Active Travel



How to Run The World Marathon Majors If You’re Not An Elite

Sep 28, 2020 | Active Travel, Featured, Marathon Majors, Marathon Majors, Running | 10 comments

Marathon Major - how to run the marathon majors

Ticking all six marathon majors off my bucket list has been a goal of mine for nearly five years, and not only running them all, but completing them before I’m 30.

For those not quite as marathon obsessed as I am, the Big Six are;

Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo 

So far I’ve run 4/6; London, New York (x2), Berlin and Chicago. I was supposed to be running Tokyo in February but you can find out why this isn’t happening anymore here.

I recently saw someone ask on Facebook about how to run the Marathon Majors when you’re not fast/an elite, s0 if these races are on your wish list, here’s how you can get to the start line…

Running Berlin Marathon


This used to be the easiest race to enter, however since increasing in popularity from PB/PR seekers, they’ve now switched to a ballot entry. It’s free to throw your name into the ballot, so you might as well try (ballot for 2018 opens mid October). It costs €108 to enter if you win a spot in the ballot (although throwing your name into the ballot is free), and you’ll be notified in November.

If you don’t get in through the ballot, you can gain entry through a charity (find a full list of them here), these usually have a minimum fundraising target of about £1000. Alternatively, you can join a tour company, such as 2.09 events, Sports Tours International, Marathon Tours, which can cost upwards of £430 and includes accommodation and entry (some packages also include flights).

Look out for competitions hosted by sponsors, bloggers and magazines for race entries.


The trickiest of all the Majors to secure a spot – you need to run a qualifying time to even submit an entry. Currently the times are as below, however so many people are able to run these times (I wish I was one of the speedy runners) that actually some years you will need to run 2 mins + faster than the official qualifying time. Entry opens on a rolling basis depending on your time in September, so you’ll need to run your speedy 26.2 before then for entry the following year. The 2017 race takes on April 17th, while 2018 is April 16th. Bibs for US runners cost $180 whilst International runners pay $240. Boston Marathon qualifying times








If you’re working your socks off to qualify and it’s just not happening, or you’re wondering whether you’ll ever be that speedy, don’t worry there are other ways of gaining entry into the elusive race. Firstly, you can gain a spot with a charity, although these 2,500 bibs do seem mostly to go to Boston locals/US citizens and have a fundraising minimum of $5000.

Alternatively, there are a limited number of bibs available for non-qualifiers through tour groups, 2.09 events spaces usually sell out within 12 hours, and I’m sure Sports Tours International had a similar response.

This is a race you’re going to need to set an alarm to enter whether or not you have a qualifying time – demand and competition is fierce. This year’s race is on the 17th April, so I’d start researching your 2018 trip in early April 2017!


Another race that recently switched over to a ballot entry system, with entry opening at the end of October and closing at the end of November (this year it was the 29th) for the early October race. Results are announced in the second week of December. Ballot entry is free.

You can earn a guaranteed entry if you’ve run the race five times in the previous ten years, or have run a ‘good for age’ time  – for men that’s sub 3:15, women need a sub 3:45 in the previous 18 months. You’ll need to apply for this during November – the same time as the ballot is open.  Entry from the ballot or through guaranteed entry is $195 for US residents and $220 for an international spot.

There are numerous charity (full list here) places that typically have a fundraising minimum of about $1000, rising to $1500 after ballot selection. There are also tour company options available to run in the Windy City, for the UK they are Sports Tours International and 2.09 events, whilst the US packages are through Marathon Tours although there are options from around the globe – find the full list here.


Notoriously difficult to get into through the ballot (I know people who have been rejected 7+ times, but also those that get in first time!). Ballot entry opens for five days usually at the start of May, a week or so after the race. Entrants then receive a ‘Congratulations’ or ‘Commiserations’ magazine at the start of October. It’s free to enter the ballot, and entry costs about £35 for UK residents (the cheapest of all the Marathon Majors!)

If you’re part of a running club that is British Athletics registered, there is a separate club entry. Alternatively, you might qualify for a ‘Good for Age’ spot, if you’ve run a speedy marathon within the last 18 months – applications for this need to be in by mid June. Current qualifying times can be seen below.

London Marathon Good For Age Qualifying Times

Plenty of charities have Gold and Silver Bond spots for the race, with fundraising minimums starting at £1000, although many of the bigger charities have much larger fundraising totals – when I ran the London Marathon for MIND in 2012 I had to raise £2500+. See the full list of charities here.

For International runners there are, as always, tour company places available, for the US it is Marathon Tours.

Look out for competitions hosted by sponsors, bloggers and magazines for race entries in the months leading up to the marathon.

