For me, as with most marathon runners, completing the six marathon majors and earning that huge six star medal has been a goal of mine ever since I ran my first marathon in Paris back in 2017. I wouldn’t say that I fell in love with marathon running, in fact the only time I enjoy marathon running is when I am not doing it. Its damn hard work and painful yet despite that there is a hook to it that keeps pulling you back in for more.
Currently there are six marathons on the Abbotts World Marathon Major list (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago & New York). They have announced that this is being reviewed and it is highly likely that one maybe two more will be added to the series in the coming year(s).
Anyone who has ran or attempted to enter one of these six will know that in most cases, getting a place in the race can be the hardest part of the whole race. So far, I have ran four of the six (London, Berlin, Chicago & New York x 2) with number five due in March 2019.
I thought I would pull together all of the information I have gathered from gaining entry into these four and my research into the remaining two and write up a basic how to guide.
Of all six majors Tokyo is the one that does not excite me as much as the other five, I think this is just because it is so far away from the UK and I suffer badly with jetlag so I know it wont be easy. I am sure once I get there in 2019 it will be as amazing as the other majors I have ran.
Tokyo can be one of the more tricky ones to get into with no qualifying times unless you are a super fast runner. The lottery is the main way to secure a place and is heavily over subscribed leaving chances of getting a race place slim.
A race place will cost 10,800 YEN for Japanese residents and 12,800 YEN for overseas residents.
The lottery is the main way to enter the Tokyo Marathon. The window for applications opens at the beginning of August and runs for one month with results announced in late September. The lottery is free to enter, you then have until early October to pay the registration fee.
In 2019 there were 30,000 race places available through the lottery with approximately 320,000 entering the draw, leaving a slim less than 10% chance of being picked out.
For Tokyo, the lottery is opened a month after the charity place window. You may want to consider looking at charity options if you really want to run the race this year as once the lottery is drawn, there are no other options. They are very strict around race places.
RUN as ONE:
In 2019 300 places were available through the semi elite RUN as ONE entry method. RUN as ONE is designed to provide a way in for fast overseas runners who have met the qualifying standard: MEN: 02:21:01 – 02:45:00 & WOMEN 02:52:01 – 03:30:00 over the full marathon distance. Applications are accepted from the second week in July for three weeks.
Using a tour operator for Tokyo can be an expensive option but as they can arrange flights, accommodation and a race place this can take a lot of stress out of the whole process. Places are very limited and sell out really fast so make sure to be on any notification or waitlists to give yourself the best chance.
I wasn’t able to find a list of official tour operators on the Tokyo Marathon website so it is worth doing a Google search for your local tour operator, but typically the same companies cover all of the marathon majors. Please due your usual due diligence when searching for a tour operator, not all companies are legit. In the UK the main tour operators I know of are Sports Tours International or 2:09 Events I have previously used Sports Tours on three occasions and have only great things to say about them. Similarly friends have used 2:09 and also have great things to say.
In 2019 the number of charity places were increased to 5,000. These are available on a first come first served basis and sell out very fast. The registration window opens in July for around one month, it is worth noting that the lottery window does not open until the following month. In 2019, the charity places were filled within the first week, it would have been sooner than that but they experienced system issues causing a temporary suspension of registrations.
Each charity asks for a donation of at least 100,00 YEN and you pay this donation upfront before being allocated a race place.
I used the charity option to secure my race place for 2019 and decided to pay the 100,000 YEN donation myself, this worked out at around £670. I could then arrange my own flights and accommodation, which, when all totalled up saved me around £1,000 compared to using a Tour Operator.
Below is a link to the official charities page and a list of the available charities.
For most people this will probably be the most difficult of the majors to get into. Unlike the other five, Boston does not run a lottery to award race places.
More than 80% of race bibs are given to people who have ran a qualifying time, although not quite as fast as some of the other majors, these times do put a race place out of reach for a lot of people. There are a few other options but they are very limited.
A race place will cost $200 for US residents and $250 for non US residents.
These are the official qualifying times required to be considered for a race place, however, as race places are in such high demand BAA open registration on a sliding scale. So if you ran the required time for your age group and were more than 20 minutes faster, you can register first. Then 10 minutes faster and then 5 minutes faster. Finally anyone who ran a qualifying time can apply to register after the minus 5 minute window has closed provided there are places remaining. In 2019 the cutoff time for a race place was 4:52 faster than the qualifying time. So as a good rule it is best to aim to beat your required qualifying time by at least 5 minutes to give yourself a good chance of securing a spot. In 2019 7,384 qualifiers were not accepted after reaching race capacity.
