Winning The Lottery


Remember when the hardest thing about a marathon/ultramarathon was running it? Unfortunately, in many cases, those days are long behind us. Now, the hardest thing may actually be gaining entry to the race. Here are a few examples:

The NYC Marathon:

The NYC Marathon lottery results recently came out. 9,170 runners were added to the race field through the drawing. This was out of over 77,000 applications. That is a success rate of approximately 12% – or a failure rate of about 88%, depending upon how you look at it.

The Chicago Marathon:

The Chicago Marathon generally used a first-come, first-served registration process. Until 2013. was inundated with applicants and…


For 2014, the race will be using a lottery that will run until noon (central time) on April 7. Runners in this non-guaranteed entry pool will find out their fate on April 14. Since this is new to 2014, the success/failure rate is not known.

The Marine Corps Marathon:

In 2014, the Marine Corps Marathon also switched to a lottery. Runners were able to register February 23 to March 15. Runners were then notified of their acceptance on March 19.

If you think this is limited to large races in major cities, you are wrong. As ultrarunning has experienced a (mini) boom, race directors have been scrambling to devise new entry systems.

At Western States, the lottery has had a success rate of about 10%. Prior to the 2014 lottery, the Western States website posted the following probabilities:

1 ticket — 6.5%
2 tickets — 12.6%
3 tickets — 18.3%
4 tickets — 23.6%
5 tickets — 28.5%

At Hardrock 100, there are 140 slots for about 1000 applicants. Hardrock has broken this down into three lotteries: (1) a first-timers lottery with 35 slots; (2) a veterans lottery with 35 slots (for five-time Hardrock finishers); and (3) everyone else with 70 slots.

Planning a Race Calendar

The difficulty in getting into races has made planning a calendar ahead of time tricky, especially if one is dependent upon non-guaranteed entry lotteries. Not so long ago, you needed a sharpie, a calendar and your checkbook. Now, it’s more like:


What Options Are Available?

Different races have been implementing different strategies. It seems like all races have been increasing prices to deter some applicants. Anecdotally, this doesn’t seem to be working. Other races have started new events and races have turned into race weekends. Many ultramarathons (e.g. Western States, Hardrock, Vermont) have a service requirement. For example, Vermont requires you to volunteer eight hours of time or pay a service buy-out fee of $150 (the race still sold out in less than a day).

What Else Can Be Done?

Many races have been toying with qualifying times. This is tricky because it muddies the area between guaranteed entries and non-guaranteed entries. Races are clearing space for established runners – but is it at the expense of newbies?

Have you had to use a lottery system? How did it go?

What do you think is the best way for races to deal with such high demand?

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14 Responses to Winning The Lottery

  1. runsaltrun says:

    I’ve never run in a race with a lottery (I would have entered MCM, but Baltimore is the week before and I am running that one instead). I’m not really sure how I feel about it. In some ways, I guess if it works it works, but it kind of stinks to have to have a plan B if it doesn’t work out.

  2. I think it’s so ridiculous how many races have lottery systems. Though do we want to sit at our computers for hours to try and get into a race? It’s a catch 22 I guess. That is crazy to think about NYC. I’m glad I’m not running it this year though LOL.

  3. Nicki says:

    I entered the lottery for CU Cherry Blossom 10 Miler last December. First lottery entry and got in. Entered the MCM and didn’t get in. Not sure qualifying times is the way to go. I like the lottery chances better than relying on technology.

  4. piratebobcat says:

    I’ve been shut out 6 straight years form the London Marathon lottery. I’m glad more people are running, but it really bites how hard it is to get into races now. I’m going to stick with smaller ones for a while.

  5. runwright says:

    3 years I’ve applied for the NYC marathon, and 3 times rejected. Used to be that if you got rejected 3 times, you’d be guaranteed in next time. Unfortunately, that is also phased out this year. Hardest part of the race is making it to the start corral.

  6. It’s crazy about the race entry lotteries.. we don’t have that in Israel yet but might be happening soon.
    I can understand and agree a race should only have as many runners as they can handle, so I really don’t know what the solution would be.
    About the poll, seriously, all of the above.

  7. The VHTRC has rather clever lottery. It works like a charm. They give several days to apply online. You are assigned a number, then on the designated day they choose based on the DOW index closing number (and whether it closed up or down). More details here:

  8. dnardi710 says:

    I’ve entered lottery systems for Cherry Blossom (got in for this year!) and NYCM, which I’ve entered 3 years in a row and have not gotten in. I understand the lottery process is a necessary evil with the increased popularity of running, but you’re right, it makes it very hard to plan out a race calendar! That being said, as someone who’s not super speedy I would prefer a lottery than a qualifying time, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to not give newer runners a fair chance at some of the races, and yes, I know there are charity bibs, but you can only as friends and family to donate $ so you can run a race so many times!
    Honestly my biggest frustration right now is that NYCM did away with the 4 year guaranteed entry for their lottery since next year would have been my 4th year : (

  9. I haven’t had to use lottery for an entry yet but I know that the time will come especially since there are some bigger races I would like to do. I guess I’m not really sure what I think is the best- I mean, qualifying times are good for some races but I don’t think that it should be the case for most. Lottery seems like good option- but it makes planning hard. What about people who want to run with friends or family- but there is no guarantee you will all get in. First come first serve seems one of the better options but only if they find a better system than active crashing. Maybe open some spots at one time of day, close it down and open up more spots on different day at different time to allow those who couldn’t be at a computer the first time around?

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