VLM Good For Age changes – I’m officially sh1t

London Marathon have just made some pretty significant changes to the Good For Age (GFA) procedure. They were announced today (16th April 2018).  Just a week before the running of the 2018 London Marathon.

Last time they made changes it was announced after the VLM had taken place for that year – potentially runners were labouring at a false target to qualify for the subsequent year. This time the changes are out before.  Good if you’re able to think “OK cool, need to run a bit faster, I can do that”.  Bad if you suddenly need to knock 10 minutes off your target time.  Sunday is forecast to be one of the hottest days of 2018 so far, so don’t smash yourself on an impossible goal and not even finish.  We’ve all just seen from Callum Hawkins at the Commonwealth Games how the marathon takes no prisoners.

Main changes for GFA –

  • The times have been changed, some are a fair bit tighter (try not to be a youngish bloke).
  • The age groups have been changed to align with the other majors (a 40 year old male was in same group as 18 year olds, now with 44 year olds).
  • Entry is not guaranteed by getting a GFA time. Much like Boston, they will in future fill with the faster runners first, up to a set limit of 3000 places for each gender. You could run the time required and still not get in.
  • Because entry is not guaranteed and you won’t find out if you’ve made it until after the main ballot has closed for entries, VLM advise you to enter that as well. There will now be even more people in the ballot. Great. It’s unclear at this stage whether successful GFA applicants will have their ballot entry removed to increase the odds for others, you would presume so.
  • The biggest change is what age the times are based on. Previously it was your age on VLM race day that counted, now it’s your age when you ran the time. I can baffle you with all this below on my own example. It sounds minor but has some big ramifications for some. Like me. Did I mention I’m screwed?
  • Deferrals – with an exception for deferrals from 2018 to 2019, in future GFA runners will need to have a suitable marathon time within the relevant qualification window. In layman’s terms if you defer you may find you need to run another fast time to retain your spot for next year. Possibly harsh, but presumably avoids the field being held up by a large group of knackered runners using qualification times from before they went lame.

What’s remained –

  • The qualification periods are the same, 1st January 2017 to 10th August 2018 for next year (unfortunately that means of the 19 month window for VLM 2019 we’ve already lost 15).
  • The application for GFA is still a relatively short window (10 days) in August.

Times –

For a comparison of the times, please see below. The age groups may look a little odd as I’ve split them out to show the new and old London GFA, as well as the Boston 2018 times for comparison.  Boston hasn’t announced times for 2019 and interestingly their website no longer shows the old 2018 times either so they may well be due a change as well.

Vlmgfa2018

As it stands pretty much across the board Boston is now looking easier than London to qualify for. Only the more senior runners (65+ women and 70+ men) would find Boston harder to qualify.  The worst affected age groups are 41-44 men and 76-79 men and women.

As a comparison, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Marathon the fastest British male finished in 2:19:36. To qualify for London Marathon a normal club runner would need to run <3:00, 40 minutes slower.  The fastest British female finished 2:36:59. The VLM GFA is <3:45. 1h08m slower.  Or to take it another way the fastest female was only 17 minutes behind the fastest male, yet the VLM GFA are 45 minutes apart.

Gender Difference –

Although there looks to be some slackening of the women’s times it’s more due to the restricting of the age groups than any real change.

There is always a lot of whining how ‘soft’ the women’s targets are by certain people hiding on their twitter account. It’s a typical stat that women are 10% slower than men in endurance running, and broadly proven by the world records.  The gap tends to narrow on ultras as women close down on the men.  I know only a handful of GFA males yet countless GFA females, including a couple of awesome championship start females. Either all my male running mates are slow and fat like me, or Milton Keynes is a hot bed of quality female runners.

The previous VLM GFA times placed women 18-20% behind their male counterparts, with one group 65-69 at 25%.  With the new times the difference has grown due to tightening of male times, and now female targets are in the main 23-25% with the older age groups  a little closer and as low as 20%.

Vlmgfa2018malefemale

I’ve added a column using the ‘assumed’ 10% difference out of interest just to see what it would produce.  They seem steep but on unscientific “how fast can my mates run” would probably produce a fair gender balance of male/female GFA. But again maybe I run with too many fast ladies and fat old knacker blokes.

