks for this event, and I want to acknowledge that. I want there to be a red carpet for that runner. My job is to personalize it and connect with every runner once they check in. I’ll see them Friday, Saturday, and on Sunday, I am probably one of the first people they get to see at the finish line. I will take the sweatiest hug in the world.
YT: What are some other amenities you offer besides running recommendations?
CH: Other than racing we do a lot for the guests. I’ll ask for the list of runners and make sure to send them a special amenity the night before to enhance their experience. We actually have a menu at the property specially designed for the runners that I will see and approve before it goes out. I’ll get an email from a guest a month before their visit asking about recommendations of where to run, and I’ll coordinate. I provide all of that.
YT: Do you consider this a dream job?
CH: Yes! My son actually asked me the other day what I want to do when I grow up. I started laughing because this is exactly what I want to be doing. There is nothing I’d rather be doing than this occupation. I hesitate to use the word “job” because I pinch myself every day I wake up. I connect with people every day for a job. Fifteen years ago I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But everything I’ve been doing for the past 15 years has prepared me for this job.
YT: What makes you qualified for this job, considering it never existed before you?
CH: They did this national search last June, and at the time I was a running coach for Equinox. My wife saw the post on Facebook and said, “This is your dream job.” They wanted someone with a history of running. I’ve been running for 15 years and have been running a marathon in every state with my brother. They wanted someone who traveled a lot. I love to travel. And they wanted someone who was passionate about running and could connect with other people. What set me apart from the other applicants throughout the interview process was that I really enjoyed connecting with people.
YT: How often do you travel?
CH: It’s a bit seasonal with the different races, but on average it is about every other weekend. Other events besides races have started to increase my travel schedule. August is typically slow for races, but next week I’m heading out to Napa to help [elite runner] Kara Goucher with her first-ever running retreat. So as the job keeps growing, I will travel more and more.
YT: Do you see this expanding beyond Rock n’ Roll marathons and going international?
CH: I do. As the job expands, it will go into other events and races. Rock n’ Roll just announced they’re going to do a half marathon in Mexico City, seven or eight in Europe. And Westin has no shortage of hotels, so it’s just a matter of fine tuning some of the details before we branch out worldwide.
YT: How many places have you been in the past year?
CH: By the end of this year, it will have been 26 trips, everywhere from Savannah and Las Vegas to Punta Cana and Mexico City.
Running in a new city can offer a completely different perspective from taking an ordinary tour or walking around. (Photo: Thinkstock)
YT: What has been the most unique run you’ve done for this job?
CH: Montreal is probably my favorite. I didn’t expect much when I ran the course a couple of days before the race, and I was blown away by the first three miles of it. First, you’re running through an amusement park under a roller coaster. Then you go up over a footbridge on to a racecar track. Then you run through the old history of Montreal. Another one that was really cool was in San Diego. The Westin was hosting all of the elite runners for that weekend. I was talking to them and invited them to a shakeout run the day before the race, which is just three miles for all the runners staying on the property. Sure enough, some of them came! These are people who ended up winning the race! We bridged the gap between the amateur and the elite.
YT: Do you ever get tired of running?
CH: No I don’t. It allows me to meet new people, and it’s my dream.