Desperation to run the London marathon

There’s a marathon taking place in two weeks time.  There’s a good chance that even if you have no interest in running you will still know something about this one.

A couple of the (non-running related) big Youtubers I follow seem to be running the event this year, articles keep popping up online and even Radio 2 featured an interview with Paula Radcliffe earlier in the week.

I was lucky enough to gain a club ballot place at the London marathon back in 2014.  I had been interested in running the London marathon since I first started running in 2011.  However, unlike for some it wasn’t my dream race, or one I felt that I had to run.  I’d already run three marathons and an ultra marathon by the time I reached the VLM start line in April 2014.

VLM number

This didn’t stop the barrage of questions coming from non-running friends, family and work colleagues who knew that I would be running the London marathon that year though.  You’ll be surprised at how many people suddenly become interested when you drop into the conversation that it is London marathon that you will be running.  They’ve heard of that race.  That one is on TV.  The other marathons weren’t real marathons were they?Are they the same distance as the London marathon?…!

Last year for the first time, the Virgin Money London Marathon operated a new ballot entry system for entry to the event.  In previous years, the ballot opened on the Monday eight days following the race and remained open until 125,000 wannabe runners had entered their names into the metaphorical hat.  Last year though, the lottery system changed and the ballot entry system remained open for five whole days, meaning that in total, 247,069 wannabes were in the hat ready for the draw to take place months later for even less places in the race.  The VMLM website states that this change was made to reflect the large number of people previously unable to enter due to ‘religious holidays, shift work, family commitments and other reasons’.

In total, there are 50,000 places issued for the race each year.  (Apparently just 35,000 of this number make it to the start line on race day for one reason or another.)  This number is not made up purely of ballot entries though.  The number also accounts for the high number of charity entries, elites and the ever growing list of Good For Age (GFA) and Championship start runners.  Basically, your chances of getting in through the ballot are very small indeed.  Allegedly the quality of runners we have in the UK has increased substantially over recent years and so a few years back, the GFA guidelines were tightened further.  As a result, I would now need to achieve a separate marathon time of 3h 45m or faster in order to qualify for a GFA place in London.  Probably not entirely impossible.  I’m sure if I worked bloody hard and trained solely for one event I could cut my marathon times by a large margin, but I would very definitely have to sacrifice a lot to get there for my current starting point!

I won a 2014 place through my running club ballot.  Every affiliated running club in the UK is issued a number of ballot places dependent upon the number of runners in their club.  In the past, our club had always been allocated four places, but last year, despite membership numbers increasing, we were offered just three.  Each club seems to lay down their own rules when it comes to entering for a chance to win a place for London.  Our club grants one entry for each member who has been so for a minimum of a year, followed by a further entry if you marshal or run at our club Summer race, the Welly 5.  A third entry can be gained by running enough races to score for WDAC in the local series, the Northamptonshire Road Running League.  I like that our club reward for supporting the club events, and also showing that you are willing to compete for the club.

When you’ve been in the running world a little while, you can spot the runners that seem to get a place in the London marathon year after year.  They’re not fast enough for a GFA, don’t appear to be raising any money for charity, yet have taken an entry for several years in a row.

There’s an event near where I live called the Colworth Marathon Challenge.  I ran it for the first time last year and loved it.  The concept is that you run a marathon over the three days of the weekend.  Five miles of road on the Friday evening, a trail 8.1m on Saturday lunchtime and then topped off with a trail half marathon on the Sunday morning.  It’s a great event with fab support and several of our club take advantage of the free camping in the grounds for the weekend to turn it into a proper party event!

Colworth marathon challenge numbers

Results are published for all three events, but then also for the Marathon Challenge with a cumulative time.  Although not being an actual marathon, it seems that VMLM have been accepting these times for GFA entries unknowingly.  Although some of the route for Colworth is off-road and rutty, – running a marathon over three days, with time for rest, recovery and lots of food inbetween is in no way the same as gaining the same time as running a genuine marathon in one day.

