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.