I love the excitement and anticipation a new challenge provokes. I love to set goals that seem difficult but are in fact achievable with work over time. In my early running days, I was happy completing two marathons a year while doing my best to train consistently during the frigid Canadian winter months. But then I discovered the Abbott World Marathon Majors.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York. Alongside results from the IAAF World Championships and the Olympic Games, the AWMMs count towards a US$800,000 jackpot which is shared among the top three male and female finishers in both the open and wheelchair series. The champions of each AWMM Series will be the male and female athlete who scores the greatest number of points from the Qualifying Races during the one-year scoring period.
The World Marathon Majors Series started in 2006 at the 110th running of the Boston Marathon. It consisted of five races. In 2013, Tokyo joined the WMMs as the sixth race. in 2015, Abbott Laboratories became the official sponsor. The next series (Series XIII) will begin at the 2019 Chicago Marathon and end at the 2020 Chicago Marathon.
Even though I consider myself a good runner, I'm not anywhere near being good enough to compete for the championship. So why was I so interested? Because the AWMMs offer another goal, one that anyone--elite runner or not--can achieve: becoming a "Six-Star Finisher".
Each of the six races that make up the Abbott World Marathon Majors has a mass participatory field that completes the same course on the same day as the elites. "Six-star finishers" are simply marathoners who have completed all six races, from 2006 onwards, within the respective race’s time limit. Once they complete the final race, runners receive an official finisher’s medal and a certificate. So far, more than 6,000 runners across the globe have achieved this.
When it comes to the AWMMs, runners have two ways of securing a guaranteed entry for all of the Marathon Majors: they can buy an entry through a travel operator, or they can fundraise for one of the official charity partners. Both of these options offer limited spaces and they can also be costly. But each race also gives runners the opportunity to gain an entry by meeting qualifying standards in a certified race. This is often the cheapest option. However, some of the times required to qualify are stringent and races like Tokyo and London offer very limited spots for international runners. But the option is there.
So, after running the Chicago Marathon in 2016, I set myself a goal: become a six-star finisher and do so by meeting the qualifying times for every race. At that point I had three more races to run. I'm happy to say that I completed my sixth race in April 2019 at the London Marathon. It took me eight years in total to complete them all.
During these years I've witnessed the increase in popularity of these races. I've also seen how the entry process for each of the Majors has become harder as the number of applications continues to exceed the number of spots available. Each AWMM has its own registration process and the increase in demand has prompted changes in the application process of several of the races, including faster qualifying times. This is why I thought it would be helpful to put all the information concerning the AWMMs in one place. Hopefully, it will assist enthusiastic runners like me who also want to become Six-Star Finishers...
Note: Information listed in this post was updated in September 2019. It represents 2019 or 2020 races, depending on what is available from official sources. I did my best to verify everything shared here. However, if you are planning to apply for any of these races please go directly to the race website in order to get the most up-to-date information. Race information is presented in the order in which I myself completed them: 1) Boston, 2) NYC, 3) Chicago, 4) Berlin, 5) Tokyo, 6) London.
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1) BOSTON MARATHON
Next races: April 20, 2020 / April 19, 2021 (Patriot's Day).
RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON
The Boston Marathon is the most legendary of marathons and it's on the bucket list of many runners. I got my first qualifier time in 2009, after running my third marathon. For me, it was a huge accomplishment. I ran my first Boston Marathon in 2011 and I went back every spring for the following six years. Why? Because Boston is a unique race: the weather is unpredictable, the course is challenging, there always seemed to be a group of running friends going along, and the event is embraced by the entire city. Boston welcomes its runners and makes us feel like rock stars. Happily, I've also had the chance to share the magic with my husband and children, too.
The inaugural Boston Marathon was in 1897, which makes it the world's oldest annual marathon. It's held on the same day every year: the US holiday called Patriot's Day (sometimes it is referred to as Marathon Monday). The original point-to-point course has changed its start and finish line through the years, but most of the course remains as it was originally designed. Since 1924 the race has begun in the town of Hopkinton and finished in Boston on the historic Boylston Street.
The race itself is considered by many runners to be the most challenging of the six AWMMs. And this is the only one where meeting a qualifying time in a certified race (corresponding to gender and age) is the main way to enter. In 2019, more than 80% of the runners met the qualifying time.
2019, BY THE NUMBERS
Countries represented: 118
Spectators: around 1 million (Boston has a population of around 670,000 people)
Volunteers: approx. 9700
A FEW MORE FACTS
- The Wellesley's Scream Tunnel is probably one of the most famous sections of the route. Runners can hear the students yelling way before they can see them and their popular "Kiss Me" signs. The tradition has been part of the Boston Marathon for years and the sign-making is now an organized event. Runners can even request custom signs via their social media accounts.
- In the final miles of the marathon, runners pass the iconic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox and oldest of all Major League Baseball parks. A game is always scheduled early on Marathon Monday. Once the game is over, the crowds move to the roads to cheer runners on during the final stretch of the course.
