Virgin London Marathon 2014 entry opens… and slams the door on some GFA runners

After the excitement and razzamatazz of the London marathon, there follows a somewhat unsightly scramble for places the following year. There is a ballot system in place which is capped at 125,000 entries. Once this is reached the ballot entry closes – and that usually takes a few hours to fill up – and then the lucky runners are informed later in the year, whether or not they have gained entry. There is about a 1 in 7 chance of getting a place, provided you get into the ballot.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 09.13.29This is the nature of the beast. Mass participation running and endurance sports are getting more and more popular and the demand for places has outstripped supply for decades. This could be seen as a good thing. Or a bad thing – I guess that subject warrants a post all to itself.

But if you want to run the London marathon, having to rush to enter a ballot to then have a 1 in 7 chance of getting a place is a pretty frustrating situation.

There is another way to get into VLM

This is where the three guaranteed entry systems come in to play. Yes, there are three ways that you can get a guaranteed place in the London marathon. In order of difficulty they are:

  • Elite entry – for a man you need to have run faster than 2 hours 20 minutes to get into this hallowed group. Do that and you will have every advantage possible and stand right on the start line
  • Championship entry – a race within a race. This is the UK AAA Championship, held every year and open to club runner who have qualified by running 2hrs45min for a marathon or 75mins for a half marathon (for the men) or sub-3:15 for a marathon or sub-1:30 for a half (women’s entry standard). You will enjoy a separate start pen, warm-up area, dozens of portaloos, water and a tent to change in as well as a start right behind the elite men’s field.
  • Good For Age entry – this is a guaranteed entry for anyone who has run a particular time that is considered good for their age group. You can see the qualifying times here. The start is similar to the Championship (above) with a separate pen, loos, etc and a position right on the start line.

As you can imagine, these entry systems are something that many, many marathoners aspire to. No queuing for hours for the loo. No 15 minute shuffle to get to and over the start line. A much more relaxed bag-drop. A sense of having ‘made it’.

Not so fast…

So it is a bit of a blow for many runners that this year, without warning, the London marathon powers-that-be have elected to make the Good For Age qualifying times tougher, by 5 minutes across the board from what I can see.

I imagine that the reason for this is to restrict the number of people that can get one of these coveted places. A few years ago the Boston marathon, which has a qualifying standard for all entries, did the same and I was caught up in that trap myself (more on that in a moment) and I guess it is a pleasing outcome in some senses: it means that standards of running are improving. But what about the people who thought they’d got their GFA place and now discover that they don’t?

A few years ago I went to run the New York marathon. I can’t remember the time that I did, but I crossed the line thinking that I had got my BQT – Boston Qualifying Time. Only to be told by another runner that the Boston Athletic Club, who run the race, had lowered the qualifying time by 10 minutes and I was now too slow for Boston. I was gutted.

Runners affected

So I can understand the reaction to the change in Good For Age qualifications from some of the people I know. Here are two tweets I received this morning:

@fehrtrade: I ran 3:48 in Oct & thought I’ve had GFA for the past 6 months. Completely cruel to change it now.

@themrwyatt: Means what I had planned is now not an option. Shame when your working hard for something that the goal posts change

The problem here seems to be that the team at the London marathon have made the change without telling anyone. So now people who assumed that they could get into London for 2014 have found out they can’t and with the Good For Age application phase closing in the next couple of months, they don’t have time to do anything about it.

What do you think? Is it more than a little unfair to change the entry requirements without telling anyone (in my Boston example the change to the qualifying time was publicised a year in advance… I just hadn’t checked!) Or is it just a symptom of the fact that more people want to run so the standards are creeping up, something that should be applauded?

I guess which ever way you look at it, the standards are now set and if you have just missed out, I can really recommend Brighton or Paris… both really lovely races.



  1. Thanks for explaining exactly why this is such an unfair change – I’ve found it hard to make non-runners understand why this morning. A lot seem to think “oh, but you have a whole year to run it a bit faster now” but I’ve had to explain that a) GFA entries are due in July, b) the bulk of the spring marathons have already past, leaving hardly any to run between now and then, and c) it takes months of training for a marathon, and even if you do have one scheduled between now and July, there’s no time left to change your training, or in my case, turn back time and gain back those 10 weeks I missed due to a serious illness in January, February, and March.

    Do VLM organisers now wish me to harm myself trying to achieve their new goals? Or turn around and ask all my friends and family for fundraising money after I’ve spent the past 6 weeks telling them that I didn’t think it’s right that they should have to subsidise my hobby?

    Honestly, I haven’t felt this screwed over since UKBA change the goalposts for immigration mid-way through my qualifying years here. I’d like to think VLM is a somewhat warmer, fluffier, and better managed institution than one recently deemed “not fit for purpose” by the Home Office.

  2. Oh well, time to start training in earnest then! Either that or consider a sex change!
    Melissa right explains why it’s so frustrating given the July timing. Thinking about London 2015 as a consequence, seems so far off but that’s my new goal. Just hope that the goalposts don’t get moved again!