Please click here to view the most up to date information on qualifying times as those stated below may have changed from 2021 onwards.
|18 – 34||3hrs 00min 00sec||3hrs 30min 00sec|
|35 – 39||3hrs 05min 00sec||3hrs 35min 00sec|
|40 – 44||3hrs 10min 00sec||3hrs 40min 00sec|
|45 – 49||3hrs 20min 00sec||3hrs 50min 00sec|
|50 – 54||3hrs 25min 00sec||3hrs 55min 00sec|
|55 – 59||3hrs 35min 00sec||4hrs 05min 00sec|
|60 – 64||3hrs 50min 00sec||4hrs 20min 00sec|
|65 – 69||4hrs 05min 00sec||4hrs 35min 00sec|
|70 – 74||4hrs 20min 00sec||4hrs 50min 00sec|
|75 – 79||4hrs 35min 00sec||5hrs 05min 00sec|
|80 & over||4hrs 50min 00sec||5hrs 20min 00sec|
Another option is with your local tour operator. I tried to find a list of these on the BAA website but either I need glasses or it wasn’t listed. Tour Partners do not get many places for the Boston Marathon. For 2019, Sports Tours International were only given 40 race spots and as you can imagine, these sold out in minutes so you need to be prepared and ready to go once they go on sale. A waiting list is opened around March so get yourself on that to be notified of the on sale date.
Using a tour partner is something I have done on three occasions to date. It can be expensive but it does take a lot of the stress out of travel planning as most will include flights, accommodation, transfers, travel insurance and that all important race place or a mixture of these. You also get the assistance of some knowledgable staff on the ground, they can escort you to the expo or answer questions and sort out any issues that may arise.
Around 2,000 places are available through charities, a list of which is below. You can expect to be required to raise in excess of $5,000 if you do not have a race bib with most charities asking you to meet certain checkpoints with your fund raising, if you fail to meet any of these they could charge the difference to your credit card or retract your race place. In addition to this, most charities will charge you a fee for applying before considering your application.
London offers a number of entry methods with the highest proportion of runners (17,000) gaining entry through the lottery, although, the odds of getting a place through the lottery get slimmer and slimmer each year. In 2019 414,000 entered the lottery with a 4% – 6% chance of being one of the lucky ones. For most non UK residents, getting into the London marathon is the toughest of any of the six marathon majors.
A race place will cost £35 members of a UK affiliated club, £39 for non club runners and £80 for non UK residents.
Qualifying times or good for age, are only available to UK residents. In 2019 6,000 places were available to those who met the below qualifying standards. These are split equally between men & women. as with most of the marathon majors now, simply running a qualifying time does not guarantee a race place. Depending on the number of applications you may need to be a number of minutes under the required time.The application window is usually open for around 10 days in early August and you are notified mid August with payment expected to be made before month end.
|18 – 39||sub 3:00||sub 3:45|
|40 – 44||sub 3:05||sub 3:50|
|45 – 49||sub 3:10||sub 3:53|
|50 – 54||sub 3:15||sub 4:00|
|55 – 59||sub 3:20||sub 4:05|
|60 – 64||sub 3:45||sub 4:30|
|65 – 69||sub 4:00||sub 5:00|
|70 – 74||sub 5:00||sub 6:00|
|75 – 79||sub 5:15||sub 6:20|
|80 & over||sub 5:30||sub 6:40|
If you are a member of an athletics club associated with British Athletics and ran a championship qualifying time (see below) over either the marathon or half marathon distance during the two years prior to race day you can apply to a Championship Entry. Applications usually close by early January.
|Full Marathon||sub 2:45||sub 3:15|
|Half Marathon||sub 1:15||sub 1:30|
British Athletics Club:
In 2019 1,000 places were given to athletics clubs associated with British Athletics. These clubs then awarded one of their members a place in the marathon. From my experience these are again awarded by an internal club lottery.
In 2019 17,000 places were available via the lottery for UK and international runners. The lottery was open for one week from the end April / early May. You then have to wait until mid October to find out whether you got a race place. The lottery is free to enter, you are only charged the race fee once you are successful.
