How to get in to: London Marathon.

My First London Marathon in 2015

Okay. London. Where on earth do you start with the London Marathon? In my opinion it tops every other marathon I have ever ran. It’s all round appeal, crowd support and organisation top that of Tokyo, Berlin, New York and Chicago etc. etc.… Heck, it even beats the atmosphere at my home town marathon; the ill-fated “Birmingham International Marathon!” Can you tell I wrote that in a booming voice to emphasise slightly sarcastically how great it was? Anyway…

Probably the best but maybe (next to Boston if you’re a slow coach like me) the most difficult World Marathon Majors to get in to (I’m back on about London now by the way, not Birmingham). “But I really want to run London!” I hear you say. How do I go about getting that most fabled of race numbers?

There are a few different options.

Take yer’ chances in the Ballot

The first option you have is the ballot. Think of it as a roulette wheel with the numbers 1 to 15 spread around the circle. You throw a tiny silver ball in and it swishes around. The wheel starts to slow. You guess a number. “12” you shout. Where the number lands is what is going to determine if you’re in or not. It’s going to determine whether you run London next year or Manchester/Brighton a few weeks before, for seemingly the 56th year running.  If you land in 12, you’re in. Any other of the 14 numbers and I’m very sorry, it’s a case of maybe next year.

That’s the best representation of the odds of getting in to London I can give.

The ballot for next year’s London opens very soon after the current calendar year’s race with results announced in the October (normally), so keep your eyes on the London Marathon Website.

Word of caution though, do not bequeath your entry fee unless you are okay with still being charged even if unsuccessful in the ballot and understand that paying your fee in advance does not improve your odds of getting in.

TOP TIP – Even if you know you cannot run London next year, apply anyway. I say this because London entries can be deferred for a maximum of one year. I got in to London in 2017, knowing very well it was on the same weekend as my brother’s wedding. I paid 2017’s fee, deferred until the next year and simply paid again for a guaranteed 2018 place. The advantage is it gives you more time to plan and a head start on everyone else with booking rooms and making travel arrangements. You get first pick and can call shotgun on everything before the ballot acceptance emails go out. Long and short of it is you get two shots to get over the start line.

Run for Charity (Bond place)

The absolute bread and butter of the London Marathon and the true spirit of it. These guys earn MILLIONS every year for their chosen charities and often look absolutely ridiculous doing it.

The sooner you get in touch with charities after the current year’s marathon the better. Places through charity will go like hot cakes regardless of the sponsorship targets which you are set. London is a an expensive day for many charities big and small, with the race number, runner support, staff costs and many other things taken in to account. Understandably they want maximum return for their giving of race number, so will normally set you a target in the region of £2,500-£3,500.

This is where in my opinion the real hard work for charity runners takes place. Dependant on the amount of and generosity of people in your life this can be very challenging and take a lot of initiative and effort to achieve. Some charity runners hold raffles and parties to try and raise funds. Others hold a sweepstake to “guess the finish time”. Some just go around everyone they know (and some people they don’t) asking for donations. You get the idea.

Many people who get in to London through the ballot also choose to run for charity. The beauty for these lucky people is they can set their own target. A lot less pressure, but still making a difference to a good cause.

I’ve only ran a race for charity once and found reaching the fundraising target harder, yet more rewarding than finishing the run itself. Plus it is nice to know you are actually doing something to make a difference in some small way, using your exercise to bring a little good to the world. So if you choose to go down this route, good for you. You are a good egg.

My only Charity Run – Royal parks Ultra Marathon 2013

Be “Good for Age”

These “Good for Age” nippy folk can apply for a bib due to their speed. Speed which to be honest makes me feel slightly nauseous, especially when I’m eating a cream cake while typing this (not even joking! I’ve taken five minutes to type up the last two sentences because I’m using one finger on one hand, because the other hand is covered in sugar).

If you’re pretty fast (in 2019, looking under 3:00 for men under 39 years and 3:45 for ladies of the same age) you can apply in the August of the year for the next year’s race.  There are 6,000 race places allocated with an even split between ladies and gents. Proof that you’re an absolute bolt of lightning will also need to be provided and verified through a previous qualifying time in the last 18 months. The qualifying time does change on a yearly basis and can be stricter dependant on the number of people who apply. If 7,000 people apply under the qualifying time, the slowest (as if you can call it that) 1,000 “qualifiers” will miss out. It’s also worth noting this route is only open to UK runners.

