“Forget the lottery. Bet on yourself instead.” –Brian Koslow

Chicago Marathon

What are the odds of running Chi-Town?

When I wanted to sign up for the Chicago Marathon in 2009, it was pretty straightforward. I jumped on the website, filled out the registration form, gave ‘em my credit card info and just like that, I was good to go.

The times they are a changing.

This week the Chicago Marathon joined the growing trend of races moving from open registration to the lottery method.

The switch comes in the wake of last year’s snafu where the registration site for the Chicago Marathon crashed due to the mad rush of applicants on opening day. BTW, here’s hoping used that “hard-earned” convenience fee we begrudgingly pay each race to upgrade their servers.

The marathon lottery system is certainly nothing new, the London Marathon has done it for years and the Peachtree Road Race fully implemented a lottery starting in 2011 to pick the 55,000 runners for its annual July 4th 10K run. The most well known example of the marathon lottery has to be for the New York Marathon. Each year over 120,000 people vie for the approximately 45,000 open spots to run through the Big Apple.

With the number of distance runners exploding in recent years, many of the higher profile marathons have no problem filling their fields. In spite of their extremely high prices, many Disney-sponsored races sell out in a matter of hours.

Snooze and you lose.

Own Chicago

Can I just rent it?

The dilemma becomes deciding which method is best (and fairest) for the running public. Should races go the “first come, first serve” route and have thousands of applicants simultaneously swarming the website like tweens assaulting for One Direction tickets? Those applicants who aren’t certain of their schedules (or money is tight at that particular moment) may find themselves S.O.L. if they hesitate.

Or should they allow everyone an equal shot at running, no matter whether they are “Johnny’s on the Spot” or “Johnny’s Come Lately” (a lot of Johnny’s here). This gives runners the chance to consider their schedules and finances as opposed to having to impulse buy. But it also can hurt the runner who is dying to run a race and their spot is given to someone who feels much more “meh” about it, while they end up on the outside looking in. I’ve applied for the New York Marathon twice and all I have to show for it is a pair of “non-refundable application fees” on my credit card bill. Not exactly something I can hang on my wall.

I can certainly see the pluses and minuses to both systems, although I personally lean toward the sign-up now approach.

What concerns me is a potential moneymaking method that races might very well adopt: an extra “fee” (say $20- $50) that allows you to bypass the lottery system, guaranteeing you a spot in the race… sort of like a stadium seat license for runners. I certainly hope that doesn’t come to pass, but the writing is on the wall… with dollar signs. Ka-ching!

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation develops. In the meantime, I’ll try and limit my lottery playing to a more sure bet… Mega Millions and Powerball. After all, $656 million will cover a lot of race entry fees.

Run on!

(What are your thoughts on the “first come, first serve” and “lottery selection” methods?)

Posted on January 17, 2014, in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. AAHH!!!! Bummed to hear about Chicago going to the lottery, that’s one that I really want to run (well, NYC is my “bucket list” one but chances are slim). I tend to agree with you in that it should really be “first come first served.” If someone wants it bad enough, they’ll make it a priority.

    And I personally will NEVER run a DIsney race because of their modified Robin Hood (rob from everyone, give to themselves) approach to race fees. I swear, one of the dwarves should’ve been named “Greedy.”

    Any race for you this weekend, Scott?

    • Yeah, the lottery system has bitten me a few times with NY. They also got rid of the “guarantee” clause that if you’re rejected three years in a row you’re automatically in the fourth year. Chicago is a great marathon and I do recommend it, even with the lottery system now in place. I’m torn by Disney as I’ve run the Disneyland half in ’09 and plan to do it again. They are exorbitantly priced (much higher than they need to be), but people are willing to pay it, so they will continue to charge through the roof. One thing in Disney’s defense though, is they certainly know how to organize a race. Just like pretty much everything Disney does, it’s smooth sailing. No race this weekend (next one is the Surf City Half) but I do have a 17-mile training run tomorrow with my charity group (T2) for the LA Marathon.

  2. >>Should races go the “first come, first serve” route and have thousands of applicants simultaneously swarming the website like tweens assaulting for One Direction tickets?<<

    This might be the best line I've read in, like, ever. Nicely done, man.

  3. I am so happy that I get a guaranteed entry into Chicago this year, it is truly an amazing race. I hate the idea of having an additional fee to bypass the lottery! Isn’t $185 ($10 more than last year) enough?

    • Very cool. I loved running Chicago… it’s been my favorite Marathon (don’t tell LA that). When I ran it in 2009 it was 28 degrees at the start, but I was amazed at the fan turnout. And I don’t remember what I spent, but marathon pricing is going up too quickly for my tastes. What other races are you running this year?

  4. I just signed up for my first full marathon and it was as you describe your first experience. However, the fee was $5.30?!?! Seriously?!?! I used to be $2-$3 which I still thought was too high. The Peachtree Road Race does have a lottery system but if you are a member of the Atlanta Track Club (race organizer) you are guaranteed a race entry. It works well I guess because those who are gung ho and willing to pay more just go ahead and join the Atlanta Track Club and those who are just “meh” about it take a chance on the lottery.

    • Thanks for the comment Andrea. What marathon did you sign up for? As for, they have become the “Ticketmaster” of race fees.

      Since I’m signing up for about 20 races this year, I’m paying their annual Active.come Advantage rate of $64.95 (which over time pays for itself as they wave the “convenience fee”).

      My advice to those signing up for only a race or two is to try it risk free for 30-days, register for your race and then drop Active before the trial period expires.

      And since I’ve gotten into Peachtree the last two years of the lottery system (and I deferred in 2013, so I’m automatically in for 2014) I haven’t had to go the Atlanta Track Club route, but that is definitely an option.

  5. I registered for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, GA (Ft. Benning) on veterans day weekend. Nervous!

    • Don’t be…it’s a really cool run. My sister-in-law did that race and you have the option of picking a fallen soldier to run for. She ended up connecting with the family of that soldier and they wrote back and forth. I don’t know what the medal is like now, but a few years ago it looked like dog tags. You’ll have to let me know how it goes.

  6. Yes! I ran the Solider half last year. (You’ll have to click on my blog link and then scroll down to see my post about it). All still the same. I’m more nervous about my health than anything. I have a kidney disease, I have asthma, and I’ve had two knee surgeries. The last of those three is what causes me the greatest anxiety. I am missing a good deal of cartilage in that knee and muscle in my quadriceps because of it. I might be one and done but by gosh I will do a full marathon!

    • I just gave it a read…very nice and detailed post. Your sentiments pretty much matched my sister-in-law. Makes me want to run it. FYI, I’m a “Half Fanatic” and after I run LA, OC and SD this spring I’ll double agent as a “Marathon Maniac.”

      I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with those injury/health concerns. I do love your determination and willpower can drive a person to more than they thought possible. Please keep me informed on how your training goes and I have a feeling in the not too distant future I’ll be reading your post about how you kicked that marathon’s ass.

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