London Marathon – Record Ballot Numbers – What are your odds?

Update – The 2022 TCS London Marathon ballot results will be announced on Monday 14 March 2022 – this is for the Sunday 2 October 2022 staging of the event.

Every year the applications for the London Marathon increase. The latest available figures show 457,861 applicants registered for a ballot place in the 2020 event, the 40th edition of the race. This is up 10% from the previous year, already an impressive figure.

With the issues posed by Covid and the 2020 event being cancelled and places rolled over to either 2021 or 2022 edition the system is more complicated than ever.

Whilst the odds are seldom in your favour it is worth keeping the hope alive as it is an amazing experience. My 2021 run was easily the high point of my running year READ HERE

How’s it work?

The ballot system up to 2016 closed after 125,000 applicants.  This meant if you were keen you’d set your alarm for an ungodly hour of the morning to get up and get in.  It also opened typically a week after the event so those whose enthusiasm from watching it on the telly was short lived would typically have moved onto another interest before the entry opened. A benefit to ‘serious’ runners but also decreasing the chances of a non-runner accidentally getting a life changing experience.

For the ballot for 2016 race onward it’s been open for five days, and was increased to six days for 2020 entry (started in 2019) where for the first time it was open during the running of the marathon itself so anyone inspired and watching from the safety of their sofa could enter immediately before the elite runners had even finished the course. The changes gave everyone a chance to apply but also means a far higher number fighting for the same number of places.  For the 2016 marathon 247,069 applied, for 2017 it was 253,930, and for 2020 was 457,861. As noted above the events since then have also had to deal with rolled over places from the 2020 race cancellation.

What’s the odds?

The organisers are a little cagey on how many ballot spots are available but general consensus is around 17,000.  This sounds a lot but equates to less than 4% chance of getting lucky under the new system, or 13% under the old. It’s unclear whether the extra 2000 places used as a second draw for people who donate their entry fee and are unlucky in the main ballot is part of the 17,000 or in addition.

2910573_large-lndCoincidentally prior to the 2018 Fifa World Cup, sports data company Gracenote gave England a 4% chance of lifting the trophy in Moscow and remember how excited we all got about that?

It’s still better odds than the lottery and you don’t have to pay until you get lucky so also cheaper.

Year 2015 2018 2019 2020
Ballot places 17,000 17,000 17,000 17,000
Entries available 125,000 386,050 414,168 457,861
Probability of success 13.60% 4.40% 4.10% 3.71%

“It’s not fair! I wanna cry!”

by26g-ncuaeez_jEvery year when the figures are announced people complain, and every October or November when the ballot results are announced yet more complain. The numbers running creep slowly up every year, but the reality is London Marathon have an impossible task trying to stage a manageable and safe race and keep all applicants happy.

They recently changed the Good For Age times to streamline numbers and bring some parity with the rest of the majors. They also adjusted the number of places offered to running clubs to increase ballot spots. Each year they’ve offered slightly more places than previously. Even with these steps they’d need to hold an event with nearly half a million runners to satisfy the demand. Given 40,000 runners close down London for 8 hours, that increase would be some undertaking and they might struggle for volunteers willing to undertake a 80 hour shift.


The makeup of the entry field is also something VMLM seldom list in detail but appears to be around 15,000 charity, 6000 Good For Age (those runners fast enough in the age and sex category to gain a spot), 1000 Championship (even faster than Good For Age), 1000 for affiliated running clubs, 100 Elite and 100 Celebrity spots.   It’s unclear how many places are available for the overseas ballot, and how many defer from previous years but you can assume deferrals are relatively consistent year on year.

What’s surprising is quite how many do drop out.  The press pack helpfully lists starters and finishers for every year it’s been held.  For the years 2006-2019 they’ve accepted between 48,0000 and 56,000 runners but never had more than 42,000 make the start line (2020 was a virtual event due to Covid and they’ve yet to release figures for 2021 but were hinting at closer to 50,000).

The average dropout rate is 25% before the race has even begun.  If you’re one of the many runners having been unsuccessful on the ballot for multiple years it could be quite disappointing to know that a quarter of those that get a spot never even make it to pick up their race pack from the exhibition hall whilst you’d have gladly sold a close family member or at least a distant aunt to run the marathon. In total all these add up to 50,000 places, far more than ever make the start line and VMLM themselves advise “We accept a total of more than 50,000 runners as we can predict, after 36 years, almost exactly what proportion of entrants will drop out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day.”

In the unlikely event all 50,000-56,000 ever turned up there would be a lot of issues with crowd control and course congestion, not to mention at the finish as VMLM advise on their press pack they only have around 45,000 goody bags and medals – a lot of disappointed runners.

