How To: Get a Place in the London Marathon

In yesterday’s post I highlighted some common marathon misconceptions. Some of these misconceptions relate to how you can secure entry to popular marathons, so I thought I would expand on how the process for the London Marathon works in case anyone reading this either: (a) wants to run this or other similar marathons; or (b)* loves learning about processes that have little to no impact on their every day existence.

*As a lawyer I do relate to (b). Troubling.

Virgin London Marathon

There are a number of way to get a place:

1. Be insanely fast. Like Paula Radcliffe fast. This is known as a Championship entry. Women need to run a sub 3:15 M or a sub 1:30 HM. Men need to run a sub 2:45 M or a sub 1:15 HM. I cannot begin to get my head around that kind of pace.

2. Be fast. Like good compared to everyone else but not Championship fast. This is known as Good For Age entry. The times are:

Men Time (in hours) Women Time (in hours)
Age 18 – 40 sub 3.10 Age 18 – 49 3.15 – 3.50
Age 41 – 59 sub 3.15 Age 50 – 54 sub 4.00
Age 60 – 64 sub 3.30 Age 55 – 59 sub 4.15
Age 65 – 69 sub 4.00 Age 60 – 64 sub 4.30
Age 70+ sub 5.00 Age 65 – 69 sub 5.30
Age 70+ sub 6.30

For me, this would mean running a sub 3:50 M. Seems unlikely based on my current record of 5:05 but we live in hope…

3. Join the club. A UK Athletics associated club to be specific. Qualifying clubs can apply for entries…that is all I know about that one I’m afraid!

4. Be really lucky and secure a place in the ballot. The marathon is over subscribed every year, so they draw names out of a hat (probably not literally) in order to decide who gets a ballot place. You only pay your entry fee if you are successful; it’s currently around the £30 mark. You can opt to donate your entry fee to charity if you are unsuccessful and as a thank you, VLM will send you some oversized, unattractive kit.

VLM rain jacket for running. Not entirely convinced that it’s waterproof. Also it is HUGE on me. I still wear it though 🙂

I don’t know if the ballot process is truly random or if they try and select a certain number of runners for each predicted finish time in order to try and space things out. I have read countless articles/blogs/forums with people claiming that the process is unfair and VLM should be more transparent etc. For what it’s worth, my view is that whilst transparency is desirable, VLM are running a business and don’t ‘owe’ us runners anything; it’s not exactly a human rights issue so I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist about it. Over the last 4 years I have managed to run the race once and have secured another place for this year…as my father always said to me as a child, where there’s a will there’s a way!

5. Be a D-list celebrity / reality TV star. I am not recommending this as a life choice, but if you fancy it someone will give you a place for the publicity you will generate for them. This ties in to number 6.

6. Get a charity place. Unless you are a serious runner / Speedy Gonzales, this is the best way to ensure that you get a place. VLM sell a number of places to charities. I believe they charge each charity around £300 per place (don’t sue me VLM, this may be a mistaken belief or just scandalous gossip…I am sure I read it somewhere). Charities then ask runners to commit to raising a certain amount of ££££ in exchange for the place. We’re talking in the region of £1,500 to £2,500 depending on the charity.

7. Live somewhere else. The VLM website has a list of approved marathon tour operators. If you live outside the UK, you can obtain entry as part of a package which will usually include your flights, accommodation, travel to the start line etc. Depending on where you live this could be an expensive but fun option!

8. Be even luckier than the lucky guy at number 4 above. Every year, I see competitions claiming that you can ‘win a place in the London marathon!!’. By all means, try it, but if you are serious about running this race I would not recommend popping your precious little eggs in this one basket.

In conclusion…

There are a number of ways to get yourself a spot. If you do go down the charity route, be prepared for all the extra work that it will involve. As I mentioned yesterday, it is not a ‘free pass’ to the race – it takes commitment but it is extremely rewarding.

If all else fails…The VLM is one of five six World Marathon Majors. The list includes London, Berlin, Chicago, Boston, New York City and new for 2013…Tokyo. Note that you may be required to run a qualifying time to compete at Boston and possibly some of the others.


There are countless other fantastic marathons which are much easier to enter. Take Paris for example.

Entries are first-come-first-served so I managed to pick up a place in the Paris marathon very easily. From what I can remember, it took a few months to sell out. Plenty of time! The entry fee increases incrementally as race day gets closer, so it’s better to enter early. It costs between 65 – 110 euro.

The only additional requirement for Paris is that you need to pop to your local GP’s surgery before you race and obtain a certificate to confirm that you are fit to run. No fitness test is required, it’s just a case of the Dr checking your notes and confirming that you are not likely to drop down dead half way around the course. Depending on your GP this may cost an additional £20.

Enough pearls of wisdom for one day I think. Have a lovely lovely weekend and tell me what you’re up to!



One thought on “How To: Get a Place in the London Marathon

  1. This was SO informative!! Thank you!
    I’d love to run around Paris, or any foreign country really!

    I was thinking about the London marathon recently since my brother lives in England. It would honestly be such a dream to do one that big. I can’t even imagine the atmosphere and experience!…but my chances would come down to luck. Stranger things have happened, right?? 😀

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