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How To Get Into The World Marathon Majors

BY: Mark Dredge
03 April 2024

Taking part in the Abbott World Marathon Majors is a big goal for a lot of runners, whether you just want to run one, or you’re hoping to complete all six races and collect a special six star medal. But what are the easiest ways to get into each race?

Each World Marathon Major has different ways to get in, from running fast times, winning a lottery place, running for charity, or entering with a tour operator, so we’re here to help you understand the best ways to enter the marathons in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.

Tokyo Marathon

Run in early March, it’s the year’s opening Major, but it’s also one of the hardest to get into.  

No. of runners: 37,500

Best chance to get in: For overseas runners, go via a tour operator. 

Ballot/Lottery: Yes, but it’s very competitive with over 350,000 entries (less than 1-in-10 chance). Entry this way costs $160USD for international runners. More on entering the Tokyo Marathon can be found here

Time qualifier: There’s a very small semi-elite field of just 280 runners, with times of 2:32 for men and 3:19 for women (with only 25 men and 25 women from overseas). 

Charity: 5,000 charity runners

Tour operators: Yes. More details on tour operators for Tokyo Marathon can be found here

Boston Marathon

Taking place on the third Monday in April, this has been run since 1897, making it the oldest annual marathon in the world. Runners all around the world chase their BQ, or Boston Qualifier time.

No. of runners: 30,000

Best chance to get in: Running a qualifying time.

Ballot/Lottery: No

Time qualifier: Yes. The majority of runners get in via a qualifying time. See the Boston Marathon qualifying times here. For the 2024 Boston Marathon, runners needed to be more than five minutes faster than the qualifying standard. Cost is $230/$235. 

Charity: Yes. Official charity partners require a minimum of $5,000 fundraising. 

Tour operators: Yes. Details can be found here

TCS London Marathon

Run in late April, it’s a celebration on the streets of London, with around half of runners fundraising for charity.

No. of runners: 48,000

Best chance to get in: Faster runners or charity place. 

Ballot/Lottery: Yes. But over 500,000 people apply for under 20,000 places. If successful, in 2024 it cost £69.99 for British runners and £146 for overseas runners. 

Time qualifier: Yes. There are Good For Age times (reserved for 3,000 men and 3,000 women, on a fastest first basis in each age/gender), but these are only open to UK residents. There is also Championship Entry for faster runners, and you have guaranteed entry if you meet the criteria (see the website for the specific requirements). Time qualifiers pay the same as ballot entries.

Charity: Yes. The majority of runners at the London Marathon run with a charity place. Details of charity entry is here. The minimum fundraising commitment is often £2,500.

Tour operators: Yes, for overseas runners

BMW Berlin Marathon

One of the fastest marathon courses in the world, Berlin is the first of three Majors run in the second-half of the year. 

No. of runners: 48,000

Best chance to get in: Ballot or tour operator.

Ballot/Lottery: Yes. Ballot information is on the Berlin Marathon website. Successful entries cost €205 in 2024. 

Time qualifier: Yes, but you have to be a faster runner (men aged under 44 need to run 2:45, and women need 3:10). Time details here. Entry this way cost €205 in 2024.

Charity: Yes. Details on how to apply are on the Berlin Marathon website. Fundraising commitments vary from a minimum of £1,250. 

Tour operators: Yes. See official tour partners here

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

The flattest and fastest Major marathon in North America, Chicago is run in early October.

No. of runners: 48,000

Best chance to get in: Lottery or time qualifier.

Ballot/Lottery: A non-guaranteed lottery is open for runners. Success entries cost $240 for US residents and $250 for overseas runners. 

Time qualifier: Yes. Times are more lenient than other Majors, though you still have to be quick. Time qualifier details can be found here

Charity: Yes. See how to apply for a charity place at the Chicago Marathon. Minimum fundraising commitments are $1,250.

Tour operators: Yes. See details on international tour operators for the Chicago Marathon. 

Any other ways: You can be a legacy finisher (five or more runs in past 10 years) or if you complete the previous year’s Bank of America Chicago Distance Series then you can get guaranteed entry. 

TCS New York City Marathon

The year’s final Major runs through the five boroughs of New York City, and it’s one of the world’s largest marathons. 

No. of runners: 50,000

Best chance to get in: USA runners: lottery or running a fast time in a New York Road Runners (NYRR) race. Overseas: Tour operators. 

Ballot/Lottery: Yes. It’s biased towards New York residents, then US residents, then overseas. More on the drawing is found here. Ballot entry costs were $295. 

Time qualifier: Yes. Times can be found here. They are more competitive than Boston Marathon, and only a small percentage of qualifiers will get a spot on the start line. You’ll have more chance if you run a qualifying time in a NYRR race. You used to be able to run a qualifier in a half marathon, but from 2025 you must have run a qualifier standard in a marathon.

Charity: Yes, with minimum fundraising targets starting from $3,000 (some ask for $5,000). See here for more on running NYC Marathon for charity. 

Tour operators: Yes. See here for details on NYC Marathon international tour partners

Any other ways? Be a streaker! If you’ve run the NYC Marathon 15 times then you get guaranteed entry in future years (over 1,500 runners have achieved this!). There are also several other ways to get entry by taking part in other NYRR events.

One other way… If you finish all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors then you can collect a special six star medal (over 8,000 runners have achieved this!). If you’ve already completed three or more of the Majors, then AbbottWMM has their own extra ballot places for runners to get into these races. You need to have an account with AbbottWMM and you’ll be sent email communication if you’re eligible. 

Good luck on your journey to each of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors! And if you’ve raced any of them, then let us know in the comments how you got into the race, and share any tips you have for others!

Main image courtesy of Boston Athletic Association

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