Everyone likes to win a prize, the suspense, the disappointment or elation of finding out the result. It seems ballots are becoming more popular. The London Marathon has had employed a ballot for a very long time, as more runners take up the pastime, the squeeze for spaces for popular runs is causing organisers to go down the ballot process.

Certain races are more popular than others, and while in an ideal world we should all be able to enter any race we see fit, this is simply not possible. It seems organisers are going down one of two avenues, they are either introducing a ballot process (Warwick Two Castles Run) or they are increasing/changing the run to accommodate more people (Cambridge Half Marathon).

If we take the Cambridge Half Marathon, this is a race that I failed to enter for a number of years due to it’s field size. It sold out quickly each year, the organisers changed the route so it went out of Cambridge (out and back) and this almost doubled the capacity. It still sold out. However they introduced a “locals-first” policy, if you lived within the Cambridgeshire postcode you would get priority access. A reserved amount of spaces, and for everyone else the general pot. I like this approach as it promotes the race to “locals”. I say locals loosely as I live 60 minutes drive away from Cambridge but still fell under the catchment of Cambridgeshire postcode. For this year they are increasing the spaces again.

Other popular runs like the Warwick Two Castles is moving to a ballot. Like the London Marathon, Great North Run, Royal Parks Run. They generally allow you to enter your name during a period of time and then a draw is made, and everyone who entered has an equal chance of getting in. Sounds fair right? I am not so sure. Statistically it’s fair. Everyone has a chance to enter, everyone has an equal chance of being selected but what this system does not take into account is retries. The London Marathon had a system where five-and-in. If you were rejected often enough, you would get in on your next attempt. However with the volume of rejections at an all time high, this model is unsustainable.

I got into the London Marathon at the first time of asking, my elation was tempered on Twitter by reading stories about people who had tried and failed 10 years in a row. The next year I entered the ballot again, and this is the second point of contention. I had just as much chance as anyone in being accepted (for a second time). Surely this can’t be fair, if you are lucky enough to get in via the ballot, should you not move down the list? into a second drawing? much like tournaments. This would allow those who keep trying and failing to have a better chance.

Today I was rejected for the second time of asking at the Royal Parks and this image clearly shows the 3 main aspects of ballot places. The joy, the disappoint, and the charities.

Within minutes of my failure, my Twitter feed was rolling with charities wanting to “get me on their team”. Whilst running for charity is admirable, it should be noted the additional pressure this can bring. For my first race I asked people to sponsor me, and I got injured, but the thought of letting everyone down meant not completing was never an option. Then there is the amount, it seems the popular races ask for a few hundred points whereas the big one, the London Marathon you could be required to raise £2000.

If money was no object, I would sign up donate £2000 and “guarantee” myself entry. I am sure some people do this. However this is not viable for many. Ballots are here to stay, but maybe more should be done to see how they can be made fairer.


I would love to hear your thoughts, please drop me a comment below.