London Marathon - One Way or Another

25 October 2013, 11:39

If you’re a runner in London, you will inevitably be asked if you’ve run the marathon. “Why, yes, I’ve run two marathons!” you might reply, only to get the response “But have you run THE marathon?”.

To many average Londoners, the London Marathon is the only marathon. I’ve also been asked if my other marathons are the same length as London. To people who don’t run, London Marathon is the event, and many are only marginally aware that other marathons exist in other places in the world. So if you’ve been asked this same question for the last ten years like I have, there comes a time when you just need to suck it up and try your hardest to get a spot for London.

But that’s the other thing that non-runners don’t seem to realise – it’s really not easy to get into London Marathon. Unlike most other marathons, you can’t just sign up, pay your money, and turn up. There are only a few ways in:

How to get in

  • Sign up with a charity and agree to fundraise. This is by far the most common way to get into London, but with the going rate of £2,000 and many charities requiring you to be financially liable if you don’t raise the target amount, this isn’t one to be taken lightly. And many charities only get a handful of spots each year, so there’s competition for them, too.

  • Run another marathon in a qualifying “Good for age” (GFA) time. This requires a few years’ notice, and a lot of training. The times for men are particularly tough to achieve, and you need to apply in a short window of time around June/July the year before the race.

  • Get a ballot place. Feeling lucky? You can enter the ballot a year in advance, but you’ve got to be quick, as the limited spaces to be included in the ballot draw usually run out in a few hours. Yes, that’s just to enter the ballot, not to get a guaranteed spot! Ballot places are usually very rare indeed – last year only two people from my 200-strong running crew got in this way, though this year there are more like 10-15 for some reason. I know plenty of people who have entered the ballot for 5-10 years and never been successful.

  • Enter through your running club. EA-affiliated running clubs can apply to get a small number (usually one or two) of places to give to their members. But if you’re not already in a running club, you’re not going to get in this way anyway (and if you are, then you probably already know about this!)

(There are also two other ways of getting in if you’re faster than GFA, which Simon Freeman details nicely here)

I’m running it!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m running the London Marathon in April 2014. So how’d I get my place? It’s more convoluted than you’d think…

When I ran my first marathon in Amsterdam last Fall, I was ecstatic that my 3:48 finish time was under my young female 3:50 GFA qualifying time, and I’d told everyone who’d listen that I’d be running London. At London marathon this year (like every year), I cheered the runners streaming past the end of my road, and I thought to myself “that’ll be me next year!”. Then London Marathon’s organisers changed the GFA times, without warning and without a notice period (when Boston Marathon changes their qualifying times, they give 18 months notice, for example). They only moved my age category by 5 minutes, but it was enough to strip me of the GFA place I’d thought I’d had for six months. This was a major blow.

After a few weeks of moping, I resigned myself to having to go the charity route. Ever since Anthony Nolan found me my anonymous bone marrow donor in 2009, they’ve been my charity of choice, but they’re also the official charity of the entire marathon this year, so they’ve got loads more spots and exposure! I’ve signed up with them, agreed to a fundraising target, and also agreed to do interviews, promotion, and anything else they need to help promote their good works. By the time I run it, it’ll be my 5th year since the transplant, so I make a good PR “success story” for them, too!

Melissa at Houses of Parliament
(Photo compliments of Anthony Nolan!)

But that’s not the end of my London Marathon saga, because while I was away in Mexico, I discovered that I was actually successful in the ballot, which I completely wasn’t expecting! So this means that I’m now free to raise whatever I can for Anthony Nolan, but without any pressure to hit a specific fundraising target. This is great, because I’ve got enough time targets of my own without adding any monetary ones into the mix!

My goals

I know April seems like a long way off, but I’ll be starting my training in a few short weeks, and while I’ve been on my scheduled break I’ve been thinking about what I hope to achieve in London.

Ultimately, I still don’t feel like I’ve had my best marathon time yet. Amsterdam was my first marathon, and though I trained hard and consistently, when I hit the wall at 30km I just didn’t know how to cope (I’m much better prepared now). And Copenhagen, well, I had barely any time to train after a serious bout with shingles left me in severe pain over the bulk of my training period, so it’s no surprise that I wasn’t able to perform to my peak on the day. In fact, it’s really a wonder I got as good a time as I did, considering!

So first and foremost, my goal is to run strong for the entire race. I feel pretty confident I can maintain a comfortable 5min/km (8min/mi) pace throughout, which would put me in around 3:30-3:35. This is my gold medal time, one I’d be thrilled to bits with. At the very least, I want to go sub-3:45 so I can earn my GFA for 2015 and rub London Marathon’s noses in it! But all of this is very contingent on my staying healthy through the winter, and not catching any major illnesses, which has been a theme of every winter since my transplant. I’m hoping that working with Energy Labs on nutrition and training, plus the added time since the transplant will improve matters this year.

Come April, I’ll be running on home turf, on familiar streets, with the course running right past the end of our road. The crowds will be cheering, I’ll run through Tower Bridge on the road for the first time ever, and I’ll pass through my crew’s cheering station at Mile 21 on feet made of pillows. I can visualise my crossing the finish line on the Embankment, and the elation and relief, but the time on that yellow clock is still a bit fuzzy. Bring it on.

If I’ve inspired you, please consider donating to Anthony Nolan on my behalf.

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  1. What a story!! Well done on getting so many places, but most of all I am in so much in awe how you’re also so close to a GFA…superstar!
    Looking forward to hearing more about your training and your nutrition – fingers crossed it keeps the germs at bay

    Scruffy badger    13 November 2013, 07:04    #

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