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How the London Marathon Works

London Marathon Entry
Competitors prepare for the start of the 2010 Virgin London Marathon.
Competitors prepare for the start of the 2010 Virgin London Marathon.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

When it comes to entering the London marathon, your fingers, rather than your feet, determine whether or not you'll gain a place at the starting line. Out of 150,000 or so applicants, only about 50,000 will be awarded places in the ballot. To enter the race, marathon hopefuls submit an online ballot and a registration fee, which is only charged if they win a spot at the start. Once organizers receive 125,000 applications, they cut off registration. The ballot often closes in 24 hours or less, and winners are chosen randomly.

Runners who miss out on a ballot place can still try a few tricks to gain entry:

  • Overseas ballot. Non-UK residents can apply for overseas ballots. Overseas registration opens the same day as regular registration, and it generally fills up quickly. Overseas ballots cost about twice as much as regular ballots.
  • Travel agencies. A number of approved travel agencies book marathon package tours, which include a race number.
  • Silver and gold. Runners who miss out on a ballot place can pledge to raise money for a charity partner in order to secure guaranteed entry. More than 750 British charities are Gold Bond partners; they purchase guaranteed entries and award them to runners who commit to raising a four-figure sum for their cause.
  • Qualifying times. If you're fast, you can supply a qualifying race time in order to secure a guaranteed entry. Qualifying times vary with each age group. Men 18-40 must submit a time that's under 3 hours, while women 18-49 must prove that they can complete the race in under 3 hours, 45 minutes.
  • Club and championship entries. UK athletics clubs receive a certain number of guaranteed entries based on their membership numbers. The clubs can then award these to lucky members. If you're a member of a UK athletic club and you've recently achieved a championship qualifying performance (sub-2:45 for men and sub-3:15 for women), you can submit it for a slot at the start.

Once you've earned your spot in the ballot, it's off to the races. Read about all the twists and turns along the London Marathon route in the next section.