Something that really winds me up is when people swap numbers for large events.  Lots of smaller events offer to let you transfer numbers, as Race Directors don’t want to see places go to waste.  Injuries, pregnancies, and all number of other things can happen between entering and race day.  It makes sense to allow runners to transfer numbers at smaller events, as long as updated ICE numbers and medical details are given.  In a balloted race though, this cannot be an option.  It would be unfair if you gained a place in the race just because you had fast (or lucky/unlucky!) friends.

In one of the Facebook blogger groups I’m a member of, a link was recently shared to a post talking about an American blogger who has been banned from Boston following an initial donation of her race bib to a friend and then using her friend’s time to qualify for Boston the following year.  Have a read and let me know what you think.  I had a place for the Great North Run (another balloted event) back in 2013 which I wasn’t able to run as it conflicted with a race scheduled as part of my Women’s Running magazine win.  A friend asked if he could have the place and although the place was just going to go to waste otherwise, I was worried that something might happen, or that both him and I would lose our right to be able to enter future British road races, as threatened in the race pack.  I lost my place in the end.
At a recent local event, a runner known to our club had passed on their place to another runner, who then happened to win a prize for coming in 3rd in his age category, when in fact the person who had run in his place was not in that age category at all.  The poor person who thought they had just been pipped to the post and crossed the line in 4th should have gone home with a prize instead.

Anyway, back to London…

Cons – Having to apply a year in advance and, for the majority of runners, not finding out for another six months whether or not you have been issued with a place.  An expensive event when you total everything up, it also requires great planning by yourself and any supporters for race day to navigate where you and they should be and when.  You have to attend the race expo (or nominate a friend to head down with your ID) in the four days before race day, meaning that if you don’t live in London you will be spending a lot of that week out that way!  Also, if you don’t like feeling trapped, this probably isn’t the race for you as for several miles your pace will be dictated by those around you.  The streets will be littered with unseen water bottles that you are often unable to miss, potentially causing injury and wiping you out in the very beginning.Half way VLM

Pros – The atmosphere is amazing, the support line the streets for the entire course and there is a good chance that you will be able to spot some of the elites out on the course as the route snakes back on itself at halfway.  The race has ‘status’ from non-runners who will most likely spend the morning trying to look out for you (amongst the other 34,999 runners) on TV!  There are pacers available for a wide variety of finish times and the organisation is spot on.Mo at London

Although I loved running the London marathon and would love to run it again one day, if I don’t gain a place in the ballot for 2017 when places are issued in October, I won’t be too upset and I won’t be going about an ‘illegal’ entry method to gain a place.  I am very excited to go down and support for a second year on the 24th April and I feel very lucky that I have been able to run the race when many others are still waiting for their lucky entry.  But there are so many other fantastic marathons out there for me to go and try.  Some for just a fraction of the cost and hassle that come with running London!

What has been your favourite marathon?
Have you run the London marathon?
Would you ever be untruthful in order to gain a place for a race?

6 thoughts on “Desperation to run the London marathon

  1. I saw all the stuff on facebook about that blogger in the US. I thought she was totally wrong- not only because they ban swapping bibs, but also she had used someone else’s time to get a good for age entry, which is just awful when people train for years to get their times down enough to get into Boston.
    I do not know why races don’t let runners swap numbers- it really can’t cost them anything to delete one persons name and add another. Most small races allow it very easily, and even bigger ones can (we had to swap a runner name for the Winter Run because one runner in our group was going through chemo and was too poorly to run- they were really good about it). Years ago I had an entry to Brighton half but I was too ill, so I gave the number to someone else (they were not fast either, so no worries about her winning a prize or anything)- and they have the space on the back of the number for next of kin info etc, but she travelled down and left the number at home so she didn’t even manage to do it. I suppose with that race there was no ballot system so it wasn’t really stopping anyone else from doing it. I don’t think I would ever take someone else’s number though unless they transferred it properly as I would be too worried about something going wrong!
    London has never appealed to me- I am not sure why but the hype that surrounds it does annoy me, and the huge crowds just seem very stressful. I loved going to Stockholm and combining sightseeing with doing a marathon, and the only other one I have done was Brighton, because I love running there, and it was in the school holidays as I didn’t want to have to go to work the next day!
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Aldenham Country Park parkrun- another bit of tourismMy Profile