The Boston Marathon is a point to point course that passes through eight cities and towns, starting in Hopkinton and ending on Boylston Street in Boston.
Most of the first half is downhill, with few climbs. Just before the halfway point runners will meet the women of Wellesley College and their famous Scream Tunnel before heading to a series of rolling hills at Newton that culminates with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Runners then get cheered by Boston College students. After that it is mostly downhill (which feels quite hard on the quads!). The last portion of the course turns right onto Hereford Street and then left onto Boylston Street. From here runners can see the finish line near Copley Square.
The weather in Boston during the month of April is quite unpredictable. It can be anything from extreme heat to freezing rain. In 2012, the temperature reached 75 degrees by the start of the Women’s Elite field at 09:30 am, and 89 degrees in Framingham (the 10km mark) by midday. Hundreds of runners had to be treated for heat-related issues along the course. Many others were treated in local hospitals after the race. Contrast this with 2015, where we had a wet and cold day with rain, strong winds, and temperatures in the mid-40s.
- Start time: Runners are distributed in four waves, with the first starting at 10:00 am and the last starting at 11:15 am.
- Cut off time: Athletes have six hours from when the last starter crosses the start line to complete the course.
- Men: 2:03:02, Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya) 2011.
- Women: 2:19:59, Buzunesh Deba (Ethiopia) 2014.
The entry fee for US residents is US$205. For non-US residents it is US$255. There are four ways to enter the event:
1) Run a qualifying time.
The number of applications for the Boston Marathon has increased significantly in recent years, so achieving a qualifying standard does not guarantee entry into the race. If the total amount of submissions surpasses the field size for qualified athletes then those who are the fastest among the pool of applicants in their age and gender group will be accepted. Additionally, the increased interest in participation and the field size limit has forced organizers to modify qualifier standards: for the 2013 Boston Marathon, and in 2018, the BAA announced a five-minute increase per gender and age group for the 2020 race. Currently, to qualify:
- Runners have to achieve their time on a USATF, AIMS, or equivalent foreign certified courses.
- Qualification window: for the 2021 Boston Marathon runners must meet their qualifying times on or after September 14, 2019
- Qualifying times are based upon each athlete's age on the date of the Boston Marathon.
- Current registration occurs on a “rolling admission” schedule beginning with the fastest qualifiers in their gender and age group to register first.
- Registration for the 2020 Boston Marathon opened on September 9, 2019 and closed on September 18.
- Current qualifying standards are (based on net time, also known as chip time):
2) Participate in the Official Charity Program.
- Each runner has to contact the non-profit organization of interest directly and is required to raise a minimum of USD$5,000.
Runners raised a total of USD$36.6 million for 260 non-profit organizations at the 2018 event, and USD$38.7 million for 297 charities in 2019.
3) Register via a tour operator.
- Purchase one of the limited number of guaranteed entries from one of the authorized tour operators.
- Tour operators must be contacted directly.
4) Be a legacy runner.
- Those who have run ten or more consecutive Boston Marathons receive a non-complementary invitation to register as soon as the registration process begins.
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2) NEW YORK CITY MARATHON
Next races: November 3, 2019 / November 1, 2020.
RUNNING THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON
Alongside the Boston Marathon, this is the race I had wanted to complete since my early days as a runner. Living close to Toronto meant that a trip to NYC or Boston was only a short flight or a day's drive away, both of which can be done on a budget.
New York is one of the most vibrant cities I have ever visited. One of the privileges we have as marathoners is to run the streets of this busy and usually congested city in the absence of vehicles. By completing the NYC marathon at the end of 2011, I crossed two AWMMs off my bucket list. After that, I switched my focus to improving my times and running races closer to home.
The NYC Marathon is the largest of the six AWMMs and it is also the largest marathon in the world. The race began in 1970 with just 127 entrants running several loops around Central Park. In 1976, the course expanded to include all five boroughs of New York City. It starts on Staten Island and finishes in Manhattan’s iconic Central Park. Record numbers of lottery applications in past years and strict qualifying times make getting into this race difficult.
2018, BY THE NUMBERS
Countries represented: 129
Spectators: over 1 million
A FEW MORE FACTS
- Approximately 3.01 miles of the TCS New York City Marathon -11.5% of the course- is run on bridges.
- 1,229,360 runners have crossed the finish line to date (up to 2018).
- For 40 years, Brooklyn’s Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School band has played the “Rocky” theme song for hours at mile 8.
This is a point-to-point race in one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is also one of the most difficult AWMM courses. It runs through all five of New York City's boroughs, each of which is filled with cheering crowds. It starts on Staten Island to the sound of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". From there, runners head uphill to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in North America. After the bridge, runners enter Brooklyn, where the course is relatively flat. In Queens comes another bridge--the Queensboro. In contrast to the rest of the race, it is quiet as there are no spectators lining it. Coming off Queensboro Bridge runners meet First Avenue. Wide, flat and filled with thousands upon thousands of spectators, it is probably the loudest section of the race. Bronx is up next, with its narrower streets, and then it's Manhattan again, where runners have to climb a few more hills before reaching Central Park. Runners will cross the finish line in one of the world's most famous park, but not before they pass through a sea of flags that represents all countries involved in the race.