If you get in through the good for age you can still defer until the following year as long as your qualifying time was in the same calendar year you applied. You will have to pay the entry fee again.

Through a Tour Group (if not based in UK)

This is the option I have chosen for every one of my Majors outside of the UK so far. Prepare for an expensive, yet low stress, long weekend away. Packages normally require you took book flights and/or hotel with the tour company in order to purchase a race entry.

The common misconception (at least I think it is anyway) is that tour companies rinse your wallet clean, give very low levels of service and take advantage of demand. Look at it this way. You are paying the standard entry fee. Fair? You are paying for a top quality (normally 4 or 5 star) hotel right in the middle of the city where the marathon is, during marathon weekend. Prices will be high due to hotel supply and demand. Agreed? The flights will probably be on a high standard of airline with a baggage allowance and quite possibly a transport from the airport to the hotel and return. Gets rid of a bit more stress, yes? You have representatives on site in case you need any assistance or advice during your stay. Most of whom will escort runners to the expo and start, giving a briefing the night before. Useful?

So yes, you are paying more than if you waited twenty years to get in through the ballot. Yes, you are paying for more than just cabin luggage on a plane that doesn’t feel like a cattle shed. Yes, you’re paying more than you would for that hotel you saw on Expedia which was half the price but had hair in the bathroom plug hole and a smashed window. I know which I’d prefer.

I’m not saying this is an option for everyone, but each to their own. All I’m saying is it’s not a “bad” option and has a lot more up sides to down sides.

Your best bet to find a tour company is through the London Marathon websites “International Entry” section. Find the tour company that supplying your particular country, phone/email and ask to be put on the mailing list to be alerted when they go on sale. Again, be careful as places go very fast.

Win a Race Entry?

Enter every blooming competition you see across social media, in stores and in publications. Competitions are there to be won and although there is sometimes a 1 in 1,000,000 chance, you never know unless you try! That’s how I got in this year. Facebook competition, entered, won, hello London! Someone has got to win…. Why not you?

I think that has covered pretty much every possible way of us normal folk getting in to London. The only other option is to become incredibly famous. Famous people seem to get in with no trouble…. Not bitter.

If anyone has noticed any glaring errors, or can think of any other ways I may have missed please let me know!

Who ‘can’ run?

I always get told by people after I’ve been banging on about that last venture wherever it may be (and however long!) “Oh there is no way I could do that!” It’s one of them things that just makes me think “Why?” and in all fairness I suppose I would have thought the same a few years back.

The beauty of running comes from its simplicity. There need not be anything digital. Nothing to worry about. Nothing. Just you and the long, open road. Bliss yeah?

I’ve had a think about it and these are the five reasons I’d suggest anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity etc, etc:

  • The Flexibility.

No other sport will allow YOU to choose as many options as running. You want to be in a club? Go for it! You want to run on your own? Great! There are no specific “fixtures” to speak of, only races. If you miss one? So what! You are in control of your own destiny. Sometimes life and injury and snotty noses get in the way, you’re letting nobody down by looking after Numero Uno.

  • Nobody is excluded.

No matter what, running accepts you. Other runners will also accept you! I mean, why wouldn’t they? You are doing exactly the same thing as them, putting yourself through exactly the same drill. Are you a three hour marathon finisher? Brilliant! Are you going to take the same time to run ten miles? Equally as good for you! By nature we are all shapes and size, have different commitments and limitations. Running brings us together.

  • It’s good for you (and doesn’t taste like steamed vegetables).

Both physically and mentally! It boosts your immunity to illness, improves your fitness and in turn can help to lose weight. The more you do it, the better you become. On the mental side of things I personally find running to be a good way of getting away from the digital life and relaxing. Just like going for a long walk it gives you a nice amount of head space and a chance to mull things over. … I don’t like steamed vegetables by the way.

  • It’s an excuse to travel.

This is my main pull to running nowadays. I don’t even mean jetting all over the other side of the world. I mean, if you can great, but even if you can’t I bet you can find a place within 50 miles that has a half marathon or 10k… and you’ve never ever been there. Go there! On route you might find your new favorite coffee shop or fall in to the arms of the love of your life you haven’t met yet. Key thing is you never know what’s around the next corner. Explore and enjoy the world around you.

