London Marathon Ballot Rejection Truth

Updated 30th October 2018

Runners worldwide know what happens each year in May. The London Marathon ballot opens, we all throw our names into a hat and we wait. And wait. And wait. At the end of September / early October, some of us will be rewarded for our patience with a place into the Holy Grail of marathons. Most of us will be left being bitter on social media, or pretending that we didn’t want to do it anyway.

For those of you who are interested in stats, Dan put a post together exploring the real odds of getting through the ballot. The odds are better than winning the lottery jackpot, anyway.

Facebook and Twitter are currently rife with screenshots of people confirming their entry into the ballot. There are also plenty of comments along the lines of “third attempt, third time lucky?” and so on. And along these lines, there are also the people who claim that they’ve been in the ballot 15 times or more in a row and have never been able to run the race because they have never been successful.


Joining the party. Here’s my screenshot.


And these are the people who irritate me. By all means, have a moan about your repeated failed attempts. I know I do!

But don’t claim you’ve never got through 15 times in a row. Some are even claiming 20.

The previous sponsor of the London Marathon was Flora, with 2009 being the last year they sponsored the event.  During this time, the London Marathon organises followed a system known as the “5 year rule”. This system meant that if you were unsuccessful 5 years in a row in the ballot, on the 6th attempt, you would be guaranteed an entry.

Virgin took over as sponsor in 2010, and this was when the London Marathon organisers axed the rule, but honoured it for those who had previously entered the ballot with Flora. Here is a copy of an email my friend The Phd Runner received in 2010 for the 2011 marathon:

2011 Virgin London Marathon – Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme

In the past, the London Marathon has been able to offer a guaranteed race entry to runners after 5 consecutive unsuccessful ballot applications.

Unfortunately, due to the incredible growth in numbers of applicants, we have decided that we cannot continue to operate this system in future.

However, we acknowledge that it would be unfair to remove this well established system without notice so instead, we have decided on a phased withdrawal of the system over the next few marathons by introducing a Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme for the benefit of all previous applicants with at least 2 rejected ballot entry applications in 2009 and 2010.

Our records show that you have made 2 consecutive unsuccessful applications and as a result we are offering you the opportunity to maintain your record of consecutive applications in the ballot by following the link from this special invitation email to the Priority Online Ballot Entry System and completing your registration in advance of the main public ballot, which opens on Tuesday 4th May.

The username and password provided below are exclusively for your use and cannot be used by anyone else.

You will retain your place in the Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme until you either obtain a place in the race through the ballot entry process in the normal way, or you qualify under the ‘five times consecutively rejected’ rule highlighted above, whichever comes first.

In addition, in order to remain in the Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme you must keep us updated with any change in your email address so that we can be sure that we can contact you in subsequent years until the scheme finally closes.

Lastly, please note that you must complete your priority application by 5pm on Friday, 30th April 2010 otherwise you will lose your place in the Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme. You will still be able to apply through the main public ballot for the 2011 race which opens on Tuesday 4th May but you lose your rights outlined above.

If you have any questions about your place in the Virgin London Marathon Priority Online Ballot Entry Scheme, please call our Helpdesk on 020 7902 0200.

We look forward to receiving your priority application by the deadline highlighted above and wish you every success in the ballot for the 2011 race.

Yours sincerely

Dave Bedford – Race Director, Virgin London Marathon

 Please do not reply to this email

This means that if you started applying for 2011 like I did, the maximum consecutive rejections possible is 9 (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). If you honestly started applying for the London Marathon for 2009 or before, you’ve had the opportunity to run. It was just down to you to make sure that you entered the right ballot.


VLM Marathon News 2014


I’ve been unlucky in the ballot every year since I started trying to enter for the 2011 race. It’s annoying and I understand why people feel miffed as that’s a lot of years to miss out on. I had a rather embarrassing rant about it myself on my blog a few years back, which I’d love to delete, but feel needs to remain for the sake of honesty.

But please, stop trying to claim that you are the most hard done by of them all. If you’ve honestly been in the ballot 15 times in a row, you’ve had the opportunity to run London.

