This Idiot’s Guide to the Majors

The Abbott World Marathon Majors are the six largest and most renowned marathons in the World: London, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Boston and Chicago. Their mission statement is simple and to the point; “to provide global leadership in elite and mass participation events” through the management and organisation of what we term “the majors.”


As a runner you cannot start running without a dream, a target, an A race, or a goal. For many this is to run the London Marathon, or the New York Marathon. Many do this and achieve their dreams early on through charity places and ballot entry but then what?

Do all six and you will join a list so short that the web page barely needs scrolling down. If you do there is a wonderful medal awaiting you, the Voltron of marathon medals.


and a certificate of your times.


But just how difficult is this for a average runner, like me, to do them all? Clearly being in the US helps when half the races are there. Personally I would make it a little more fair and have one in South America, one in Australia, one in Africa, but not until after I have complete the current 6, please.

Is it possible, when you are not super fast and getting the coveted GFA (Good for Age) times to get in? Or are companies that offer guaranteed entry as long as you buy a package deal just pulling your pants down over the price and demanding what they want because they know you have no other choice?

Coming into this with just the Berlin medal myself, I wanted to see if it is even possible, for me to complete the Abbott Majors, the holy grail of marathon running, and if so, how?

I put this together with a modicum of research. If you have run any of the majors before or have new info that could help, then please let me know. I would love to hear from you.



Held Last Weekend in September

With the Start/Finish Line by the Brandenburg Gate and the bag drop behind the Reichstag you have to love Berlin

I was supposed to run the Berlin Marathon in 2013. It was to be my first and I paid for entry but, as is sometimes the way of the world, I injured myself months before in a warm up for the Shakespeare Half in Stratford Upon Avon that pretty much ruined any preparation for the marathon. I DNSd but had already booked the trip so went to Berlin and enjoyed everything the wonderful city has to offer. I even watched the race, cheering from the Gendarmenmarkt by the opera house and thinking I could have probably limped around in the 7 hour time limit.

That was the last year you could just enter the Berlin marathon. After then it became ballot, charity spot, GFA and invite only and so I had to wait until 2015 for the charity I run most for, Pancreatic Cancer UK, to offer up entry.


Charity Entry

Everyone who has thought about running the London Marathon know about charity spots. And with some charities demanding you pledge to raise anything from £1700 to £2500 for a place there I was very pleased to discover that for Berlin I only needed to raise £900. So, if you fancy a major, and don’t mind the charity route but would like the number to be a little more achievable, then look for a Berlin marathon spot. The UK charities were well represented from what I could tell, so contact them and see.


If you are nippy, I am not, I am basically a sloth with sneakers, then you need to be pretty quick to get into Berlin with a GFA but not as quick as the others. Here are the Good for Age time requirements for Berlin. And you need to submit your application with evidence of your time by November 1st the year before you run.

  • Male Runners: under 2:45 hours – Age 45 and up (age group 1971 and older): under 2:55 hours
  • Female runners: under 3:00 hours – Age 45 and up (age group 1971 and older): under 3:20 hours

The Dreaded Ballot

The London ballot is a complete shit show. It opens in May, when everyone’s juices are flowing after seeing or taking part in the race, and the universe enters the ballot. Somehow it takes until October for you to be told if you are in or not. Why? Theory has it that if they told you yay or nay within a week you will just book Paris, Manchester, Brighton, or any of the other great marathons around the London date. So they don’t, so you don’t book another race, and then are tied into getting a charity spot fulfilling their quota.

Berlin is FAR FAR better. In 2014 only 75,000 entered the ballot, rather than the hundreds of thousands entering London. The race has 40,000 runners so once they have taken the GFAs and elites off that total you still have a pretty good chance. The ballot opens after the race at the end of September, you have a week I think, and are told within a month. You then have a month to decide or they reallocate your entry.

All very efficient. Ruthlessley efficient. And I love them for it.