  • It can be as cheap (or expensive) as you want it to be.

Again this depends entirely on the individual. If you do not want to spend a lot of money on running you do not have to. If you do? There is always someone out there to take you to a far flung corner of the world, rinsing you of every last penny in the name of a marathon. Sadly, due to the World Marathon Majors I fall in to the second camp.

Boston Marathon and London Marathon 2019 – Plans.

Okay, I’m writing this down here because I’ve currently got three spreadsheets open, four Firefox tabs (including this one) and a pen and paper in front of me.

April is going to be manic.

Not in a bad way, in a really REALLY good way, but still really manic.

I was looking through my diary today and realized that SIX WEEKS to this very day, I will be getting a coach from Birmingham to Heathrow to fly out to Boston. In the two weeks proceeding I have the Boston Marathon, a week long holiday in Edinburgh and a last minute place in to my third London Marathon.

“Last minute?” I hear you say, “How on earth did he manage that?”

WELL. I’m a VERY lucky boy. Every year I apply for the London Marathon through the ballot. Have done every year since I was 22. Even before I started running “properly”. Lucky me, I have managed to get in to London TWICE in the last three years through the ballot route. This year alas, no such luck. “Doesn’t matter anyway how much you’ve broken my heart and how much time I’ve spent checking my emails on ballot day” I say to myself, like a lover jilted at the alter. “Plenty more marathons in the sea but none quite like London“.

SO I book to take my beautiful fiance and step son up to Edinburgh for a week: Flights, apartment, the lot… Besides… it is our favorite place, I’ve got two weeks off work and it’ll be nice to go away during the Easter break.

Step forward a few months to the middle of January. I’m browsing through Facebook.

Win a London Marathon Place.”

Go on Clydesdale Bank I’m listening…

We’ve got ten places to give away, simply post your best finishers photo underneath and we’ll pick ten to run in this years LONDON MARATHON

This is my entry…

Would you believe it, I won! The elation! How lucky am I?

Then the realization, I am in Scotland from eight days before the marathon to the evening before the marathon…. when I fly back to Birmingham.

Two things:

  • How am I going to get my number from the London Expo? For those who don’t know, London numbers are not mailed and have to be picked up.
  • How am I going to get from Birmingham to London and Sleep?

Okay the second point is pretty easy. I’ve booked a Travelodge in Wimbledon. Yeah, it’s a fair way outside of central London but was the closest I could be while keeping it affordable. Transport wise I can get a train from Birmingham International to Euston, then the tube to Wimbledon hopefully by about 10pm.

The first point was the main problem. How am I going to get the number? I could ask one of my friends to pick it up for me but I don’t really want to burden them with that and with my late arrival on the Saturday they would have to be up silly early on Sunday morning to pass it on to me.

Then it hit me.

LONDON CITY AIRPORT! Literally right next door to the Expo. Straight on to Google Flights, straight on the phone to the better half. Early morning flight from Edinburgh to London City on the Wednesday then return at lunchtime on the same day? £80? Yes!

I love my better half. She really is my better half. Before even asking if I could sacrifice the best part of a day of our holiday to traipse down to pick up a London number, she was more or less telling me to book flights.

So yeah, this is my plan for April starting with the Thursday before Boston.

  • Wednesday – Finish Work for Holidays.
  • Thursday – Coach to London Heathrow and Premier Inn for Night.
  • Friday – Fly to Boston.
  • Saturday – BAA 5km.
  • Sunday – Red Sox Game and Rest.
  • Monday – Boston Marathon and SIX STAR FINISHER MEDAL.
  • Tuesday – Nurse Hangover from Marathon Monday.
  • Wednesday – Brewery Tour, drink and possibly drink more.
  • Thursday – Overnight Flight into the following day.
  • Friday – Get back to Birmingham (Celebrate with more beer).
  • Saturday – Fly up to Edinburgh.
  • Sunday – Easter Sunday. Happy Kinder Egg Day to me.
  • Monday – Drink.
  • Tuesday – Drink….
  • Wednesday – Return flight Edinburgh to London. Pick up Race Number. have a drink at the airport….
  • Thursday – Drink……
  • Friday – Get fed up of drink……
  • Saturday – Evening flight back to Birmingham from Edinburgh, train from Birmingham to London, hopefully by Midnight.
  • Sunday – LONDON MARATHON NUMBER THREE and train home.
  • Monday – Start back at work at 6am.

