2016 London Marathon Ballot: What Are The Chances?

Last week I was among nearly 38,000 London Marathon finishers but what are the chances of me running next year?  Major ballot changes may make it fairer but certainly won’t make it easier when the 2016 London Marathon ballot opens tomorrow.

[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]

I was one of over 100,000 people to be left disappointed by the ballot for 2015 London Marathon places.  Fortunately for me, a small charity I support, African Children’s Fund, had a little more luck.  They secured a single place through the inaugural “Charity Ballot”, granting single places to 500 charities who don’t already have places through the Gold & Silver Bond schemes.

After raising over £2,600 for African Children’s Fund this year through the generosity of my friends, family and colleagues, it’ll be a good few years before I can start rattling the tin again.  And in any case, I’m unlikely to attract sponsorship for a second marathon – it would be tough but not tough enough.

So my hopes of running another marathon on the streets of London rest in the fate of the dreaded/revered/disliked* (delete as appropriate!) London Marathon Ballot!

The 125,000 ballot places for the 2015 London Marathon were taken in under 10 hours and with it looking like the 2016 ballot would close even quicker, and with even more complaints, the organisers have made a big change:

The 2016 London Marathon ballot will be unlimited.

The ballot for the 2016 London Marathon will open this Bank Holiday Monday, May 4th 2015, at an undisclosed time, and will remain open, regardless of the number of people who sign up, until 17:00 on Friday May 8th 2015.

So we’re all happy then?

Well, the 5 day window means everyone who wants to be in the ballot can be, so I guess that is fairer but it won’t make it any easier to get a place in the 2016 London Marathon.

In 2015, there were 125,000 people signed up to fight for around 17,000 start places.  That’s more than 7 people lining up for each place.  Not great odds, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Given that there have been complaints from people that couldn’t even get into last year’s ballot, there are certainly more than 125,000 people wanting to sign up.  But just how many people could be in the 2016 ballot?  If 125,000 signed up in less than a day, does that mean we’re looking at half a million people signing up?  Probably not, but what is the number likely to be?

Anyone who runs will know that we’re part of a growing sport.  In the 2013/14 Active People Survey, more than 2 million people are involved in running at least once a week.

Now, the chances are, a large proportion of the 2 million aren’t interested in signing up for any marathon, let alone London so how can we get a better idea on numbers?

It may be safer to say that most people who run a marathon have, at least, run a half marathon before.

Using some of the information on the Run Britain Rankings website, I estimate that around 180,000 men ran a half marathon last year.  If we use the gender ratio of this year’s London Marathon to calculate the number of women running a half marathon last year it would equate to 110,000 women.

If we assume that some of those won’t be interested in upping their distance, but there will be an equal number of people who decide they’ll give a marathon crack without having run a half before, it’s probably about right.

So there could be towards 300,000 people waiting for around 17,000 places.  That’s nearly 18 eager marathon runners for every balloted marathon place.  Oh dear.

[Update 15 May 2015]

The London Marathon have now announced how many people signed up for the 2016 ballot – a surprisingly low, in my opinion, 247,069 people.

While I expected the numbers to be higher, it still means the likelihood of securing a ballot place for the 2016 London Marathon will be about 1 in 15 so keep those fingers crossed!

[End of update]

So the ballot may well be fairer, but it certainly won’t be easier.  Some of us will be lucky, even more of us than usual will not be.  Instead we’ll have to try to gain a place in the 2016 London Marathon through the other channels:

  • Elite entry (less than 100 places): only those of you with legendary race records need apply
  • Celebrity entry (less than 100 places): if you think you’re famous and have a cause or story that is newsworthy then get in touch with the organisers
  • Championship entry (approx 1000 places): running a sub 2:45 marathon (for men) or sub 3:15 (for women) – or an equally rapid half marathon time
  • Good For Age entry (approx 5000 places): a sub 3:05 marathon (for men aged under 40) or sub 3:45 (for women aged under 40) – times get more lenient as you get older
  • British Athletics Club entry (less than 1000 places): British Athletic affiliated clubs can apply for places based on the number of adult members – but don’t expect many, it’s approximately a place for every 60 or 70 members
  • Charity entry (approx 15000 places): promise to raise money for a huge variety of good causes but don’t be surprised to have to go through a selection process, such is the demand for places

There is of course another option, and that is to choose one of the other marathons held in the UK every year – there are 150 listed on the Find A Race website alone!  Or perhaps go further afield and make a trip of it – Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, New York?

Watching the London Marathon twice from behind the barriers convinced me to become a marathoner.  Having now experienced London Marathon from the tough side of the barriers I know just why so many of us want a place.

So, to all of you who decide to put your name forward, good luck.  I hope you are one of the lucky people who are able to experience what I did this year.  And if you do get a place and the going gets tough, remember all the people who would have taken that place off your hands and do us proud!

27 thoughts on “2016 London Marathon Ballot: What Are The Chances?”

  1. Usually I’m all for fairness, but I liked the way the ballot shut when it was full because I felt like it filtered out the people who REALLY wanted it. I put my name in the ballot at 2am but a friend of mine who wasn’t that bothered missed out because he waited until about 9am. I read once that about 2000 people DNS and that’s frustrating for those of us who missed out on the ballot.

    1. With so many people wanting the chance I don’t think there will ever be a truly fair way. It’s worth noting that they great thousands of additional places each year knowing that people don’t show so they have taken account of it.