Package Deal

A package deal is pretty much what you think. It is a holiday that includes the race. Selected travel partners of the races will offer you flights, hotel and guaranteed race entry which, I guess, provides much needed income to the local tourist industry.  So, if you don’t like the odds of the ballot, are not fast enough for a GFA,  and therefore have zero chance of being invited as an elite, and don’t think you can raise enough money for a charity, then you can just buy entry.

209 Events is a popular UK tour provider for overseas races. Now, I thought they did the lot, but having just read about this they only offer you a hotel. You need to get your own flights. And all those wonderful extras like race entry…. Hold on, race entry? So they charge for a hotel and the race entry is additional and you MUST choose one of their hotels.

  • adidas EVENT T-SHIRT (coolmax) £26
  • adidas FINISHERS T-SHIRT (coolmax) £26
  • adidas Berlin Marathon Jacket £57

So reading it through again, you can go as a runner or a supporter, hence the optional entry being optional. But the cheaper hotel options sell out fast. It also doesn’t mention whether you are sharing or not. That would be creepy and weird, if you choose the twin room option and are sharing with a stranger. Surely they don’t mean that? Surely.


Hotel Options through 209 Events

2-NIGHTS £269 £399
3-NIGHTS £369  £589
EXTRA NIGHTS £98  £159

 Ok, so let’s do some maths and take the 2 nights options.

Flights from London to Schoenefeld ( I prefer flying here rather than Tegel as it is 1. cheaper and 2. easier to get in on the S-bahn straight into the city) £75 flight with Norwegian Air plus £10 per bag each way, lets say £100. (I know, I know Norwegian suck balls. I had a terrible experience with them going to and from Copenhagan Marathon in May but for the sake of the blog…)

Hotel. We will take the £269 option

Race Entry. £110

Optional Extras. You have to pay for the timing chip. It is one of those hefty plastic ones and you can use it elsewhere in Europe once registered I think. £5

Tshirts? I got the event one but not the finisher one.  You can also just get it at the EXPO £25

Food and drink for 2 days. Now I have been to Berlin many times, and perhaps 5 times in the last 5 years. There is some great eating to be had around my favourite Gendarmenmarkt and Hackeschermarkt. You can eat yourself silly in both places. If you need recommendations, I loved 1840, I am a big fan of the Augustine beer hall but the best food I ate there was Thai Inside by Hackeshermarkt.

Plenty to do if you are sightseeing too. I am a fan of the DDR museum, to see how the east was, climb the top of the cathedral for panoramic views of the city, the Currywurst museum, Holocaust Memorial are musts. Say £200 on food and drink. £50 on souvenirs and sight seeing including the Big Bus tour.

Grand Total: £759 to spend a couple of days in Berlin on a tour including ticking off the Berlin Marathon including food and drink (Erdinger/Currywurst).

And they do bus you to the registration at the EXPO, and to the Breakfast Run the day before. I liked doing this, it was a nice 5K leg stretch and you end at the Jesse Owens v Hitler stadium. Yes, that stadium.


Last weekend in February

A lot of dressing up
A lot of dressing up

The new kid on the block (having been first held in 2007) the Tokyo Marathon starts at the Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku and ends at the Imperial Palace. The route passes several of Tokyo‘s main tourist spots, including the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, Asakusa and Ginza giving those who can see through the crowds the sights of the city.

I have never been to Japan but looking up the race for this blog there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of cosplayers dressing up for the run. February must be a nice time weatherwise, as there is no way I could run 26.2 dressed as a Pokemon in heat or humidity. Although I know you’d all love to see that.


There is a 10% chance of being selected via the ballot system, better odds that London but worse than Berlin with 320,000 runners entering the ballot for one of the 35,000 places.

Semi-Elites (Not me)

Starting from Tokyo Marathon 2016, runners from other countries will also be given the opportunity to compete in the Semi -Elite (Overseas) category, and this is expected to at tract superior athletes from around the world.

  • ・ Men’s Marathon 2:55:00 or under
  • ・ Women’s Marathon 3:40:00 or under

Potentially 200 participants.