New York City marathon 2016

New York City 

My favourite big city race, I’m lucky enough to have run this Marathon Major twice – this year with New Balance, and previously through 2.09 events tour company.

NYCM is the only marathon ballot you have to pay to enter and used to be $11, although I think due to a lawsuit this has been stopped for the next few years – applications open on the 17th January 2017 and close a month later for the November 5th race, with the draw taking place on March 2nd. US residents pay $295 whilst International runners have to fork out $358, making this the most expensive marathon.

For locals, you can also take part in the 9+1 entry system guaranteeing entry by running 9 New York Road Runner races and volunteering at another throughout the year. If you are super speedy, you can apply for guaranteed entry through a fast marathon or half – for women aged 18-34 it’s a 3.13 marathon or 1.32 half, whilst for men it’s a 2.53 marathon or 1.21 half. Check out the other age qualifying times here. 

Those not lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot, or live close enough to take advantage of 9+1 can either run through a charity spot – the full list isn’t released until March however the main charity is NYRR Team for Kids who have a minimum fundraising target of $2620.  Alternatively you can travel with a tour company – find the full list of partners here.

Tokyo Marathon Major - how to run the marathon majors


For me this is the most exotic sounding of the Marathon Majors, and one of the strictest. I’ve written about how the 2017 race is now not happening for me – it seems when the Japanese say the marathon entry is closed, even the title sponsor can’t squeeze you in!

Ballot entry opens at the start of August for a month, with 35, 500 spaces for the 300,000+ applicants so chances of entry are quite slim – but possible. I actually gained a spot the first year I entered the ballot but had to pull out due to injury and you can’t defer your marathon place sadly. It’s 12,800 Yen for overseas runners – about £90/$110.

Qualifying times are in line with most of the majors, with guaranteed entry for women running a sub 3.40 marathon and men running a sub 2.55 marathon as part of the Run as One entry for 200 international runners.

There are 3000 charity spots available, with a minimum target of $1000 (or 100,000 Yen) these are on a first come, first served basis so act quickly if you want to go this route for 2018 – entry opens on July 1st.

A tour company might be your best option for this race, as well as cutting down on the need for your own race logistic organisation. There are a large number of companies each offering a limited number places in the Tokyo marathon – 2.09 Events, Running Tours, Sports Tours International, Marathon Tours, Sports Travel International and Amazing Running Tours are just a few from the UK, Ireland and the US on offer.

There’s also a 10K option for those that want to experience the big city race without the 26.2 – or a good option for your spectators!

GOOD LUCK – I have loved all of my Marathon Major experiences, and hope to complete them all to earn my big six medal next year (fingers crossed). They’re the most awesome marathons, and a great addition to your race bucket list. In my opinion, everyone should run at least one of the majors – especially if it’s the only 26.2 you ever run – the crowd support is unlike anything I’ve experienced at any other races, plus the stash is amazing!

Have you run any of the Marathon Majors?

If so, which ones? Are they/any on your wish list? 


  1. Pam

    Just an FYI…..the Good for Age times for the London Marathon only work if you live in the UK. Sadly, during my 5 years living in England I had not discovered running. I was thrilled when I saw my marathon time qualified me for a spot only to quickly realize it was not to be. However, I raised money for charity and got my place. Tokyo 2017 and Berlin 2017 will finish up the majors for me. Funny thing, Boston 2015 was my first as a qualifier and I don’t think I knew about the majors at that time.

  2. Pippa @ Pip in Motion

    I had no idea NYC and Chicago were so expensive, that’s insane! First off my list has to be London, because it’s my hometown! I think trying to get a GFA entry is most realistic for me, although probably for 2018/2019 since I’m in a cast right now and definitely not running anytime soon!

  3. Joanna Male

    This is such a well written post, thank you! I only started running two years ago so still consider myself a relative newbie and have only just heard about the majors. I’m running London 2017 through Championship Entry, it will be my 2nd marathon (Bournemouth 2016 being my first). Now really tempted to attempt what you’re doing and run them all before age 30 haha! Would love to do NY but it’s crazy expensive.

    • charlotte

      Amazing, well done! Championship entry is awesome. NY is very expensive but honestly such a good race and trip!

  4. wendie

    Can you still enter the ballot for London if you’re not a U.K. resident?

    • charlotte

      Not for 2017 but you should be allowed to do it in May of this year for 2018!

      • wendie

        Awesome, thanks!

  5. ifijustbreathe

    Thank you for such a fantastic and informative post. I’ve only run one world marathon (NYC), but am already signed up for my next (Chicago) in 2017. I’m hoping to get into one a year. *fingers crossed*


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