February 17, 2015

Race lotteries, love them or hate them?

Many of the larger races have lotteries as the method of entry for mere mortal runners such as ourselves.  Unless you are elite, you will be entering for the privilege of running  Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon and many more races via their lottery system. There are others such as the runDisney races,  the Beach 2 Beacon 10k and Falmouth Road Race, where quick fingers are the answer to getting into that race you are eager to run.

My thoughts about this surfaced about a month ago when there was all kinds of chatter or Facebook and Twitter about the TCS NYC Marathon lottery.  The website provides many details on how to gain entry, but most of all, it is clearly stated that you only obtain an entry if your number is picked. Unfortunately, the odds are slim because this marathon is so popular.


There are several caveats to the lottery process including the time qualifying option and having participated in a 9 + 1 option of their NYRR events.  While I love the time qualifying option since it gave me my spot for TCS NYC this year, it also helped that I could be sitting at my computer waiting for the exact moment when I could fill in the registration form and hit the send button. These registrations are taken on a first come, first serve basis and I had my confirmation into the race within 2 business days!

While perhaps there is no real way to make lotteries fair for everyone, I do think that giving people who have never run the race before a better chance would be a nice gesture.  But from an administrative standpoint, this could turn into a nightmare.  At the end of the day, race directors do their best to have what they consider to be a fair entry process.  Another option that is usually available is running for charity.  Fundraising for an organization that you are passionate about is a win for the charity and a win for you by giving you a spot in your coveted race.  While neither Christine nor I have run a race for charity, we have certainly contributed for those runners that have made that choice.

Overall, I think a lottery system is the only fair way for every runner to get a change to register for their dream race.  While some of us are luckier than others, hopefully over the course of a few years, most runners get to experience at least one race on their bucket list.

Have you ever entered a race lottery?  What do you think is the fair way to gain entry into the most popular races?

37 comments:

  1. My thoughts on the lottery system are sort of all over the map. Since I'm a stay at home parent I usually have little troubles getting in to the races I want with quick fingers - I have the luxury of bring able to set aside a specific time to sign up for the races I want. Therefore when the lottery option is the only option, I'm a little sad knowing I might not get picked. Such was the way with the first Nike Women's Half in DC. I think what particularly perplexes me is when people sign up for the lottery with the "maybe I'll run it, maybe I won't" mentality because I feel like they are taking spots from people who truly want to run (especially if there's no transferring allowed).

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    1. Meridith, I watched this very thing happen last year as some runners signed up for every lottery. I only sign up when I do want to get chosen, but unfortunately, social media has made a frenzy out of the application process.

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  2. I think lotteries are the only fair way for some of these larger races. The biggest problem I have is if you want to run with someone you unfortunately run the risk of one of you getting in and the other not. Some races like the Falmouth Road Race addresses this issue with a "team" or "group" lottery option which I like because then you're at least guaranteed you all get in or you all don't.

    I do hate the process of waiting for the lottery though...especially NYCM...seriously...why does it take so long?!?

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    1. Danielle, I agree, they make you wait a long time for NYCM. A team lottery system is a great idea for runners hoping to do a race together. Are you trying for Falmouth again this year?

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    2. Yes, definitely going to enter the lottery for Falmouth! It's a fun race and so close to home for me now : )

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  3. In most cases, I do think lotteries are the only fair way to have runners register for the very popular races. I know I might be in the minority here, but I sometimes wish that runDisney would go to a lottery system (or even a tiered system so that legacy runners are still able to register). Having races open at 12 noon EST is a huge disadvantage to those who work full time and can't necessarily be at the computer right when registration opens. I know many people who work full time set a "meeting" for themselves for the time of registration, but not everybody (including myself since I'm a teacher) is able to do that. That said, we have been able to register for the runDisney races that we've wanted to register for (Preston did register for 2014 Dopey through Runner's World so that we could avoid potential disappointment on registration day, which cost us quite a bit of money), but I know the day will come when we do want to register for a race and won't be able to because registration will quickly fill before one of us is able to get to a computer.

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    1. Kathryn, I have heard other people mention the possibility of a lottery for runDisney races. I don't think they would start that now, but who knows.

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  4. I am in the middle - I can see the advantages and disadvantages of a lottery system.
    Karen @karenlovestorun

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    1. I totally understand Karen. Sometimes I think the lottery is not the best way, but I am not sure what would be better.

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  5. So far neither of us has attempted to register for a lottery race. I think first come first serve is always the fair way as it is with anything else in life. Although after reading Kathryn's comment above I do understand why people like Lottery systems so maybe that's not all that bad.

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    1. I think a lottery can be a good thing and thankfully, I have gotten into the races I want to this year. Next year will be more difficult as I try for some overseas marathons!

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  6. Oh, P.S: Good luck to the both of you trying to get into the future races that you want!

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  7. I think you love them if you get in.

    I only entered one - NYC half and I didn't get in (but my friend did). So hate them...

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    1. Ahh Darlene, I can understand hating it if you did not get in. Charity is the only option if you don't get a lottery spot.

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  8. I understand why they have them and I get that but I think its a bummer! I like to run with my husband and if one of us were to get in and not the other it would be such a drag. Having said that, I haven't entered one and don't think I will. I can't handle that not knowing stress. ha!

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    1. Haha, yes, I get the stress of waiting to hear. Unfortunately, NYCM makes runners wait a very long time to find out if they have a bib.