    1. I agree – I think all races should be able to swap numbers to a certain cut-off point, as surely it is better to have happy and safe runners rather than disgruntled or ‘illegal’ runners at an event.
      How annoying for your friend who travelled down to Brighton only to forget the number! That is very definitely something I could see myself doing!
      It didn’t clock that Brighton falls in the school holidays. I shall have to look properly at the Easter marathons next year against the school calendar to see if I can travel a little further afield perhaps.

  2. I’d love to run London because, as marathons are my favourite distance, I feel I ‘need’ to because it’s Britain’s most popular one and everyone’s heard of it. Plus I’m fed up of saying “no I haven’t” whenever someone asks if I’ve run London after they hear I run marathons. Yes it’s a completely hyped up race but it’s one I’d still love to do. And it’s one of the marathon majors and my plan is to run all of them (some day!). But there are so many other marathons out there more scenic and enjoyable I’m sure! If people don’t get into London it’s not the end of the world!
    I do think it’s wrong to swap bibs like that girl did. OK so I am blessed to be faster than average and didn’t have to work for years bringing my time down so it is hard to remain impartial on this, but I am so proud of my BQ. It makes it a very special race to me to know that the majority of people running it have ‘earned’ their time to get there. This sounds elitist and I don’t mean it to be! After all, Boston is not the be all and end all of races, who cares if you never run it or if you do run it. But I suppose it’s similar to the Championship places in London, you earn the right to stand in that spot. If people swap bibs around it loses that specialness. I wouldn’t feel right sneakily getting into a race that way. I want to have earnt it and be proud to stand there. Plus, I’d hate to run in someone else’s name. I want my results to be MY results and appear on RunBritain.
    I do think though that some races could make it easier to swap though. Qualifying times aside, normal races should make this easier. It’s just money-grabbing (Great South Run and Brighton Marathon I’m looking at YOU. Brighton claims to be able to defer but actually you just get a slight discount for next year).
    My favourite marathon… ahh well Liverpool was fantastic because it all came together and was such an emotional race for me. Cheddar Gorge was epic though and beautiful. Bournemouth can go to hell 😉
    Anna @AnnaTheApple recently posted…Keeping Fit on a Weekend AwayMy Profile

    1. Do you plan on running London next year on your GFA?
      Just because you ‘didn’t have to work for years to bring your time down’ doesn’t mean you have it any easier than others. You put an incredible amount of work into your running and staying injury free. Hard work gets rewards, – you should be bloody proud of that BQ!
      Great North Run was ridiculous too. No discount for the following year, but a further £50 to defer to the following year. So £50 initial entry fee, followed by a further £50 to keep your place! £100 for a race I didn’t even make in the end. :(
      Totally get wanting your results to appear on RunBritain! Me too. One of the very biggest reasons I couldn’t ever illegally swap my number. My things-being-right-head would not cope if one of my times wasn’t recorded as me!

  3. I would love to run London, I’ve tried for 6/7 years now and never had any luck in the ballot, frustrating as I live on the route! I will be out supporting on Sunday too. I would never take a race entry from someone who had qualified as a GFA, it feels like cheating, and part of the journey is the hard work to get to that point anyway.
    Lauren (@poweredbypb) recently posted…SDW50My Profile

    1. Hope you enjoyed supporting on Sunday. The weather was fairly good for it. Fingers crossed for 8th time lucky for you then! Be sure to enter the ballot tomorrow morning! :)

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