Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM), is a series of six of the largest, most prestigious marathons in the world. They include the Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City marathons. Finishing all six, runners are awarded a special medal for completion, thus becoming a part of an elite group of marathoners from around the world. It’s both an honor and a privilege to be a Six Star Finisher. Whether it takes one or 10 years to finish the six marathons does not matter as there is no time limit in which you need to complete them. To date, there are approximately 4,300 runners from around the world who are Six Star Finishers and I’m proud to say I’m one of them!
Last year, Abbott WMM announced they’re making plans to expand the series possibly by three races over the next 10 years. Announcements have not been made at this time as to which races those will be.
Often time I’m asked how I gained entry into each race, and what other runners can do to run each race. While I don’t have the magic formula, or all the answers, I can share my journey with you so you can learn from my experience.
Here is the order in which I completed each race and how I gained entry into them.
The 2011 Chicago Marathon: Online Entry
In 2011, all one had to do was to sign up online. There wasn’t a lottery to gain entrance as there is today. After finishing my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in 2010, I knew I wanted to run another so I set my sights on Chicago, signed up and paid online! Now, runners have to either run a qualifying time (guaranteed entry into the race; see each race website for their qualifying standards), enter the lottery (random selection) or sign up to run for charity. Charity runners must apply with the individual, preapproved charity of choice, be selected by the charity organization, pay their entry fee and raise a predetermined amount of money prior to race day. There are also entries available through approved tour groups, like Marathon Tours (see the marathons website for approved tour groups).
The 2012 London Marathon: Charity
In 2011, while visiting a childhood friend who lives in London, I walked past the London Marathon shop and said to my husband, “I want to run the London Marathon!” And that was that! I actually don’t think I even entered the lottery (ballot as they call it). My friend told me “Everyone runs the London Marathon for charity, you should too.” Deciding that would be a noble thing to do, I researched charities I was passionate about, and applied to run for UNICEF. Growing up in South Africa, I witnessed all that UNICEF does to help those in need all over the world. Knowing this was who I wanted to raise money for, I applied to run for UNICEF and was accepted.
The London Marathon does not release the percentage of charity or ballot runners for their race. So we don’t know exactly the percentage of runners who run for charity, or who have gained entry via the ballot (lottery), or those who have “good for age” qualifications (UK residents only). But if I had to guess, I’d say 80 percent of runners who run the London Marathon, are doing so for charity. My advice would be, if you haven’t had luck gaining entry via the ballot several years in a row, you should consider running for charity. Plus raising money for a good cause is never a bad thing. See another blog post I wrote “What to do if you don’t get into an Abbott World Marathon Major.”
Other ways to run the London Marathon would be winning the lottery (a ballot entry), going through an approved tour group or entering through “good for age” time qualifications (UK residents only). I even saw that New Balance gave away a few entries through their rewards program.
The 2013 Berlin Marathon: Online Entry
After discussing with my husband my wanting to run Berlin Marathon next, by the time I decided to do it, the lottery period had already taken place. I told him it was too late and he said, “It’s never too late, there must be something else we can do.” He got his phone, did some internet research and showed me a special announcement -- the Berlin Marathon was releasing 1,000 spots after the field had been chosen. Anyone could attempt to enter online at a certain time. It was first come, first served. If you were logged in at the right time, you could simply sign up and so I did.
Other ways to run Berlin would be through the lottery, through charity (see their website for approved charity organizations), a tour group or time qualifications.
For Berlin and Chicago, you have a good chance of getting in via the lottery, compared to the NYC, London or Tokyo lotteries. The Chicago Marathon lottery closes on November 29th, 2018 for 2019 race. Apply now!
The 2014 New York City Marathon: Lottery program (3 + 1)
Knowing I wanted to run the NYC Marathon one day, I started entering the lottery back in 2011 and was rejected three times in a row. Back when I ran the marathon, the New York Road Runners (NYRR) had a special 3 + 1 program. If you entered the lottery three times consecutively, and were rejected each time, you could automatically gain entry into the race in the fourth year. They have since done away with this program. Ways you can run the NYC Marathon are through charity, lottery entry, time qualifications or an approved tour group.
Tip: It is also very difficult to get in via the lottery. My advice would be if you really want to run the NYC Marathon, check into running for charity.
The 2016 Tokyo Marathon: Lottery
Thankfully, I got into the Tokyo Marathon via my very first lottery entry! Quite a rare feat. I know people who have tried for several years, and have yet to be accepted. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I just had to do it.
Other ways to run the Tokyo Marathon would be through charity (Run as One program), time qualifications or an approved marathon tour group.
The 2018 Boston Marathon: Qualifier
I qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon with my finish time at the Steamtown Marathon in 3 hours 36 minutes. It took me a couple races to focus, train smart and attempt a BQ. It wasn’t easy. I went from a 3 hour 59 minutes (x3) finish time, to 3:43 after that and then finally to 3:36. I’ve explained in previous posts I am not a fast runner. I worked hard for my BQ. Read my post 10 Things I Did to Qualify for the Boston Marathon to learn about my journey from a first time marathon finish of 5 hours 45 minutes to a BQ of 3 hours 36 minutes. Prior to my BQ, most of my marathons were done for fun. I decided early on that if I was going to run a World Marathon Major, I was going to run them for fun and not attempt a personal best or personal record. I wanted to enjoy the race and not miss a thing. So when I set out to run a BQ, I chose a small race and set aside all my other goals (like running ultramarathons). I also hired a coach and trained really hard. Up until that point, I had already run all the other WMM and needed Boston to become a Six Start Finisher, so that’s when I became more serious about my finish times.
Other ways to run the Boston Marathon would be via charity, or an approved marathon tour operator. Occasionally race sponsors or major corporations will have entries to give away.
Well there you have it! That is how I ran each of the Abbott World Marathon Majors in chronological order. My journey has been unique. I was fortunate to run some of the races when I did, because I know it’s not as easy now as when I did it. The Abbott WMM series has become extremely popular. The number of entries for lotteries in each race has steadily increased, making it harder for runners to gain entry. In addition, Boston qualifying times have recently gone up, making it harder to run a BQ.
My advice is, if you’re really serious about becoming a Six Star Finisher, keep trying to enter the lottery for each race, check into time qualifications (each race has their own time qualification standards), run for charity or through an approved marathon tour group.
Check out some of my previous posts related to this topic:
Please let me know if you have any questions. You can follow my journey as I run and travel on social media. See my handles below. On Instagram I post on my daily training, reminders on Abbott WMM events (sign-up times, etc.) and more! I also have blogs with travel tips and recommendations for each race. Keep exploring my blogs for more on that. Or simply just ask me any question you might have. Thanks for following my journey. I haven’t signed up for a spring marathon yet, but I have some things in the works. Follow me on social media to see what announcements I have coming up!