(PS. Thanks Melissa for this one)

Race Entry



209 Events had closed their 2016 tour so I could not get a price from them. Instead I went to Sports Tour International for their package. Here you are offered the Keio Plaza hotel, 5 days and 4 nights at a hefty £2758 for single occupancy of a room or £2209 sharing a twin including flights and transfers and reps. For the share option you could be sharing with anyone. Yes, even him.


Not a fan. You can also book without flights.

Guaranteed Marathon Entry (optional extra- please select at time of booking) £85 per person

International Friendship Run – information to follow £20 per person

Official Tokyo Marathon Jacket – £65 per person

Tokyo Marathon Celebration After Run Party (inc Japanese Food, Sake and Music) £45 per person

So, finger in the air, as I did for Berlin I will go for the single supplement with flights for £2758 + £85 for entry with 20,000 yen a day spending money (£128 per day x 5 = £640 for food and drink (Asahi/Chicken katsu)) = £3,843 so definitely the one I would do last.

Good For Age

 Apparently there is no good for age entry so you have to get a charity spot or take a tour

 Charity Spots

 Working differently to the other races Tokyo free up 3,000 runner places on a first come, first served basis for charity runners. Those that apply need to be 19 or older, be able to finish the race in less than 6 hours and 40 minutes and, probably most importantly are willing to raise or donate 100,000 yen ( £640) as well as pay the 12,800 yen (£81) race entry fee. Making this by far the easiest of the charity limits, but unfortunately one with the smallest amount of places.


First Week of November


I lived in New York for nearly a decade, sharing my time between the East Village, Battery Park City and Hell’s Kitchen but I did not run when I was there. I only ever cared about the marathon once, and then only slightly when my GFs at the time best friend was running it for charity. Otherwise, much like most other curmudgeonly NYers when it came to Time Square on NYE, the World Series once the Yankees were out, and power cuts, my main thought was…


There are five ways to get into the New York marathon and you can pretty much guess them.

  1. Enter the Sweepstakes. Enter the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Sweepstakes.
  2. Enter the ballot. I looked at this in 2016 but once you fill all the information they will take over $350 once you are accepted. That seemed very very high.
  3. A Charity place.
  4. GFA Qualifying Time.
  5. Join an International Marathon Tour Group and pay for entry.
According to Competitor magazine more than 50,000 people will be accepted to run in next year’s race on Nov. 6 and here are the five ways to get in:

Enter the Sweepstakes
Enter the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Sweepstakes. There are 100 guaranteed, non‐complimentary spots in next year’s race. The deadline to enter is and winners will be informed on or before January 13.

Enter the Drawing
You can also enter the marathon’s general drawing. The application opens Jan, 21 and runs through 11:59 p.m. EST on Feb. 21. Applicants must be 18 years of age or older on Nov. 6 to be eligible. Runners will be selected via three drawings. Last year, less than 20 percent of those entered in the drawing got into the race. But it’s worth a chance.

Run for a Charity or Kids
Guaranteed entries are also available by running for one of the official New York City Marathon charity partners or by running with the NYRR Team for Kids. Charity partner details will be announced in the spring, but you can sign up to run with NYRR Team for Kids today and get a guaranteed spot. In either case, you’ll have to commit to raising money to earn your spot in the race

Run a Qualifying Time

Although not as comprehensive as the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon also has a qualifying program for runners who are fast enough to make the time standards (from an approved half marathon or marathon). But fewer runners are accepted by time qualifiers and the the New York City Marathon time standards are much faster than Boston’s qualifying times. Running Legend Susie Chan told me she had to run 15 mins faster to get into NY than she did Boston.

For example, the qualifying time needed for the New York City Marathon for the men’s 35-39 age group is 2:55:00, compared to 3:10 for the same age-group in Boston. For women, New York City Marathon requires a 3:15:00, whereas Boston requires a 3:40.


The qualifying window for the 2016 race is Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015. All runners who made ran faster than the time standards in the 2015 New York City Marathon or in an New York Road Runners half‐marathon are eligible for guaranteed entry. The remaining spots will be filled on a first‐come, first‐served basis until the cap, which is to be determined, has been reached.