Year Total Ballot Applicants Accepted Runners Starters % Drop Out Total Finishers % Drop Out
1981               20,000              7,747        7,055 9%           6,255 11.3%
1982               90,000            18,059      16,350 9%         15,116 7.5%
1983               60,000            19,735      16,500 16%         15,793 4.3%
1984               70,000            21,142      16,992 20%         15,675 7.8%
1985               83,000            22,274      17,500 21%         15,873 9.3%
1986               80,000            25,566      19,261 25%         18,067 6.2%
1987               80,000            28,364      21,485 24%         19,586 8.8%
1988               73,000            29,979      22,469 25%         20,932 6.8%
1989               72,000            31,772      24,452 23%         22,701 7.2%
1990               73,000            34,882      26,500 24%         25,013 5.6%
1991               79,000            33,485      24,500 27%         23,435 4.3%
1992               83,000            34,250      24,500 28%         23,833 2.7%
1993               68,000            35,820      25,000 30%         24,495 2.0%
1994               72,000            37,379      26,000 30%         25,242 2.9%
1995               79,000            39,097      27,000 31%         25,377 6.0%
1996               68,000            39,173      27,134 31%         26,806 1.2%
1997               78,000            39,813      29,500 26%         29,189 1.1%
1998               69,000            42,228      30,663 27%        29,972 2.3%
1999               87,000            43,774      31,582 28%         30,849 2.3%
2000               93,000            42,596      32,620 23%         31,698 2.8%
2001               92,000            43,517      31,156 28%         30,318 2.7%
2002               99,000            46,083      33,297 28%          2,950 1.0%
2003             111,000            45,629      32,746 28%         32,324 1.3%
2004             108,000            45,219      32,746 28%         32,012 2.2%
2005             132,000            47,969      35,600 26%         35,300 0.8%
2006             119,000            47,020      33,578 29%         33,250 1.0%
2007             128,000            50,039      36,396 27%         35,729 1.8%
2008             120,000            48,630      35,037 28%         34,637 1.1%
2009             155,000            49,995      35,884 28%         35,404 1.3%
2010             163,000            51,378      39,956 22%         36,666 8.2%
2011             163,926            50,532      35,303 30%         34,872 1.2%
2012             170,150            50,200      37,227 26%         36,812 1.1%
2013 167,449            48,323      34,631 28%         34,381 0.7%
2014             169,682            49,872      36,337 27%         35,977 1.0%
2015             172,888            51,696      38,020 26%         37,793 0.6%
2016             247,069            53,152      39,523 26%         39,184 0.9%
2017             253,930            53,229      40,048 25%         39,472 1.4%
2018             386,050            54,685      41,003 25%         40,273 1.8%
2019             414,168            56,398 42,906 24%        42,464 1.0%
2020             457,861  Virtual

Of course if you don’t get in for a number of years and don’t donate the entry fee, then after 6-7 years of rejection you’re some of the way to ‘buying’ a spot from a charity and raising money for a cause that means something to you.

Confidence & Mind Games – MK Marathon Weekend

They say a lot of running is done with the head, so it’s a good job mine is massive. This weekend was a reminder of the importance your head and the little voices play in performance.


Sunday saw me at the MK Rocket, a quick 5k point to point run as part of the marathon weekend. It’s touted as a PB course as other than a few inclines is net downhill. It’s my PB course but I think as much for the straight run with only a single gentle right hander. I have the turning circle of a super tanker so a straight course is ideal for me.

Having not raced anything short since October, and due to ultra training being at 1300 miles for the year I was doubtful of a good time. I’ve gone sub20 in previous years so had that as an aspirational A-target. To get my head in the right mood I put on my Adidas Adizero lightweight racing shoes that had sat unworn for over a year, with no place in the wardrobe of an ultra runner. There’s a definite element of imposter syndrome strapping on light shoes when I’m still tipping the scales around 84kg. I skipped breakfast and had a slug of coffee before leaving as I run better on shorter stuff if not full of food.

After the countdown I set off surrounded by clubmates, many from the 6m40s paced session by Redway Runners. Surprisingly I felt good, the pace felt quick but I made a conscious decision not to check the pace on my watch and have the confidence to run to feel. Positive thoughts.


Gradually moving up the pack I fell in beside clubmate Chris and we pounded out a good pace. Confidence was growing. I had this. I had my fast shoes on and seemingly borrowed someone else’s fast legs.

Then we hit the two mile marker. I resisted checking my watch. Chris didn’t “doing well, that’s a 5m55s mile”. Bugger. My best track mile has been 5m54s, so what the hell was I doing hitting that for mid-point in a 5k? As Chris cruised on my brain succumbed to the inner doubts and I slowed. Then my brain decided I couldn’t feel my left leg at all. It was now manufacturing ailments to force me to slow. Bugger. When your mind starts to remind you how much nicer a gentle jog is it’s not easy to disagree despite it being the exact point you need to push and double down.