…. AND THAT WILL BE IT FOR THE YEAR. No more holidays…. Lot’s of marathons but no more holidays… Okay my Stag party in Vegas, but I’m not counting that as a Holiday because I don’t know what’s going to be done to me on that one. Watch this space. I’ll probably be as surprised as you.

“I’m Running Away!” – 5 items I can’t run away from home without.

Okay, the title of this could be construed as misleading. I’m not on about packing up and running away from home because the stresses of modern life are getting too much… No… Not that…. Not yet anyway!

I did that once when I was about 8 years old and went to my next door neighbors house with a toy briefcase containing: “1 sock, 1 Power Ranger toy, 1 pack of Raisins and a Kinder Egg“. Good to see I had my priorities sorted from an early age and from the laughter strewn across my parents face as they watched me get packed, I could tell they knew I meant business. Moving on.

What I DO mean is what THINGS I cannot travel without if going away from home to run. Certain little items and ideas that over the past few years have proven to be invaluable and in some cases I wish I’d found a lot sooner.

Item 1: Cabin Max Backpack

Cabin Max Backpack

We’re passing through an age and time of aviation now where if we’re honest it’s cheaper to get overseas than it is to reach the other side of the country. Airlines are however all about luring you in with £1 flights then charging you £999 for luggage.

I have used a Cabin Max Backpack for the past 3 years when travelling hand luggage only. It’s a warrior. No longer do you need to worry about hand luggage being too large, Cabin Max is designed to fit like a glove in to the size restriction envelope. Plenty of room for clothing for at least 3 days and a running kit. Fret no more about the weight of your case taking up half of your luggage allowance, Cabin Max weighs less than a kilogram. The best thing though…. The best thing for me which separates this from all of its hard sided, heavy brothers and sisters? You can board the plane, put it by your feet and (provided you have no fine china) give it a good boot under the seat in front. No longer will you need to sit in Row 8 while your hand luggage is somewhere by Row 45 because you spent too long getting drunk in Wetherspoons, eating breakfast and were last to board the plane. Even works at the other end upon landing. Touch down, undo seat belt, grab your backpack and skip merrily onward.

Item 2: Project Files

These cost a few pence each and are amazing for keeping all your little bits of paperwork together. On an average marathon weekend away from home I’ll have my flight details in here, hotel information, boarding passes, any show tickets, marathon expo details/number pick up paperwork, travel insurance and anything else needed really.

I’d recommend printing out an online route plan from the hotel to the start of the race and sticking it in here. Take it out, use it race morning and trash it. Finish line different to start location? Do exactly the same thing but keep it in your pocket for help after the race.

Most weekends I arrive with a full folder and it ends up empty. Anything else is put away to be recycled.

Item 3: Your Own Gels

I have linked my favorites here but figure out during training with close proximity to a rest stop which work best for you.

Gels are a funny thing and can lead to an upset stomach. Something which you don’t need at mile 15 of the Berlin Marathon… meaning you have to go off course, in to a local Dessert Shop where nobody speaks a word of English and ask “Could I please use your Toilet, it really, REALLY is an emergency”.

Yeah, that’s the voice of experience. The voice and cautious tones of a person who tried new gels from the Expo on Marathon Day…. Seriously, take your own. Airline hand luggage allowances allow for liquid bottles under 100ml, so as long as you have your gels in a clear plastic bag you will be fine.

Item 4: Biodegradable Poncho

You know those ones you see everyone wearing at a wet Glastonbury? The throw away ones? They are (in my humble opinion) the BEST thing to wear when waiting to start a race.

Ponchos weigh a few grams, taking up very little room in your hand luggage and honestly take the chill off really well. If you’re not sure whether you need it or not, just carry it to the start area. If it’s a marathon like London where you’re waiting for a couple of hours, the weather could change quickly and the beautiful British skies may well open up on you.

Long and short of it: they take the chill off, they keep you dry, if you don’t need it you can sit on it to keep your bum clean.

Item 5: Spare Running Kit

Shorts Especially. I always have issues with new shorts. The seams are a bit too stiff and after a few miles they chaff like nobodies business.