Join an International Marathon Tour Group

For runners who live outside of the U.S., guaranteed entries are available through an International Travel Partner (ITP). The race entries are contingent upon purchasing a marathon travel package that includes a flight into a New York City-area airport and/or a hotel stay in New York City.


*Figures from 2015

80,800 applications

14,326 accepted (18%)

Entry Fee

$347 for non US-Residents. I am not sure if London does this, but it seems crazy. It is only $255 for US residents that are not members of the NYRR.

Plus $11 admin fee

Charity Places

There is a list of approved charities on the marathon website. These are gold, silver and bronze level charities. I am guessing that the gold get more places than the silver, and so forth. Of those with $$ listed it seems that about $3,000 would be a normal amount to raise and they have to pay $450 per entry.

Travel Partners

3 nights for a single (£1,699) at the Travel Inn plus Flight and Entry (£1,099) and includes race entry, hotel transfers, breakfast. I would get out of the hotel deal and crash with a friend, so it would be £1,099 for NY plus food costs of my time there.

The NY 5K Dash the day before is £20 extra

So for me this would be £1,099 plus $357 plus say $50 a day food and drink (Brooklyn Lager/dollar slices) for 5 days = £1,550 for New York.


First weekend of October


As I look at this list I am thinking to myself… “London is nigh on impossible ballot-wise, NY is tough too, Boston qualifying time is insane, Tokyo is too far away and crazy expensive and I have done Berlin, so surely Chicago would probably be the natural choice for the next easiest major to get into? Surely?” Well, let’s see, shall we?

For one, it is cheaper than NY. For non-US citizens like me it is $210, cheaper than NY is for US citizens!


Men who have run a verifiable sub 3:15:00 marathon and women who have run a verifiable sub 3:45:00 marathon on or after January 1, of the year prior can guarantee their spot in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon at any time during the lottery entry period. That seems a lot less complex. Tick.

Charity Places

There are 10,000 charity places up for grabs. I chose one at random and they only ask you raise $1000. That is very doable.  Much like NY there is a list of registered charities and they have a limited amount of places. There were still places when I checked, and the race is only 6 weeks away.

Tour Group

If I had more time I could sign up and raise the $1000. Then the flights and hotel would be on me as it would for any break. A three night package through 209Events is £1,999 including flights, but (and this is the kick in the dew flaps), it does not include race entry, which is a whopping £300! Which seems very odd as it was listed as $210 on the race site. But hey, for shits and giggles, I can stay with friends there and therefore it will only cost the flights and entry, which is £1,399. Plus 3 days food and drink (Goose Island IPA/Pizza) of £50 a day, so £1,549.


RunnersWorld published an article on this topic called Chicago Marathon Lottery by the Numbers which is good read. But in a nutshell,  with a total field of 45,000 runners for the 2015 event 64% of the field was accepted through the lottery. In other words, of the 54,800 runners who entered the lottery, about 53% got in. Now those are GREAT ODDS!

Cheaper? Better odds? Easier GFA? What is there not to love about the Chicago Marathon?


Third Monday in April


Okay, so before I write anything I am going to guess this is the trickiest to get into. I don’t know why. But conversations about low qualifying times always makes me think that it is.

No ballot


Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Well, that plus a question mark rather than an exclamation mark.


Totally tabular, dude
Totally tabular, dude

Now these are not cast in iron. There is a cool Registration Calculator that asks for your DOB, Gender and Qualifying time and  checks your chances. This is, of course, because there are limited GFA places. If you have a particularly borderline GFA time or it has been quick year for your age group your could miss out still.

Charity Places

The Boston Athletic Association sets aside “a few thousand numbers” for runners affiliated with one of the marathon’s official charities. Looking at these runners, who don’t already have an allocated slot in the race, must raise $5,000.


