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!

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