    2. DNS’s are accounted for when selecting how many places to allocate so you shouldn’t find it frustrating. The percentage who drop out before the start stays consistent year on year, that’s part of why you cannot transfer your place to a substitute runner.

      i.e. If there were expected to be 0 DNS’s they’d be 2000 less marathon places.

  2. Well done on your race Dan. This is a great post, definitely highlights some of the issues as well as being well researched 🙂 Don’t forget there are also overseas entrants too, so the UK half marathon numbers only really account for UK entrants to the ballot. That means potentially even more than you’ve deduced!

    1. It’s so tricky to get fully open details of all the entrance routes. I had indeed forgotten about the Overseas ballot – and the sports tour places for people living overseas. No idea how many places are put to one side for either of them!

  3. Good article. I’m interested where you got your figures for the various types of “guaranteed” entries from? In addition to the Overseas ballot runners, as mentioned by Georgina, I think you might also have forgotten about the ballot runners who deferred there place from this year because of illness/injury. Unfortunately, the number of ballot places available seem to be getting smaller and smaller, and thus the chances of getting a place worse and worse!

    1. I’ve had to pull numbers from all over – some are in the official media guide from this year’s marathon. Some are based on extrapolating data from other sources and include a big pinch of salt in certain cases because information is so hard to come by. Deferrals is a difficult one, although I suspect that (roughly) as many people defer from this year to next as from the previous year to this year so probably cancels itself out.

  4. I’m sure the announcer inside Greenwich Park this year said that in total they allocated over 50,000 places for the 2015 marathon, but they know to within 1-2% how many of those will actually be taken up. It wasn’t until after the registration process at the Expo that they knew the number of people running this year would be around 38,000. I don’t know how opening the ballot up for 5 days rather than 125,000 entries will change their calculations, but it has to have some effect right?

    1. You are correct – there were 51,696 “accepted applicants” as the media guide terms it that ended up picking up the 38,000 numbers during the Expo. Looking back over the years, the proportion of starters compared to “accepted applicants” is almost always between 72-74%.

      I think the only effect from leaving the ballot open for longer, is that more people will enter the ballot, meaning it will be harder to get a place. As far as I can make out, the number of places offered will remain the same.

  5. great writing as usual…… i think your 300,000 entries estimate might be light, i estimate it will get above 400,000. Have entered for a number of years now getting in once and always donated my entry fee, but this years “fair” ballot just seems to me a way of getting more people to “buy” a running top and boost their charity, might just be the cynic in me! Either way for the first time i have this year not donated my entry fee as a result.

    1. I too have decided not to donate my fee for the first time. As unfortunate as it is, I think they had no option but to change the ballot. We were heading down a road of faster and faster closure. I’ll be interested to see just how many people sign up and whether we see any further changes next year.

  6. Interesting article Dan. Whilst we cannot help with London we do offer a number of high profile marathons in Europe (Amsterdam, Berlin, Valencia to name just 3) as well as many smaller ones (Majorca, Malta and Cyprus – another 3). In addition we have stacks of half marathons and one or two 10Ks/5Ks abroad. All races are well organised and our runners have such a fun weekend – just check out some of their testimonials. ‘Run away with us!’ Thanks. Running Crazy

  7. This is a great post, thanks for doing the research on this. I appreciate that some of the numbers are a bit of a stab in the dark, but it’s good to have even a rough estimate at what the chances are in the ballot.

    I agree with Damian above, it might be cynical, but I think someone at VLM realised that keeping open the ballot for longer would mean that a lot more people would sign up and thus a lot more donated entry fees. I also think that the reason VLM publish very few numbers about the number of ballot entries vs spaces etc, is because that very few people would donate their fee if they knew just how slim their chances of getting a spot were.

  8. I definitely disagree that this year’s system is fairer. If you really want to run the race, you will be up at midnight, signing up for the ballot, just like every previous year. Those who don’t have access to a computer can ask a friend (like I have several times already) — no one lives in a vacuum. To make the already difficult task of getting a spot exponentially more difficult is just disappointing. Chicago is attempting the same thing by keeping their lottery open for over a month, which is even more preposterous.

    Alas. I’m only going for my 4th consecutive rejection – I know some are well into their 10th, 11th and 12th. My misery must pale.

  9. I’m up to about 10 rejections now, and for good measure my athetics club gets 2 places and between 4-6 athletes apply,yet somehow I still never get a place (you would think the miserly shits would give me a place one year out of sympathy)
    it just seems like me and London are destined never to be, to the point I left London on marathon weekend as it is breaking my heart.

  10. Hi Dan,

    I have applied for the London marathon numerous times with no luck. My key frustration is about how long it takes for the ballot results to come out. October for a ballot closed in April – it is a joke in this day an age. Do you know or have read about why it takes so long?

    By the time they they get about breaking my hopes each year, all the other marathons for April have closed entries.


    1. It is frustrating – I know people enter another one and then just don’t run if they’re successful for London. The reason why the ballot results are 6 months after the ballot is still a mystery.

  11. What’s disappointing is the obscene £500-700+ the London marathon organisation charges charities for each place? Instead people should run in the Brighton/Manchester etc. so more of their donations go to the actual charity!

  12. Since 2010 I have entered /ran 10 marathons. I’m luckier than a lot of marathers. 2 London ballot places since 2010 and 1 London competition place. The other 7 include 2 Gold Bond for London, 2 Gold Bond for the Berlin Marathon and 1 Gold Bond for the Paris Marathon. I cover most of the minimum sponsorships myself.
    Perhaps London ought to consider a running number for those who can show their support to local charities when failing the ballot places.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s