International Tour Partners:
A number of places are available through your local tour partner, I have linked the official list below. UK residents cannot use their local tour partner such as Sports Tours or 2:09 events, they do not have race places.
In 2019 15,000 place were available through a huge number of charities. Below is a link of the official charities offering places in the marathon. Fundraising minimum pledges are typically between £2,000 – £2,500 although some smaller charity’s can ask for less.
In 2018 I ran the London marathon for The British Heart Foundation dressed as a love heart, where the fundraising target was £2,000.
Berlin is the flat PR potential course and as a result very popular with those after a fast race time as well as those chasing the six marathon majors. As with all other marathon majors, the lottery is massively oversubscribed leaving roughly a 12% chance of getting a race place this way, the qualifying times are equally as difficult to run with just three ages groups and really fast times required.
A race place will cost you €125.
As mentioned above, these times are fast and with just three age groups you could be trying to meet the standard for a long time. One thing that stands out to me is the difference required for an 18 year old male is just 40mins faster than that of an 80 year old male, whereas the difference for a female is 1:10.
Registration for a qualifying time place runs for three weeks from mid October to the beginning of November with the results announced three weeks later.
|18 – 44||sub 2:45||sub 3:00|
|45 – 59||sub 2:55||sub 3:20|
|60 & over||sub 3:25||sub 4:10|
The lottery is free to enter, the window opens mid October and runs for three weeks with the results announced at the end of November.
There are a lot of tour partners to chose from, all listed on the link below. Make sure to double check what is included as I noticed some include flights, accommodation and race places, some don’t actually include race entry so be careful!
Charity places are available from the day after the lottery & qualifying windows close (8th Nov in 2018). Below is a link to the official charities page but you can typically be expected to pledge around £1,000 to gain your race place.
I ran for Prostate Cancer UK in 2017 and have included the link to their Berlin Marathon page as this is a cause I feel passionate about and wish to encourage others to help and support the work that these guys are doing. Also in 2017 their fundraising pledge was only £500, this has since raised to £700 but still considerably less than other charities.
Another flat and fast course and in an amazing city, come on! the home of the Deep Dish is the perfect excuse to run a marathon right? carb loading to the extreme.
Given the flat fast course it is surprising that the odds of securing a lottery place in the Chicago marathon are higher than any of the other five. Whilst the official figures are not released, it is believed to be around a 30% – 40% chance of getting in.
$205 US residents or $230 non US residents
Chicago is the only marathon I have seen which allows runners under the age of 18 to enter. The application window for qualifying time entries opens in the third or forth week of October, one week prior to the main lottery and runs through to the end of November with the announcement mails going out around the second week of December.
|16 – 29||sub 3:05||sub 3:35|
|30 – 39||sub 3:10||sub 3:40|
|40 – 49||sub 3:20||sub 3:50|
|50 – 59||sub 3:35||sub 4:20|
|60 – 69||sub 4:00||sub 5:00|
|70 – 79||sub 4:30||sub 5:55|
|80 & over||sub 5:25||sub 6:10|
The lottery opens towards the end of October and runs through to the end of November before the drawing announcement mails go out around the second week of December.
Of all of the marathon majors, it is widely reported that Chicago offers the best chance to land a race place via the lottery. In 2015 the odds were as high as 53%, I would expect the odds today to be a lot lower than that figure given the ever growing popularity of the marathon majors but you have got to be in it to win it.
Runners who have completed the Chicago Marathon five or more times within the previous ten years can claim a guaranteed race place during the lottery period in October / November.
Shamrock Shuffle Finisher:
If you have completed the Shamrock Shuffle 8k race four or more times and registered for the upcoming race, you also qualify for the Chicago Marathon.
Tour partners offer a large number of race places, I have linked the official list of partners below. In 2018, I used Sports Tours International to gain entry. I could not fault them, they were fantastic from booking to the return flight.
There are roughly 10,000 race places available through the charity option with most charities looking for sponsorship pledges between $1,250 – $1,750 depending on whether you have a race place or not. I have linked the official list of charities below.
The biggest marathon in the world with over 52,000 finishers in 2018. This is by far my favourite anywhere in the world, I love running New York. It is like a 26.2 mile street party with over 3 million spectators lining the streets cheering you on.
