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?
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
- 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?