London Marathon Rejection: Is There A Better Way?

[With big changes to the 2016 London Marathon ballot I’ve taken another look at the numbers here]

[In response to the ballot for the 2017 London Marathon I’ve taken another look at the numbers and potential alternative ways to allocate places here]

This week, many doormats have been warmed and almost as many moods have been cooled by the arrival of the London Marathon ballot result.  Thousands of runners feel hard done by but is there a  better way to allocate London Marathon places?

I am one of the army of runners who received an IronMan MarathonNews magazine: a running rejection beyond all proportions!  I do have a couple of other avenues open to secure a place (you might have too – check out other ways to get a London Marathon place here) so hopefully I will still get to run the 2015 London Marathon.  But why is the London Marathon so important to so many runners?

Lots of people will recognise this disappointing London Marathon magazine
Lots of people will recognise this disappointing London Marathon magazine

All the marketing hyperbole and running community furore tells us this is the greatest marathon, if not the greatest running race to be part of.  The hype is so big that I’ve come across non-runners who call London: “The Marathon”.  Other marathons are available!  No wonder we’re all clambering to capture a place, surely we can’t call ourselves a real runner if we haven’t completed a London Marathon?

It only took watching two London Marathons from the sidelines to change my desire to run a marathon from “never” to “definite”.  I love London as a city and I love the atmosphere that the marathon draws out so I’d love to run the London Marathon but I’d take on a different marathon instead if I can’t get into London.  Not just any old marathon but London isn’t the be-all and end-all – for me.

I can see why people are gutted not to get a place, I’m just not sure the enraged disappointment is justified.  Let’s have a look at some numbers:

There were 36,621 places granted for the 2014 London Marathon.

There were 125,000 people who managed to get into the ballot before it closed in the record time of 9 hours and 35 minutes.

Assuming the 2015 London Marathon will have the same number of places as last year, and every place was given to a ballot entrant, there would still be a huge wave of disappointment with a massive 7 out of 10 of us being unsuccessful.

The scale of disappointment only increases when you take into account places get granted to others outside of the ballot.

One of the groups that is attracting a swathe of criticism from the online running community are the “celebrities”.  It’s not clear exactly how many places are available for those of a famous persuasion but I found a Telegraph article April last year that claims to be the “complete” list – there are 99 names of varying levels of fame and varying running pedigree.

It’s time to all unite and protest to stop these “idiot ‘celebrities’ not interested in running” (a real comment posted on the London Marathon Facebook page today) from stealing our hard earned places.  So that’s 99 more “real” runners with places.  Now what are the other tens of thousands of us unsuccessful balloters going to do?

Let’s target the bloody charity runners – they’re not real runners anyway.

I want to make it clear: this is not my opinion.  As someone who found running as a charity runner, and as a coach of adult runners, I think charity running is a hugely successful way to get people to join our ever-growing sport.  We should be proud that our sport is so inclusive and if people can use it to raise money for good causes then why should we be selfish?

Before the London Marathon changed their website I found that there are around 13,750 charity bond places available – just shy of 38% of the total places available last year.  So a good chunk but still not the majority by any stretch.

I know that every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to be wanting sponsorship nowadays (don’t get me started on the new craze of asking for sponsorship for NOT doing something like Sober October) but if you want a place that bad, choose a cause that is relevant to you and pledge to raise money for it.  And before you complain about the extortionate amount they ask you to pledge – that’s our own fault: it’s old fashioned supply and demand.  With so many people wanting places the charities can pretty much pick their “price”.  It’s also worth noting it costs them £300 per place per year, not to mention the costs of supporting and facilitating their runners over the weekend.  You might also be interested to hear that the average amount of funds raised by a charity bond place last year was £2,400!  Well done people!

Also, due to the success of our sport, some races have become charity led.  There are plenty of others that aren’t so focussed around fundraising – we could give them a go.

Ok, so if we can’t attack the charity runners do we now turn on the “Good For Age” runners?  Damn them for being quick!  They’re just taking places from us average runners.

Again, it’s hard to find numbers but looking at the Run Britain ranking lists there are around 2100 men who have run under 3:05 (the first GFA male time) in 2014, and around 1700 women who have run under 3:45 (the first GFA female time) – so getting on for 4000 runners.  Now the number is likely to be a bit higher due to older runners having longer GFA times and the fact that qualification times can be set up to 2 years ahead of the race.  I’ll be generous and add another 25% to make it 5000 GFA places.

