When London Isn’t Calling…

Ah, October. Crisp autumn weather, pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING and, in the running world, a general fixation with checking the post to see if you’re “in” or “out”. No, not some adolescent list defining popularity, but the result of the London Marathon ballot.

At this time of year a quick look at any running-related social media group would lead you to believe that London is the ONLY marathon in the whole wide world (it isn’t!) and the Internet abounds with conspiracy theories from unsuccessful ballot entrants looking to vent their frustration. It’s certainly disappointing not to get a place (my collection of rejection magazines is coming along nicely!) but without meaning to state the obvious, there are other marathons. With it becoming harder and harder to gain a place, it’s important to consider other options to get that marathon fix.

The previous ballot system closed when a certain number of entrants had been reached, usually around 125,000, which was reached in about a day. With roughly 17,000 places up for grabs, this equated to about a 1 in 7 chance of getting a place. But this system changed ahead of the 2016 race, with the ballot remaining open for five consecutive days, thus allowing unlimited entries. This resulted in 247,000 people looking to acquire one of those same 17,000 places. Not great odds, and the numbers for the 2017 race ballot were similar with 253,000 entries (close to a 1 in 15 chance of success. Not brilliant, but still better than your chances in the National Lottery!). The numbers were crunched much better than my poor English teacher brain could ever manage by Dan at Run, Rest, Repeat last year, with some updated numbers more recently, and his posts are worth a read.

Unsurprisingly, I have been rejected once more. For me, not a particularly big deal. I have already secured my place in the 2017 Paris marathon (not keeping any secrets this time!), yet I continue to enter the ballot year on year as I would like another chance to run the London marathon. Yes, I did say another chance as I was lucky enough to secure a place through a running club ballot for the 2011 race (back in the days before I had my blog) and IĀ loved the experience.

I have also spectated at the race in both 2009 and 2012 when Steve ran (he has now run 7 London marathons, going back to the 1990s when the ballot was smaller and involved the careful origami folding of an actual application form!). I’ll admit it is a fantastic experience, hence my desire to run it again, and for many people in the UK it is logistically an easy option. One of my reasons for wanting to go back is that the course was altered in 2011 due to work being carried out at the Cutty Sark so I didn’t get to experience that iconic part of the route and feel a sense of having “missed out”. Some people may never get their chance to run London, so I know I am fortunate to have been there, but equally there are people who have returned time and time again so my annual entry to the ballot is my way of looking for that opportunity – you’ve got to be in it to win it, right?

But what about the options for those whose marathon dreams are now in tatters with the arrival of their rejection magazine (or worse, email – a bit like someone breaking up with you by text, ouch!)? A few days after I received my magazine, I got an email as well. Those London marathon folks reeeeally wanted to make sure I got the message!

So for anyone with their heart truly set on London, there are a few other options:

1. A charity place. The London Marathon is, I believe, the biggest fundraising day of the year in the UK so charities rely on having lots of runners in the race. Many charities will still have places, but there may be a selection process for the more highly coveted ones, and the chances are you will have to commit to raising a lot of money, so think carefully about how you would achieve this – you don’t want the added pressure of a mammoth fundraising target to reach alongside marathon training!

2. A running club place. If you’re already in a running club then you might still be in with a shot. Most clubs affiliated with UK athletics will be allocated places based on the number of members they have. (Not huge, maybe one place for every 70 or so members) and will have their own way of determining who gets a place. The club I was in held a ballot for all those who had been unsuccessful in the main ballot, and that’s how I got my place. If you’re not already in a club, consider joining one. You’ll make new friends, meet some new running buddies and may get a chance to gain a marathon place in future.

3. A good for age place. Speedy runners who can prove their credentials might qualify for a good for age entry (a bit like the BQ for Boston). Steve has been working on running his GFA time for a while now, and I’m beginning to think it may be my only way in. If I can just maintain my current form for the next couple of decades, I should be fine šŸ˜‰ . GFA places for 2017 have already been allocated, but running a qualifying time at another race could be your ticket to entry in 2018 or beyond.

Which brings me to the best option for those who really just want to run a marathon in 2017: pick another race. There are plenty of other marathons in the UK (funnily enough, they’re all the same length(!), need just the same training, and often have the same crowd support). You could also consider looking abroad for a marathon and making a trip out of it. Unsurprisingly, I can recommend Paris with its first-come-first-served entry system, iconic sights and ease of access from the UK. I have also run the Edinburgh marathon twice, and although “Edinburgh” might be stretching it a bit as you run along the East Lothian coast, the route is scenic and good for a PB. I still also harbour a desire to run the Loch Ness marathon, where I currently have unfinished business. A more rural route, but exactly the sort of thing I train on and a well-organised event.

Other possibilities include:

  • One of the other Scottish marathons such as Strathearn, Fort William, Glen Moray or the recently announced new kid on the block, Stirling, which will start in the safari park – nothing like being surrounded by wild animals to motivate you to run!
  • Races such as Brighon, which I have read good things about, Manchester (although its reputation was sullied by the great baggage debacle of 2016) or Yorkshire, which many enjoyed just the other week, as well as newcomers Birmingham and, in 2018, Cardiff.
  • Or if you want to go a bit further afield then I’ve heard good reviews of Rome and Barcelona, while taking part in the Walt Disney World marathon is firmly on my bucket list. The world is your oyster!

London is indeed a fantastic and iconic race so it’s understandable why so many people want to be part of it. Just remember, more people will be unsuccessful in the ballot each year than will gain a place. Some will be relieved to be rejected, but if you truly want to run a marathon in 2017, start researching your options and get signed up. If you’ve never run a marathon before then it could be the start of a magical journey.

Maybe I’ll see you out there…

Did you enter the London marathon ballot this year?
What’s your recommendation for an alternative marathon destination?

7 thoughts on “When London Isn’t Calling…

  1. Hi Allison,
    I did not get in either. 6 years in a row now. I have been lucky enough to do it twice though (one charity place and one ballot). Thanks for your suggestions of other races. I think i will have to go for one of those. London is just so special. You forget the pain and only remember the exhiliration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I have ever seen the “good for age” requirements for London, since they don’t apply to me as a non-resident. However, it’s really interesting that the men’s time is the same as the fastest time for Boston (3:05) yet the women’s in 10 minutes slower (3:35 vs. 3:45).

    When I ran the Berlin marathon, I noticed significantly less women ran it than men, but I didn’t notice that at London. Is it true- is that why it’s “easier” for women than men?

    Still such a tough process to get in…but in my opinion well worth it! Loved the London Marathon so much šŸ™‚


    • Great comment Jessie. I agree, London is well worth it.
      The GFA times are interesting. I’m not 100% sure but I think they’re worked out from finish time data. A few years ago they were adjusted by five minutes, I think because so many people were getting the times, and I definitely remember people being disappointed as they thought they had their time but then found they didn’t after all. As for participation, again I’m not sure of numbers right now. I know in Paris the field is just 25% women (entry is first come first served, not ballot) and the year I ran my best time I was predominantly surrounded by men. I feel like London does have more women, but couldn’t say for sure what percentage. I guess each race sets qualifying times that work for them in terms of how many runners they have and how those places are divided up.


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