I enter the ballot every year. Every year I hope that my luck will change. But if it doesn’t, hey, we can commiserate together. Or enter online competitions – I won a Twitter competition for the 2015 marathon!

Good luck!

8 thoughts on “London Marathon Ballot Rejection Truth

  1. I got into the London Marathon in 2016 by winning a competition :). It was only my second year of not being accepted through the ballot, but now that I’ve done the marathon once, I’m not entering anymore. Once is enough for me. However, I was so jealous when watching the marathon on telly this year, I wanted to be there. I guess the London Marathon is special.

  2. Please believe me when i say this but i am not trying to rub this in, however my partner anthony applied for the ballot in 2014 and he got straight through the ballot 1st time. He posted how chuffed he was and received backlash from the people who have entered lot’s of times… and as someone who has entered the ballot for the last 3 years i feel that pain. I genuinly do believe because of this though that it is totaly random and absoloutly the luck of the draw. I have entered again this year as well as my partner however i have also registered my interest with a charity in case i don’t get through. £1800 is a lot of money however i believe where there is will there is a way.

    1. A friend of mine ran in 2015 after getting in first go as well. You’re right, it shows that it is totally random!

      I’m really sorry he received backlash – that just isn’t fair at all. Some of us have to get lucky!

      Good luck to both of you in the ballot this time, I hope you get through! x

  3. I get that London is special (it is!) and why people have their hearts set on it – but to Maria’s point above, there are other equally brilliant marathons that often don’t get a look in! I got rejected the first year I applied, signed up to Paris literally the day I got the rejection letter and then was lucky enough to end up with a GFA to get into London thereafter.
    As articulated pretty clearly though, it is called a ballot and some people get lucky early on (and also multiple years in a row) and some people don’t. Luck of the draw really and I don’t think there is any way to beat the system other than trying one of the other entry options. Shame about the 5 year rule, but I think the volume of people who would have needed to be honoured under that would have just massively escalated to be unmanageable with the popularity of running over the past 10 years!

  4. My London Marathon ballot history is as follows:

    2005 – entered the ballot for the 2006 event and got in first time.
    2006 – unsuccessful in the ballot for 2007.
    2007 – entered the ballot for the 2008 event and got in.
    2008 – didn’t enter the ballot.
    2009 – entered the ballot for the 2010 and got in. Didn’t run due to injury.
    2010 – didn’t enter the ballot as I had a guaranteed place. Didn’t run due to injury.
    2011 – entered the ballot for the 2012 and got in. Didn’t run due to injury.
    2012 – didn’t enter the ballot as I had a guaranteed place. Didn’t run due to injury.
    2013 – didn’t enter the ballot.
    2014 – unsuccessful in the ballot for 2015
    2015 – unsuccessful in the ballot for 2016 but won a place via social media
    2016 – didn’t enter the ballot.
    2017 – didn’t enter the ballot.

    So I’ve hobbled my way around London three times and have failed to start (some might say wasted places) four times. I won’t be hobbling around London again unless it’s with a GFA time (highly unlikely!).

    I much preferred the old system, runners had to track down a Marathon News magazine which contained a good old fashioned paper entry form. These magazines were like gold dust. Far more effort than just ticking a load of boxes online. You knew you’d got a place if you hadn’t donated your entry fee when your cheque was cashed. As the ballot did’t open until the summer (I think) there was a lot less waiting.

  5. I have genuinely applied every year since 2007. Not only have I not got in once, I have also not been told of the 5 times and the 6th place guaranteed and neither have Virgin stated this on application. I know this existed previously but it was never mentioned to me before or after application.
    Statistically, based on the present entry system I can apply for 20 years and there is a 20% chance that I will get in on none of those occassions. The sentence “But please, stop trying to claim that you are the most hard done by of them all. If you’ve honestly been in the ballot 15 times in a row, you’ve had the opportunity to run London.” is harsh and untrue.

    1. It might be worth you giving the office a call and asking about this. As it sounds like you may have been missed in the system. I have no idea whether they will offer a place, but you should have been offered one if you have been applying in consecutive years since 2007.

      Based on the present system, yes I think that tallies in with what I read earlier – that 70% of people applying now, assuming the ballot stays where it is, will not get in over 5 attempts.

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