A race place will cost you $295 for US residents or $255 for US residents who are NYRR Members. Non-US residents will pay $358.
New York is the only of the majors where you can use a marathon or half marathon time to meet the qualifying standards as shown below. If you ran a qualifying time in an NYRR race then you are eligible for guaranteed entry into the NYC marathon. A limited number of race places are available for those who ran a qualifying time at a non-NYRR race, these are allocated on a first come first served basis but you are placed in the non guaranteed entry drawing until your time is verified by NYRR. Verification is completed prior to the main non guaranteed drawing. If you ran a non NYRR qualifying time but the number of race places has already been filled, you are placed in the lottery to give you a chance at running.
Mens Qualifying Times:
|Age Group||Marathon||Half Marathon|
|18 – 34||02:53:00||01:21:00|
|35 – 39||02:55:00||01:23:00|
|40 – 44||02:58:00||01:25:00|
|45 – 49||03:05:00||01:28:00|
|50 – 54||03:14:00||01:32:00|
|55 – 59||03:23:00||01:36:00|
|60 – 64||03:34:00||01:41:00|
|65 – 69||03:45:00||01:46:00|
|70 – 74||04:10:00||01:57:00|
|75 – 79||04:30:00||02:07:00|
|80 & over||04:55:00||02:15:00|
Womens Qualifying Times:
|Age Group||Marathon||Half Marathon|
|18 – 34||03:13:00||01:32:00|
|35 – 39||03:15:00||01:34:00|
|40 – 44||03:26:00||01:37:00|
|45 – 49||03:38:00||01:42:00|
|50 – 54||03:51:00||01:49:00|
|55 – 59||04:10:00||01:54:00|
|60 – 64||04:27:00||02:02:00|
|65 – 69||04:50:00||02:27:00|
|70 – 74||05:30:00||02:40:00|
|75 – 79||06:00:00||02:40:00|
|80 & over||06:35:00||02:50:00|
The odds on getting a place via the lottery are fairly slim although higher than most of the other marathon majors. In 2018 105,184 people entered the drawing with 15,640 places up for grabs giving you just shy of a 15% chance.
The lottery is free to enter with the registration window opens mid January and runs for one month with the results announced two weeks later.
NYRR 9+1 & 9+ 1k Program:
In order to earn a guaranteed place in the following years New York City marathon, NYRR members must complete 9 NYRR qualifying races and volunteer at one NYRR qualifying or you can forego the volunteering by making a $1,000 donation to NYRR’s youth and community program in the same year.
Runners who have met these requirements are able to claim their guaranteed entry and pay the entry fee during the one month application window which runs from mid Jan to mid Feb.
Virtual 26.2 Race:
In 2018 NYRR started a virtual racing program where runners could register to take part in a virtual race on Strava. You are able to run the race distance anywhere in the world during the race period (typically 7-10 days) and then upload this to Strava, logged as a race with your privacy setting set to public. In November 2018, NYRR announced that a limited number of people could take part in a virtual 26.2 race over the NYC marathon weekend paying an entry fee of around $100 – $120. It is worth noting that running the actual New York City marathon does not count towards the virtual race. In return for completing the virtual 26.2 race runners would receive a medal, cap and a guaranteed place in the following years marathon. There is yet to be an announcement whether this will be an option for 2020 but it is my guess that following the success of this program in 2018, this will continue going forward .
15+ Legacy Finisher:
Those who have completed 15 or more New York City marathons are guaranteed a place in the New York City marathon for life. You need to submit your application and pay the entry fee during the one month window which runs mid Jan to mid Feb.
This is by far the most popular method for gaining entry into the NYC marathon. I have included the list of official tour partners below.
I have used Sports Tours International for both of my NY marathon trips. They offer a number of options such as full package, flight & race entry, hotel & race entry etc. In 2017 I went with the full package which included flights, transfers, hotel and race entry. As solo traveller opting for a room to myself, the single person occupancy fees can make this option quite expensive. In 2018 I went for flight & race entry with Sports Tours and made my own hotel reservation. I found this method to be considerably less expensive.
There are a large number of charities to chose from most of which require a minimum sponsorship pledge of $2,500. Below is a link to the official list of charities. The headline charity to the NYC marathon is Team for Kids. These guys really look after their runners, offering perks such as private transport to the start villages, a heated tent with food & drink in the village and a really cool standout running top plus the support of NYC.