Field Split –

London are often a little vague on the split of the field. With these changes they’ve made public the GFA allocation of 3000 for male and 3000 for female. Of the 50,000 places offered (they know 10,000 will drop every year to give the desired 40,000 runners) the makeup is approx. –

Field Split
Total (nominal) 50000
Main Ballot 17000
Charity Places 15000
Celebs 100
Good For Age 6000
Championship 1000
Elite 100
Deferred from previous Unknown
Overseas Ballot Unknown
Club Places 1000
Balance 9800 – who knows!

Yep when you’re in the ballot in October you’re probably one of 350k+ battling for 17k spaces.

“What do all these changes mean for me?” I hear you ask

Possibly a lot, possibly very little. Here’s one of the worst case examples:

Old GFA system (using someone remarkably similar to me, we’ll call him Bob):

Bob, a male born March 1979 will be 41 for London 2020 in April and fancies running down the Mall.

The qualification time was <3:15 (old system had 41 as break point on age category, age on race day WAS key point).

The traditional entry window meant any marathon run from 1st Jan 2018 to Aug 2019 under <3:15 would have been good enough for Bob to guarantee a spot in the 2020 event irrespective of his age when he ran the time.

Bob decided to ignore impending ultras and concentrate on speed instead. Silly Bob, he’ll regret that at mile 78 of the Thames Path 100.

Bob managed to run 3:13 in March 2018 so was odds on for running 2020. Bob was smug.

Bob would probably apply in the general ballot for London 2019 when it opened in April 2018 and get one more reject email in October 2018 as usual.

Bob would cry a little. Probably rant on twitter.  Bob is a bit entitled.

Bob would watch his mates run the 2019 event and clap and cheer (drink beer).

Bob would smugly remember he was guaranteed a spot for 2020 so would not need to apply in the general ballot for London 2020 when it opened in April 2019.

In June 2019 Bob would apply for his GFA spot for 2020. He would get it.  He would be a bit more smug.

Bob would run 2020 and be smug again. He would run it aged 41, using a 3:13 qualification time from March 2018 when he was still (by a couple of days) only 38.

OR Bob injured himself in the meantime, so deferred (paid entry fee again) and would be guaranteed a spot in London 2021 when he would be 42, based on his March 2018 time from 3 years previously when still (by a couple of days) 38.

Bob would be happy. Other people might be annoyed the fat 42 year old was holding them up and wonder how they got in GFA pen.  Bob probably wouldn’t care.  He’s a bit smug and entitled.

New system (with me, I mean Bob again):

Bob was still born March 1979 and will be 40 for London 2019 and 41 for London 2020 in April.

His qualification time is now based on age when he ran the time, not age on race day.  Targets and age brackets have moved.  He now needs <3:00 or <3:05.

Bob cannot apply with his current PB. Bob is pissed off.  His 3:13 would only now be considered ‘good’ for a bloke 50 or over.  Bob is pissed off a bit more.

Bob still wants to run London 2020.

Bob needs a new PB.

The qualification period for 2020 is still 1st Jan 2018 to Aug 2019, but is now based on age on day you ran the race.

Bob either needs to wait until March 2019 when he turns 40, and ‘just’ run a <3:05 within the 5 month window (ignoring how few fast courses and events taken place in that time).

OR Bob can run a marathon between now and March 2019 at current age of 39, but would need to run a <3:00.

In either instance Bob would NOT be guaranteed a GFA place since only the first 3000 of each gender are taken.

Bob is now advised to still enter the general ballot in April 2019 for the 2020 event anyway. Adding to the 350k+ entries.  He’ll cross his fingers and hope.

Realistically I’ve got to accept that I, sorry Bob, is a pretty average runner and is never going to run London again without smuggling into one of the more elaborate fancy dress costumes of the charity runners and hoping they don’t notice him.

Bob is pissed off and will rant about how unfair it all is, how he never really wanted to run it anyway, even though he’d probably sell his own mum, or at least a distant relative for a spot.

Summary

London has an impossible task keeping ‘fast’ runners and ballot entry runners happy. It will never manage it.  Bob is pissed off.  Bob is going to start saving for Boston.

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