  3. To an extent, the change to running qualification times is the nature of the beast. As you improve so do others. So to find (as I said earlier) ‘the goalposts have changed’, annoying as it is, it’s a part of running competitively.

    Now, when I say competitively I mean in the sense that you are training in a way which pushes yourself that extra bit further. You are not running to complete the race. You are running to qualify. In my opinion, two very different mindsets.

    In my current status as a runner, to get ‘good for age’ is something I really need to work towards. I can run a sub 3’30 marathon. To run 3’10 would be hard but on the right day it could be achievable. 3’05 for me is another 18months away… maybe.

    All I/you can do in the mean time is stick to the original plan, learn from the training, adapt and train harder.

  4. I have a few thoughts on this. First off, it is completely absurd for the VLM organizers to do this with no prior notification. Absolutely no reason not to make this a change announced now but in effect for next year.

    Secondly, I have to be honest and say that I think the women’s qualifying times have struck me as unfair for quite some time. I haven’t checked every single group, but it looks like for almost all women London GFA is easier than Boston. And for all men over 35 Boston is easier.

    Finally, I will say that I am fine with the idea of London wanting to make sure that they include more women who are willing to put in the work to get a fast time. But it really galls me that the organizers would much rather have thousands of randomly selected people, many of whom never have, and never will, run another marathon in their lives than have more older men who are really committed to running.

  5. I signed up for Amsterdam13 three months before it as a mate was doing it. We discussed a time to beat. Initially it was 3:30, so we could beat another mate who had done one in that time. Then bumped into a guy, who for his 50th birthday was doing 5 marathons… London13 was not one of them… but he had qualified for a good for age spot, under 3:15.

    That become my new goal, 3:15… Then I realised that 3:15 was for his age group, not mine. I was in the 18-40 men group, so based on London13 had 3:10 for a goal, so I could enter London (where I currently live).

    I ran Amsterdam13. I got 3:13:47 for my first marathon. Gutted I missed out on my goal… but I knew what it was, and when I got back home, I signed up for Paris, and Berlin when they opened. Paris as it would still get me into London14, and Berlin because it is fast. From here I decided I would run London in April14, then Athens or Lucerne around Sept14, then aim for Boston April15, and if I could, whittle my time down to sub 2:45 to qualify for NYC. Ambitious, but they are/were, my goals.

    My goal for Paris was sub 3 hours. Ambitious, but I thought I could do it. Sadly, 9 weeks before Paris, after 4 weeks of running in the cold, I got injured, and was out for 5 weeks. I had just about given up on running Paris, and thus qualifying for London. After a pep talk from a mate, and the all clear from the osteo/physio, I picked up my training. Running, and cycling in the four weeks I had. I managed a half mar my first weekend back, and 30 kays the next weekend. 2 weeks before, I kept going, and only tapered for the final week.

    Come race day. I felt good, and flew out of the blocks. So I thought, the sub 3 hours is back on. I managed to catch up to the 3 hour pacer, and stayed with him for the first 19-20 kay… then the lack of training hit, and I crossed half way at 91mins… I decided I was not making sub 3 hours… so it was time to go back to my original goal, sub 3:10 and qualification into London.

    Knowing I had run around 4:15 for the first half, I could drop back to 4:45 for the second half, to (roughly) average out at 4:30, the average pace for 3:10. So, I slogged out the last half. Followed the training recommendations of keeping to a constant pace, and not conking out at the end.

    I recall hitting the 34km mark, at 2:30:55. I knew I had to whittle down 55 seconds, and then make up 200 meters at the end… and if I did this, I could run at a pace of 5:00. So each kay, I made sure I was whittling down the 55 seconds… Coming up to the home stretch, it is easy(er) to dig deep, and I gunned it at the end. I clocked a PB: 3:09:46. I was over the moon. The relief and joy was un-measurable.

    That turned to heart ache on Monday (29 April 2013), when the London Marathon changed the good for age time for 18-40yo men from 3:10 to 3:05.

    Now, to the people who say run another: Last year the entry for GFA ended in July, so I need to find a race by then, submit my results, and get accepted. First off, the month after Paris, I didn’t train for a while, and indulged in the foods I had abstained from during my training. I am not at my optimal. Second, finding a marathon. My fiancé suggested I flag our engagement party this coming weekend (May 4) to do Melton Keyes. I can’t do that to her. Other people suggested that Edinburgh hasn’t sold out, nor has the Kent Roadrunner marathon. I am heading to the states for a birthday trip (turning 30), from mid May to early June… Rules those two out. Other options later are mainly multi terrain (not ideal for PBs) and will be after I indulge (some more) in good ol’ fashion American food. I won’t be in peak shape after that. Nor should I be. I don’t want to turn a trip with my fiancé, meeting up with a mate from back home (NZ), to celebrate my birthday, to turn into a running tour of the states. I want to enjoy this. I run marathons, they don’t run me.