After some internal struggle I managed to regain my composure and get back on it, realising that with only a mile left I was still on for a good time. Having dragged my sorry bum over the line on multiple ultras it felt churlish to be considering backing off with a mere mile left.

img_2524The crowds built a bit and shouty Gary was bellowing at me as I crossed the line feeling like I had more to give. Official time was 18m42s, my first ever sub19 which was a welcome surprise and I wondered without the mental melt at mile 2 how much faster I could have managed. The other highpoint was a marshal handing me back my car keys that had dropped out my pocked on route without me even realising.


img_2554Monday morning and I’m back at the stadium for the marathon. This time I’m official pacer for 3h45 and the nerves are not for me but for those that are about to run with me. I’ve already lost one balloon and had to be given a replacement so my care-giving abilities are a little suspect already.

In the start pen and it’s a far cry from the previous day. I have few doubts I can manage the time. The confidence could be viewed as arrogance but it’s based on over 100 marathons. Nothing is given but it would take some pretty unforeseen events to stop me especially after yesterday, and with perfect weather conditions.

I’ve had my traditional pre-marathon McDonalds breakfast (this may explain the 84kg), strapped on my tried and tested Adidas Supernova (not sponsored by Adidas but find them perfect for my odd feet and dodgy running style). The rest of my kit is proven and I’ve got a baby food fruit pouch in my shorts for halfway having found them easier on stomach than gels. My Garmin has signal, I’ve got the mile splits printed out on my wrist so I can check pace to the mile markers rather than rely on GPS distance which is often a little patchy on some points on the course.

Around me people aren’t as confident. If you’re running with a pacer it’s because you have some doubt you can make the time on your own. You can feel the doubts and nerves. As much as you re-assure people the hard work is done, they can’t help thinking of this as a test, the outcome of which will decide in their minds if the months of hard work and training were worthwhile.

img_2538We set off in wave 2 and although the wide roads help spread the runners it’s still a little congested and I balance nipping through gaps to keep pace against losing those around me. After the lap of the city centre we’re approx. 8 secs up on pace due to some downhills and break off onto the redways. Although thinned out we’re in a large clump and I need to warn people about kerbs or bollards. No one wants to miss a PB due to a bollard in the bollocks, or in the words of my clubmate Emma, a ‘nasty minjury’.

Halfway comes and we pass over the mats around 30 secs up on pace, more than I’d like but given the second half has a couple of inclines it’s handy to have some seconds banked. The group around has thinned a little as people have either felt good and gone ahead or sadly dropped off the back. What’s left is a determined bunch who look strong but most are aware now is too early to count their blessings.

The miles tick past and on a couple of occasions the size of the group is such that I can’t make it to the side to get water at aid stations but it’s cool enough not to be an issue and one runner passes me theirs to share (cheers if you read this Vanessa).

Gradually I notice some of the faces go, and when I check over my shoulder the pack is smaller. My group is thinning and I’m constantly checking pace to ensure I’m not speeding up. Each mile marker I’m within a few seconds, so sadly it’s the fatigue kicking in. Mile 18-20 is always where I struggle when going for PBs. You’ve covered so many miles but with a significant distance left, able to remember when 6 miles would be an achievement, not something you’d undertake at pace after a 20 mile warmup. The confidence needed to keep plugging away when your legs ache is not always easy to come by.

img_2535We run through Loughton and the teardrop lakes, bearing down on the mile 23 marker. My group is thinning again and it feels like I’m spending more time looking at my watch than the route. I have a lovely selection of race photos of head bent down checking watch and pace band.

Milton Keynes is predominantly flat but the course does have a couple of inclines and the one here is fairly significant as a little switchback up to the road level. I back off, using up the few seconds of grace but start to lose a few more runners, consoling myself with those that I pick up ahead and spur on. We pass clubmate Brian who despite great training is cramping up and reduced to a shuffle on this, his first marathon. Then comes Warren, back from injury and running well.

The final slope up the side of the college comes and I lose more runners. I resolve to keep on pace, a target they can follow and control their fade. I’ve spent countless marathons languishing in purgatory, fixing on a runner in front and trying to exclude all else. Hopefully they will be able to do this too. I may have lost my runners but I’ve kept my balloon. Moments later a tree takes a fancy to it and it’s gone.

The last two miles of the course are net downhill and potentially fast. I keep to pace, hoping some will make the most of the hill assist and close the gap. If they started behind me they could well still be on for a sub 3h45 time, enough to gain a Good For Age for London for the women. A few do pass and it’s great to see them in full flow on the home stretch, the culmination of months of training.

Finally we reach the stadium and the slope down before the lap of the pitch is such a magic moment you can’t help but pick up the pace a little and I cross in 3h44m34s.

It’s an odd feeling finishing a marathon within yourself and trotting off to collect your medal rather than finishing in a heap on the floor. I spent years failing to break 3h45 now it seems comfortable. A few runners thank me for getting them home, then it’s off to the bar to enjoy a beer or three.


img_2548Back at Redway for the 6m40s paced session. I’ve not been on pace all year but making gradual improvements. Thanks to the Rocket boost I have the confidence to push and make it hurt and get a course PB for the same 4 mile loop I’ve run 47 times before. The next day I run a hilly 9 mile loop for the 150th time and get another PB. All from confidence to push. If I cold bottle confidence I’d be a rich man.