This gives us:

  • 99 celebrities
  • 13,750 charity bond places
  • 5,000 GFA places

Which leaves us balloters with 17,772 places to fight for – just under half the total available.  Seems relatively fair.  But there’s still 125,000 of us fighting over 17,772 places meaning only 15% of us are going to be successful.  And let’s not forget all the people who didn’t even get a ballot place.  The trouble is there are too many of us wanting to run the London Marathon.

Even if we reverted to my first scenario of every place being offered to balloters, only 30% of us would be happy.

Even if the organisers could magic up a way to increase the entry limit to Great North Run proportions there would still be far more disappointment than jubilation.

Can the London Marathon organisers ever win?  Is there another way that would be fairer?

Some people say that entrants should have run a marathon before but how is that fair or inclusive?  It would rule me out.  I don’t think there are any options that aren’t going to leave a huge number of people disappointed and I don’t see anything changing soon (although I’ve heard a rumour, due to the exponential decrease in the time taken for the ballot to close, that their might be changes to the ballot next year).

The way I see it you have a choice:

  • Continue to chance your arm following the pre-defined entry routes of the London Marathon

or

  • Find another marathon that you can more readily gain entry – there are plenty of other marathons, big and small, around the country and the rets of the world to race.

Perhaps it’s easy for me shrug off the rejection while I’ve still got an iron in the London Marathon fire.  Maybe I don’t want it enough?

Do you agree or have I got it wrong?  Should the London Marathon ballot and entry process be changed?  Is it right that charity runners are getting so many places?  And what is it that the London Marathon does for you?

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24 thoughts on “London Marathon Rejection: Is There A Better Way?”

  1. The London Marathon is the flagship event in British road running. As such, shouldn’t greater priority be given to those that support the sport through the clubs, leagues, races and subscriptions, thus keeping it alive throughout the year?
    The ballot attracts too many time wasters who will never actually take up the place, or put in the effort to do it justice. Some sort of pre-qualifying (say a minimum of having run a half), would eliminate many of those who only apply on a whim

    1. Clubs do get some places to distribute to members, albeit only small numbers but I agree, perhaps there could be more.

      In terms of no-shows & time wasters – only 392 people who had 2014 places failed to start the race – this isn’t necessarily all from successful balloters either.

  2. Come and stay with us and do the Victoria marathon Dan – it also qualifies you for the Boston marathon I believe so two for one. BTW I really enjoy your articles.

  3. Although I have been rejected 5+ times for the London Marathon, I would not take issue with the process if the process was transparent. I am an overseas runner Only 5000 spots are allotted to overseas runners when entering the ballot in April. It is not clear if those 5000 are added to the 125,000 UK ballots when drawn or if a select number of overseas ballot entries are drawn separately. I also question whether winners of the ballot are randomly selected (i.e., 130,000 names are put in a hat and 17,000 are randomly drawn) or if there are other considerations taken into account. I believe it is the latter. When entering the ballot, you are required to state how many marathons you have previous run and your time. Why would that information matter for purposes of a “random” drawing of names in October for marathon spots? Of course, why do we have to wait 5 months to find out if we are in the marathon? Why not draw the names right away? Furthermore, why do overseas runners have to wait to receive an email from VLM as to their status several days/week after UK runners receive the magazine? Unless I have missed it on the VLM website, there is no transparency in the ballot selection process and I do not think this is a random selection process. Which means the chances of many of us getting in are likely lower than predicted in this article if a balloter does not meet certain criteria that VLM uses in selecting runners.

    The only fair lotto system that I have found so far was the Berlin marathon which went to a lotto system last year. All they asked for was your name and email address. If a lotto is truly a “random” drawing, then you should not need to provide any more information than that. Berlin also selected runners within 2 weeks of the ballot entry window and then gave those rejected a second opportunity at being selected. I tried and failed both times but was not angry about it. It was luck of the draw. Perhaps there would not be so many angry people if VLM was open about their selection process.

    For now, I continue to wait for an email from VLM to let me know my status.