Tour Groups

4-NT PACKAGE £1799 £2599

Return flights from London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.
Airport transfers by private coach.
Hotel accommodation.
Services of Sports Tours International representative.
Option to purchase marathon race entry.

Not included
Insurance – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED but put it on the ccard and you’ll be covered anyway. Also you know that most holiday insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s written on
Race entry – oh yeah, that.

Ah, so race entry is $180.00 USD for United States residents and $240.00 USD for international residents AND they have already sold out everywhere.

My total would be, for shits and giggles, £2,599+$240+4x£50 a day living expenses (Sam Adams/a variety of beans) = £2,981

So very fast GFA, no ballot, low numbers of charity places, to raise quite a bit, expensive hotel and sold out in 12 hours on the UK tour sites! Looks like this IS the trickiest to get into. That’s is ok though, as I have a good chance of a GFA when I hit my 70s.

And finally…


3rd Weekend in April


Ah London, well no flight or hotel costs for me, so will cut to the chase and see how I can get in.

Overseas Travel Partners

Not applicable for me, unless I cheat and use my South African passport to enter.


I have entered the ballot twice and no dice, I have entered it again this year. You have nothing to lose, unless you pay up front to get the fleece ballot. . As I have mentioned before the London ballot is a real pain, it is open for a 5 day period in May, but then they make you wait until October (YES! October!) to tell you. I personally think this is to force you into taking one of their charity spots as you don’t book anything else. I did, though, I booked Brighton. For the 2016 race, a record total of 247,069 people entered the ballot for how many places? 17,000 I think. So, given the race size, and taking ALLLLLL those GFAs, elites, invites, and charity places off that total your ballot odds are pretty low, about 6%.

Charity Spot

There are about 14,000 charity places up for grabs, which is about 40% of the race field (so expect a lot of people dressed up). There are a lot of charities to choose from, with most asking for £1,700 to £2,500 to be raised plus a signing on fee of anything up to £100. Now, I ran for charities many times, raising over £3,000 in 2014 but I can’t do that again. Some charities also take your pledge seriously and hound you for the difference if you come up a little short on JustGiving. So this out for me too.



Men Time (in hours) Women Time (in hours)
Age 18-40 sub 3:05 Age 18-40 sub 3:45
Age 41-49 sub 3:15 Age 41-49 sub 3:50
Age 50-59 sub 3:20 Age 50-59 sub 4:00
Age 60-64 sub 3:45 Age 60-64 sub 4:30
Age 65-69 sub 4:00 Age 65-69 sub 5:00
Age 70-75 sub 5:00 Age 70-75 sub 6:00
76+ sub 5:30 76+ sub 6:30

Of course though if you were using the Greater Manchester Marathon results from 2013, 14 or 15 these now no longer count as it was measured short, so they add two minutes for under 70s and 3 for over 70s. Anyway, I am so far away from a sub 3:15 marathon it doesn’t matter.

British Athletics Club Entry 

The UKRUNCHAT club was only started this year, but if they apply, being governed by England Athletics, there could be places that way. I think there are only 500 in total though. And it requires an application and places are awarded based on the number of members registered with the club and England Athletics.

  • 1-99 members               1 place
  • 100-199                           2 places
  • 200-299                           3 places
  • 300 +                                4 places

So, unless UKRUNCHAT get places and I somehow get one of those, or I get a ballot place London will just sit there, with the ballot entered each year. If I do get in then the cost is only £45 (we think).

In Summary

Berlin TICK!

Tokyo – tour £3,843

New York – tour but free accoms £1,550 but will enter the ballot, which will be darned sight cheaper

Chicago – tour but free accoms £1,549 (Woah! a dollar cheaper)

Boston – tour £2,981 and need to get in fast

London – Around the £45 mark ballot only

So a grand total (if I can press the buttons fast enough on the right day) of  £9,968 to take part in the remaining 5 majors. Now, I am loathed to spend that much. That is MDS PLUS COMRADES, which would mean more to me,  but if I get into London then I will consider the last four spread over a couple of years. So we shall see, it is in the lap of the ballot Gods.



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