Goes for any element of your kit though. Take two tee’s, two shorts and four socks… yeah yeah okay, two pairs. Just trying to see if you were still paying attention. Luckily though running kit tends to be very light.

Imagine the scenario. Race day morning, you wake up in the middle of a different country, put your shorts on and “RIP”…. Big tear down the backside…. to compound the issue you’ve lost one of your socks. What are you going to do? Borrow a towel from the bathroom to wear around your waist and hop around the course? Of course you’re not, you’ve bought spares. Shorts off, worn in spares on, sock off, new socks on. Happy days. Grab your room key, grab your poncho and take one last fleeting glance at the bed which you’ve left very early on a Sunday morning to run around for a few hours in the freezing rain…. We’re a strange lot.

100 Marathon Club AGM Marathon 2019

Training for the Boston Marathon really kicked up a notch today. This time last year I was travelling to Tokyo in order to reach my “fifth star”. Today I was in Chasewater in the wonderful West Midlands, but hey I could not complain… Well… I should not anyway. Since the Birmingham Marathon got canned there is very little chance of me running a marathon this close to home anytime soon.

I had a couple of major concerns today.

I had NEVER ran a marathon which required multiple laps before. 8 laps of 3.3 miles lay ahead and I could imagine myself getting so bored after lap 4 I’d end up chasing butterflies or texting.

For the record, I did one of the above… Go figure.

My other concern was the size of the race. Roughly 80 runners. Would there be any support and what would it be like? I don’t mean crowd support, the local Goose and Swan population would provide that in the form of aggravated hissing. Would there be drinks stations? In hindsight I really should have read the pre race briefing email, because this would have cleared up any concerns.

Concerns stuck pushed to the back of my mind, I set out for a red eyed 20 minute drive to Chasewater Park (via McDonalds which added 30 minutes). Parking up the event seemed to have a decent buzz to it, despite the small size.

My Prison Tag for the day

Race number collection was quick, simple and allowed the chance of a fleeting glimpse of the medal. Oh, I forgot! The timing chip! Check this bad boy out.

If I wasn’t aware there was a run on and I saw myself running I would have called the police for trying to outrun the limits of my police tag.

9am sharp we got going. All 80(ish) of us jogging in to the thick fog.

This is where this write up gets repetitive. Should I really write up a review for 8 laps? No.

What I will say is the course was nice and varied. The first mile took us along the edge of the lake and on to a trail section through woodland. Mile two ran alongside the Chasewater Vintage train track and under some fizzing power lines. Shocking. Mile three was back on a trail path along the edge of the lake to the check point.

Oh and what a check point! Drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, everything. The only disappointment I have is with myself… With myself for NOT noticing this until LAP FOUR!!!! When I DID notice it, by Lord did I take advantage. I think I managed to polish off a large bag of Haribo, A pack of Jaffa Cakes and a gallon of squash. Never finished a marathon feeling stuffed before… Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating (slightly) but there was incredible range of “nutritional support” provided by friendly, smiley people. What else do you want eh?

I will tell you what you don’t want. You don’t want to take a lump of vaseline and slather it on your chaffing inner thighs to realise very, VERY quickly that it was Vicks Vapour Rub. Oh. My. I have never smelt so wonderfully menthol but felt such pain before. The whole of the sixth lap was spent looking like a Penguin struggling to get home after a trouser accident.

With the pain clearing up, so did the fog (which was a shame because it was hiding my tears). What a beautiful day. Beautiful park too! Can’t believe it is so close to home and I’d never been here before. Just goes to show there is always something new to see, somewhere new to run.

Just before 2pm I approached the finish line. Turning the last corner to see my wonderful three year old Niece had made the journey up, stood by the finish line grinning like a Cheshire Cat and clapping like a maniac. Probably best to point out she hadn’t made her own way up… Nanny had bought her with the promise of food…. Probably explains the applause actually. “What? He’s Finished?!? PICNIC!!!”

A few Scones later (can you tell I like food?) I started to feel a bit more stiff and accomplished. 7 weeks ago I was nearly 16 stone. Today I finished a marathon in 4:46. 7 weeks from this I’ll be in Boston getting ready for a Marathon.

Six Star Finisher coming up.