All’s Fair in the London Marathon Ballot…isn’t it?

The London Marathon ballot opened today, as it does every year a week after the big day.  But this time there has been a fairly significant change, instead of closing the ballot after 125,000 entries (which only takes a few hours), it will remain open for 5 whole days with no limit on entries.
If you thought your chances of getting in were slim before, they’ve just gone to near-on impossible. How many people will enter the ballot? 200k, 500k, more? Who knows, but I do know that the usual 1 in 7 chance has just been dramatically slashed.

VLM has come under fire in recent years for the way they operate the ballot system.  They never announce the time the ballot will open, which means people stay up until the early hours, and it can already be closed by 10 or 11 in the morning. That’s all well and good if you’re able to do that but if you’re a shift worker, a nurse, a fireman, you can easily be left disappointed at the first hurdle.  So I understand why a change has been made, and the new system is certainly fairer, but going from around an 8 hour window to 5 whole days is, in my opinion, a little excessive and a little silly.

I believe anyone can run a marathon, but I don’t believe everyone has the drive and commitment to make it happen, it’s a shit load of hard work. The problem is the ballot opens when everyone is still high on the smell of sweat and Lucozade and still moved by all the emotional success stories, they want to be a part of it.

Marathon day is glory day, and it certainly doesn’t come much more glorified than in London. But a marathon isn’t just 26.2 miles, far from it, a marathon is made of hundreds and hundreds of miles over months of training. It’s tough early morning runs, late night tempo and wet, windy long weekend miles.  A marathon is made of everything you don’t see.

What I don’t think is fair, and I’m aware it may be controversial, is that there are people who are lucky enough to get ballot places but, when it comes down to it they aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort to do the training.  I don’t subscribe to the ‘proper runner’ theory, if you run you’re a runner, and I’m definitely not not saying you need to finish in a super quick time, but I am saying you need to put an honest effort into the training and do the best you can to prepare, because there are thousands of people that are willing to do it.

Some people enter the ballot just for the hell of it.  They make a half arsed effort to get to the start line because they didn’t want to give up Friday nights in the pub, or give up their warm bed on a freezing January morning, and the people that are willing to do that are left on the sidelines cheering them on. Is that fair? I don’t think so.

I know I’ve run London more than once, and yes maybe it is someone else’s turn, but I’m sad I’m unlikely to be running next year and I’m angry with myself for not trying harder to get a GFA place. There are many people that would say I made a half arsed effort with training this year, that’s why I wasn’t good enough and I’m back in the ballot, maybe it is fair after all.

Quite frankly it would be a lot easier to score a London Marathon place by becoming a Z list celebrity for doing something ridiculous than through the ballot. Screw it, where are the reality show applications?  That might even be quite fun…

VLM Ballot

5 thoughts on “All’s Fair in the London Marathon Ballot…isn’t it?

  1. I feel a fair comment! I watched London last year (injured!) with a friend who has done a couple of marathons and would love to do London – she’s a respectable 4.25 finisher but doesn’t think she’ll be looking at GFA anytime soon – but I know she puts the hours in, she slogs it out at 5.30am (like the rest of us!) and eventually, we did see the people (I can only judge a book by its cover) who clearly haven’t put in the work and we both found it pretty frustrating to watch. So exactly echoing your thoughts.

    I am all for giving people the opportunity but I feel if you are lucky enough to get a ballot spot (even moreso this year) then you should give it your best shot and not feel like you wasted it. I feel like 5 days has maybe gone too far the other way…

  2. This will be my fourth entry in the London Marathon ballot, and given their asinine decision to keep it open until Friday, it will very likely be my fourth consecutive rejection. It’s absurd. Chicago is following the same ridiculous approach by keeping their lottery open for more than a month, all but ensuring an incredibly bloated number of applicants.

    All in the name of what, prestige? Bragging rights? What’s the difference between choosing from 125,000 people or 500,000? You’re still going to get a huge sum of disappointments. And the idea that some people can’t apply because they’re shift workers – the world isn’t a vacuum. I’ve had my friends and family sign me up for races before if I haven’t been near a computer when the window opens. If you know ahead of time, you can prepare. I feel no sympathy otherwise.

    As for how to fix it, my proposition is to make London a marathoner’s marathon. In other words, make it compulsory to have run 5 or so marathons before you can even apply. That might not make it necessarily easier for people to get in, but it’s a far better suggestion than keeping the ballot open for a week when it normally reaches capacity in less than 10 hours.


    1. I feel your pain! They used to honour a place if you had been rejected a certain number of times but they stopped it after more and more people entered the ballot. I hope you get the opportunity to run one day!

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