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  9. I'm not sure on lotteries. The only one I've ever entered was for Nike Women's in San Francisco. I think I've entered twice and not been chosen either time. That race has guaranteed entry if you go through Team in Training. On one hand, it's nice that they place priority on the charity. On the other hand, I've heard TNT really doesn't give a huge portion of the raised funds to research. Most of it goes to their administrative costs. The ones that give guaranteed entries to people who've already done the race seem unfair, although I'm sure those on the other side of that argument would disagree and feel that they're justified in doing the races over and over again. Then there's Disney, where people take the day off from work to register. That seems unfair also. The races are expensive enough without giving up a day's pay to sign up. Even if you're salaried and have paid vacation, you're still pulling from your vacation hours, so it's a loss overall. I don't know the solution. I really don't. No matter what, someone is on the losing end. The running world is just getting too big for itself.

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    1. I checked out Team in Training for a runDisney race a few years ago and decided against it. I did not want friends and family paying for my hotel stay and registration which is part of the fundraising. The runDisney race registration is difficult, and I understand why it annoys working runners which is probably 95% of their racers.

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  10. I feel the lottery is the fairest option without qualifying. The Broad Street Run,10 miles straight through Philadelphia. It is stated as the largest 10 miler in the country. They now have a policy if you are not selected 2consecurive years you can bypass the lottery. I like that. Glad I was lucky enough to be selected 2nd year in a row!

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    1. Wow, that is a great option to give people a chance after 2 misses. Have not heard of the race, but I bet that's a great one.

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  11. I've never entered a race lottery. But I definitely understand the need for them.

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    1. Once you start marathons Mindy, you will be entering lotteries. But if you stick to halves, unless it is Nike Women's I think most races are first come first served.

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  12. I have never entered a race lottery because well... I just can't afford it or most of the races that require it. Plus most are marathons and I don't do 'thons ;).

    It's not the race entry fee that is the problem it is the travel expense AND that you have to register so far in advance. The NYC marathon isn't until November and some people will do the lottery and "forget" to train or either will be injured and unable to run it. They have the registration fee so those runners are just out of luck if they can't make it that day or something comes up. I don't see anything wrong with a lottery- if someone doesn't like race lotteries, they can run a race that doesn't have them- but maybe there is a waitlist or something if spots become available?

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    1. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a waiting list. Entering for a race spot so far in advance can be problematic for some people, with vacation time, and obviously the cost which you mentioned. Lotteries are on my radar right now as I try to run the world marathon majors. Some have lotteries, others qualifying times.

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  13. I know it's the only fair way...but...I still hate it. :( Definitely makes it tough to plan your year, trips, race funds, etc. Although, I was beyond thrilled that I got into NYCM on the first try last year, so guess I can't complain too much. Hoping for a repeat performance in 2015! ;)

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    1. Jenny you were really lucky to get chosen for NYCM on your first try. Good luck this year and to Todd too!

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  14. I think the lottery entry is fair. But it sucks! The day of announcements felt like the hunger games for NYC last year. I didn't get in. But I ended up paying a crap load of money to get in through a travel partner.

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    1. Jen, I agree that it can suck when you don't get in and social media has tons of posts with those happy runners sharing their excitement. Last year I remember one runner getting into every lottery she entered, which ended up being about 6 marathons in 4 months.....crazy!

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  15. I entered NYC and am hoping. I hate the waiting.

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    1. Agree Abby and they certainly make you wait a long time for NYC marathon

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  16. I've actually never entered a lottery before. I've been able to register for MCM during the Active duty/reservist reservation because I'm a reservist.

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    1. Oh that's awesome Sue. Are you doing MCM again this year? I would like a do over of that race but got into NYC this year.

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  17. I entered the Nike Women's half the year before last (San Fransico). I agree it would be nice if first timers could somehow get preference but agree it would be a nightmare to figure it out. I didn't get in unfortunately.

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    1. Valerie I did not get into Nike Women's half in DC with a group last year. We ended up doing the Diva race in Myrtle Beach and that was really fun.

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  18. The only race lottery I've entered was the NYC Marathon in 2012. Of course, I didn't get in, so I ran for a local Arizona charity. Raising money was really hard but I also made some great friends. We traveled together as a team to NYC on the same flight and stayed together at the same hotel. Sadly, we didn't run together as that was the year the race was cancelled.

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    1. Jamie, what a disappointment not being able to run that year. It is always tough when you make plans so far in advance. I hope I am able to run when November comes around.....you never know!

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  19. I've entered a few lotteries: Nike SF (rejected 1/1), Nike DC (accepted 1/1), Cherry Blossom (rejected 1/3 times), and NY (rejected 4/4 - #1 and #2 were in nonconsecutive years, luckily I was grandfathered in to the automatic entry for 3 rejections). My friend Laurel entered the NYC lottery her first year and was picked! While I wish there were alternatives, I do not see a better way at the moment. I do like that CB10M and Broad Street 10M do have guaranteed entry after X rejections or for marathon lifers (ex. run MCM X times for guaranteed entry). Too bad there is not one lottery system where you could ran your preferred marathons (NYC, Chicago, MCM) and using some algorithms it provides your output (like med school residency programs) - I don't imagine this ever happening b/c of different race management, sponsorships, those who want to run all three, etc etc.

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