    1. Some really good points – perhaps they do select based on getting a more even spread of times, although they aren’t in control of the charity runner’s times so not sure if that’s true. A quick lotto like Berlin sounds great. Good luck for your place in London.

    2. One reason for the delay is that they need to know how many ballot places they have to allocate. That depends on how many valid good-for-age applications they receive – all of which must be honoured.

  4. Àll good points. The only reason I want to do London is because my dad ran the first one in 1981. Would be nice to do that as I suspect that most of the other runs he did don’t exist any more. There is only so many times you can ask for fundraising too so that is why I don’t want to take a charity place.

    1. That’s an awesome reason Carol – ever thought of just contacting London Marathon with a great story of how that family history inspired you? You never know.

  5. As long as there are hundreds of thousands of interested runners, then from the organizers’ point of view, there is NO problem at all. This is great for them – a surfeit of willing, paying people is great news to them. It’s more of a “challenge” at this point, to figure out who gets what. Though if you were to ask me to voice my incredibly selfish opinion, I’d say:

    Top Tier marathons (not just London, mind you, but Berlin, Chicago, New York, etc.) should not necessarily tighten their time restrictions, but perhaps allow only multiple-marathoners from running. Yes, this would rule you out (my most humble apologies), but I think it would make for a much more special experience if you had to run 4-5 other marathons first before trying your luck at London.

    Even this might not limit the field too much (I’m sure there are still more than 13,000 runners who have run 5+ marathons who want a spot in London), but at least it would limit the ballot entries.

  6. I got in on the ballot, and i count myself very lucky. The only trouble is I fractured my ankle half way round the great north run. Now I’m worried I won’t be able to do it justice… :S

  7. This is interesting as I have already discussed this point with a lot of people. I took up running to get fit for an up and coming transplant operation. I rely heavily on Charities and volunteers to help raise money to fund research into finding cures for disease’s such as Cancer or in my case Diabetes. It cost the UK £10 billion last year to help treat Diabetes and without the work of Diabetes UK or the JDRF or the Pancreatic Cancer Trust charities, the UK would be behind in research and research into finding cures. In the three years that led upto my running the VLM I learnt so much from the charities about my condition and also about the important work that they do, that I actively raised money and helped raise awareness. A race is a race and will come and go and can be run in one county to another and not change the feeling of achievement that it will bring when you cross the winning line. BUT a life is a life and once it is gone, it is gone and can leave an impact that can change everyone’s life. So I ask, are you running for the glory of yourself, or are you actually running because you enjoy going outside, breathing the air, embracing your alive and enjoying helping others less fortunate than yourself? Think on this please because without the fabulous work that the Virgin London Marathon has done for the hundreds of charities over the years, many of you would be suffering from medicine that was still in the dark ages!!

  8. I’ve been unsuccessful in the ballot for the fifth year in a row today. I’d love to run the London Marathon, it’s an iconic race close to where I live.

    I work for a small company and don’t have a strong enough network of friends, family and professional connections to have even a hope of raising the funds required for a charity place.

    I think the system could be fairer. I’d love to see the enter five times and get a place reinstated, or maybe runners who have been successful in a ballot once, not able to enter on a ballot place again for three years. This would give people a far better chance of getting to run this iconic race at least once in their lifetime.

    1. I think the idea of restricting the ballot to people who have done at least one other marathon is a good one as well.

  9. I was really fed up NOT getting a place today! Received the top I bought by donating my fee to charity , and under that was a big SORRY on front of the book, I was so excited initially thinking I’d got in. I raised over £ 2000 as a charity entry last time and really struggled raising the money , one we live quite rural and two I just do not like asking people for donations. So this year I so hoping I’d get in and raise money for a charity without having to have a minimum.

  10. Your figures are a little iffy as just read something I didn’t realise from London marathon website. They accept quite a few more ballot places as they know (with 36 yrs experience) how many will drop out due to illness or injury. So for the 36k or so that run 50k are successful in gaining a place. Interesting I thought. And better odds for the average Jo.
    (Apologies if I sound like one of those wallys who quibble over everything, I literally read the above last night)

    1. You’re entirely correct – I have since been in a presentation from London Marathon that explained exactly that. Unfortunately there are still 250,000 people fighting for the ballot places. Keep those fingers crossed!

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