    To the people saying you should have run as fast as you can during the race: most people will tell you to have a steady pace… have a goal time and stick to it. Above I mentioned my thoughts through the race. I am not saying I can run 3:05, as I haven’t yet. But I would have given it a go. That’s for sure… and if I missed out. I would have been gutted. But I would have given my all to get there.

    To the people who say they needed to change the time: I am ok with that. I am ok with the time being 3:05. I am not ok, with the lack of notice… with people making goals, hitting them (after setbacks), for them to then change, post-race. For the hard work, to not be rewarded. Again, I don’t know if I could hit 3:05, but I would give it a go. I would train to do it; I would strive to do it in a race.

    Sorry for the long post. I don’t have a blog, I don’t have a running club, I just have my goals and my running plans… and now, I will need to change those. Current thoughts are sub 3 hours in Berlin… qualify for Boston14, do that, and then do London in 2015 with a GFA time. Will see how that goes.

    1. I feel for you: I have a friend who had a similar story to yours, and he’s just as frustrated now he’s going to have to miss VLM2014. He trained hard and went all the way to Paris for his 3:06. My theory was that London was doing this in order to get the number of entrants down, but given the claim by a commenter below that this only affects a couple of hundred runners, I’m baffled.

      Good luck with your future goals: it’s going to make it even more satisfying when you finally do get to run London!

  6. I completely agree that VLM are being unfair in not pre-announcing this change to the GFA qualification times. Many runners must be gutted to find that they are no longer guaranteed entry to next year’s VLM.

    However, not all the qualifying times have come down, as a 54-year old male my GFA qualifying time has changed from 3:15 to 3:20, a very pleasant and useful surprise!

  7. I am furious I ran Paris this year with the sole intention of getting a GFA time for 2014 London. After 8 months of training I ran 3:08, a place secured so I thought, well that is until monday!

    I don’t have an issue with them changing the qualifying times, they have a right to decide what these are but you have to communicate the fact that they are changing in advance. So this time last year they should have said for 2013 the GFA time is 3:10 but be aware for 2014 we are lowering it to 3:05. You know where you stand, you know what you are aiming for and you are successful or not. But to effectively move the goal posts after everyone has attempted their qualifying run is a disgrace.

    I hope lowering the time is a reflection that people are running faster and not that they are now accepting fewer GFA runners.

  8. As much as I am a fan of the London Marathon and think it s a great race that MUST be run! The entry system into this race though is a complete shambles! The goal posts move constantly! In the past to enter via the ballot you needed to have applied five times just to run in the sixth year, which Virgin abolished! Do you enter In April donating your entry fee to stand a better chance to be accepted via the ballot than someone who has not donated but still gets offered a place in October who then decides to pay? Lets be honest if entry into the London Marathon is capped at 125,000 people the chances of getting in via the ballot is slim. It winds me up a little to receive the magazine of rejections stating places a full however turn to page 15 onwards and run for a charity at the cost of £1,500 – £2,500. I’ve done that before and I cannot keep asking friends and family to donate to me again so I can run in an event funding MY hobby?

    The only way to beat the system is to work for it! Run an Elite time Pah yeah right! Run a championship time.Would be nice to get that on my running CV one year.If at all? So my next goal is to work and get in via Good For Age!

    I fell short last year with a 3:16 and my aim was to get 3:10 this year! Through injury and lack of training(nobodys fault!) This 3:10 was going to be tough but as soon as I crossed the start line this was my target! By pacing myself and not pushing my luck with the injury I dragged myself home with 30 seconds to spare!… So I thought when five days later I hear and read London have reduced my GFA time? HOW can they do this AFTER the race with criteria proving you can run 3:05 submitted to them by July(?) How can anyone honestly now recover from 26.2miles train harder and then run a PB time know doubt to obtain this new sub 3:05 time?

    The decision made to do this is appalling and another example of such a shambolic entry system into London where they appear to make the rules up from one year to the next.

    Have you seen this graph with a break down of times and performances! :-

    By lowering the M18-40 GFA time to 3:05 .. Makes a ONE PERCENT difference to the entrants and affects some 194 runners!!! I ask you to single out ONE HUNDRED & NINETY SIX runners out of an entire field of 35-36,000 entrants is a drop in the ocean and hardly noticeable!

    If you’re going to make changes to the rules don’t do it with a weeks notice! SURELY give people a chance to work for this new target and allow a years preparation???

    1. Can’t see the graph as your tweets are protected: anywhere else I can find it?

      Sympathies on your situation, too! I’ll be interested to hear if they ever do give a rationale.

  9. Sorry about that Andy!
    Do you have access to Facebook? If you search “Tzruns” a page for a Kent Marathon under there photos they have a picture of the ‘old’ GFA requirement and what effect it will have comparing to the new one :-\ …

  10. Stumbled upon this thread while researching GFA for London.

    Here’s a question: if I’m targeting the age 50-59 bracket and achieve a sub 3:20 in the previous year or two before the event when I’m 48 or 49 does that count?

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