London Marathon Odds & Rejections

The Virgin Money London Marathon 2015 winter training top of rejection arrived in the post a couple of days ago as I continued my long tradition of failing to get a place via the ballot, it will go well with the wind jacket from 2014. It is not something I am bitter about – I understand the probabilities, it is just disappointing as it my nearest race, well the start is anyway.

The odds on getting a place aren’t that clear as the splits between charity places – around 15,000 a year, international tour places, club places, good for age places, transfers from the previous year places, elite places, and sponsors places are not published; it probably only allows around 17,000 places for the 125,000 who apply before the cut off in the ballot.

I have never had a place through the ballot – I have had a charity place a couple of times, a trio of club places, a couple of ‘good for age places’ (those were the days…), one place for 5 consecutive rejections (a system abolished when Virgin took over the sponsorship) and a ‘bequest’ place – whereby you donate your entry to the London Marathon Charitable Trust in return for going into another mini ballot, if successful you get a place, if unsuccessful you get some reasonable quality training wear albeit with a Virgin Money corporate logo. I’m reasonably happy to do this as to money goes to help fund various community sports projects including bringing former private sector sports grounds into public usage, such as one on Shooters Hill Road.

As I don’t want the hassle of raising around £2000/€2500/$3200 (other currencies are available) for a charity and I had a club place last year, so it looks like I will be looking elsewhere if I run a marathon next spring – perhaps an off road one for a change.

An October 2016 postscript

As there is a spike in viewing of this post around this time of year, no doubt for the same reasons as I originally wrote it, so I thought that an update might be in order.

The odds have deteriorated significantly since I wrote the original post, the ballot entry is now open for several days, rather than closing when 125,000 reached – 253,930 applied for the around 17,000 ballot places for the 2017 race – giving a 1 in 15 chance of getting a place.

Unsurprisingly, given the odds, I have had two more rejections – I now have a half marathon’s worth of ballot rejections. My family can add to this, in the last three years my children have put in five applications, all unsuccessful.

I have even given up with the ‘bequest’ – I added to my London Marathon branded winter tops last year – but there really is a limit to the numbers needed, so I’ll give the money I have saved this year to charity through a different route.

I had planned to run the inaugural Ashford Marathon in April 2015, but any thoughts of this went by the wayside with a serious accident.  I wasn’t sufficiently recovered in 2016 to think about marathon running but may try and build up fitness for one during 2017.

2018, 2019 & 2020 London Marathon Updates

There were a ‘world record’ 386,050  applications for a slightly increased 17,500 ballot places so predictably my application came to nothing – a roughly 1 in 22 chance of a place in 2018.  The slight increase in available places appears to have come through increasing the capacity of the course by starting runners in waves – my own experience of this in other races is that for the mid-paced runner it slows times as more distance is covered weaving in and out of slower runners.

Nothing different happened with the 2019 ballot which no longer even guarantees Good for Age Places, and a reduction in the number of club places available.  414,168 applied for the 2019 race giving a roughly 1 in 24 chance of success – the e mail of commiserations dropped into my inbox in October 2018.  There was a family success though – my son defied the odds and got a place for 2019 – it was our family’s combined 19th attempt to get a place through the ballot – sadly, injury prevented him getting to the start line, but he’ll be transferring to the 2020 race.  I’ve entered that too, when the ballot opened on 29 April 2019, but the odds are stacked against my participation through the ballot.

When doing the 2019 update, I realised that I could have been a little pessimistic in terms of the odds.  The oft quoted 17-17,500 figure of places in the ballot isn’t clear whether it is for those who make the start line or places offered the previous October.  If it is the latter, it is as previously described.

However, if it is the start line, the odds change as the organisers’ offer more places than they know will actually start as there is a relatively high dropout rate before the race starts – a combination of injury and those with places finding the reality of training throughout a dark, wet and/or cold winter just proved too daunting.  I deferred a Good for Age place on one occasion due to injury.     It has been suggested that the numbers of places offered for 2019 were around 55,000 with around 42,750 making the start line.  If this is correct, that would suggest around a 13% drop out rate.

Assuming that the proportion not reaching the start line is similar in each group, the 17,500 ballot starters would originally have been part of a cohort of 19,807.  There would be a 4.8%, or 1 in 21, chance of getting a place; not much better, but slightly less daunting.




6 thoughts on “London Marathon Odds & Rejections

  1. WalkToRio

    That picture of the sun is great!
    As for the Marathon, I’ve never entered any of those big races. Back in NYC I refused the NYC Marathon twice, it was always a week before or after one of my official races. Now if I wanted to enter it I’m sure they would reject me.
    Someday I’d like to do the London Marathon, but it’s getting harder and harder to enter those races.
    Have a nice week!

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thanks, the light was fantastic on Friday morning. London is a great experience the crowds are amazing and so encouraging – but it is not the only race so I will just have to choose a different one.

  2. Jim Brennan

    I didn’t know London operated a lottery system like the New York City Marathon. I had similar experience with NYC, at one time the entry rule was (I’m not even sure how it operates today) that you enter a lottery system and if you are not selected three consecutive years they let you in. I wasn’t selected two consecutive years and then went through a series of knee surgeries the following years which put me back at zero again. The kicker is that I didn’t know at the time that I had a qualifying time to run with my half-marathon time. So anyway, I share your pain, it sucks, especially when they tell you if you raise $3,000 they will gladly let you run. Well, no crap! Anyway, I’ve done marathon trail runs the last five years or so and strongly encourage you to try it. They are more scenic, relaxing, and are full of real people. Good luck, my friend.

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thanks; I’ve done trail races of up to around 20 miles and really enjoyed them so I guess that’s what I’ll aim for next spring; right now though the focus is on cross country and I am hoping for a few days heavy race as it isn’t the same without lots of mud. Have a good race at the weekend.


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