- Start time: Runners are distributed in four waves, with the first starting at 9:40 am and the last one at 11:00 am.
- Cut off time: Sweep buses will follow the marathon route at a 6 1/2-hour marathon pace (roughly 15 minutes per mile) after the final wave starts. Runners still on the course at this point should move onto the sidewalks. The official end time of the race is 7:25 p.m.
- Men: 2:05:06, Geoffrey Mutai, (Kenya) 2011.
- Women: 2:22:31, Margaret Okayo, (Kenya), 2003.
The entry fee for U.S. Residents is USD$255 for New York Road Runner members and USD$295 for non-NYRR members. For non-U.S. Residents it is USD$358. There are eight ways to enter the event.
1) Via non-guaranteed drawing, or ballot:
For the 2019 event:
- Out of the 117,709 applicants who registered for entry, 10,510 were accepted (9%).
- The pool of runners accepted through the lottery process was made up of 29% NYC-Metro, 42% national and 29% international applicants.
- Application period: January 14 to February 14, 2019. The drawing took place on February 27.
2) Run a qualifying time:
For the 2020 race, qualifying time entries will be split between:
a) Those who run a New York Road Runner race (NYRR) held in 2019 (2019 Fred Lebow Half-Marathon, 2019 United Airlines NYC Half, 2019 SHAPE Women's Half-Marathon, 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half, 2019 NYRR Staten Island Half, 2019 TCS New York City Marathon).
b) A limited number of spots will be assigned to non-NYRR races. Verification will be completed prior to the 2020 entry drawing.
Regarding qualifying times:
- The NYC Marathon is the only Marathon Major that accepts both marathon and half marathon times as qualifiers.
- Qualifying times are based upon each athlete's age on the date of the TCS New York City Marathon.
- Qualifying window: for the 2020 event, runners must meet their qualifying times between January 1 and December 31, 2019.
- Applications for the 2019 event opened on January 14 and closed on February 14. Application dates for the 2020 race have not been announced yet.
- Required qualifying times are as follows:
3) Participate in the Official Charity Program.
- Runners can obtain an entry by raising money on behalf of one of the hundreds of not-for-profit organizations in New York City and across the US.
- Required amounts raised varies from organization to organization.
A total of USD$45 million was raised by 10,000 runners in 2018.
4) Register via a tour operator.
- International runners may purchase a Marathon Travel Package from any of the official International Tour Operators. This includes an entry into the race and a hotel stay in the New York City area. Some also include flights.
5) Complete 15+ NYC Marathons.
- Runners who finish their 15th New York City Marathon will be eligible for guaranteed entry in future years.
6) Claim a deferred entry from a previous year.
- Entrants who officially canceled their entry according to the cancellation guidelines are eligible for guaranteed non-complimentary entry the following year.
- Entrants who cancel their entry in consecutive years are not eligible for guaranteed entry after the second consecutive cancellation.
7) Enter through the NYRR Virtual Racing program.
Joining the NYRR Virtual Racing program gives runners the opportunity to gain non-complimentary entry to the TCS New York City Marathon. To gain access to the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon runners must:
- Complete the full 26.2-mile distance in a single run activity and upload it to Strava no later than three days after the virtual race ends.
- The time limit for the run is 6 hours and 30 minutes.
- The 2020 Virtual Race can be completed between October 31 and November 3, 2019.
- Manual entries, treadmill runs and runs marked 'Private' are not accepted.
- Entry fees: USD$125 for NYRR members, USD$150 for non-members.
- Number of spots (first come, first serve): 500.
- There are also 200 spots for those who register after signing up for the “NYRR Team for Kids” and fundraise a minimum of USD$500.
- After winning a spot though Virtual Racing runners must apply for a guaranteed entry within the application period.
8) Participate in NYRR’s 9+1.
Requirements for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon:
- Have an active NYRR membership by December 31, 2019.
- Complete nine or more scored qualifying races by December 31, 2019.
- Volunteer at one NYRR event by December 31, 2019.
- Once requirements are met, runners still need to apply for a guaranteed entry.
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3) CHICAGO MARATHON
Next race: October 13, 2019.
RUNNING THE CHICAGO MARATHON
Another race relatively close to home. In the past, qualifying times for this race were not age-graded: men had to run a sub-3:15 verifiable race and women a sub-3:45 to get a guaranteed entry. In September 2016, I drove to Chicago with my son. We met up with my elder brother and uncle who were also running the race.
Chicago is a flat, fast course and in 2016 weather conditions were ideal. I finished in 3:18 and I soon realized that this time would allow me to qualify for the Berlin Marathon. Berlin qualifying times are broken down into only three age groups (as well as gender): women aged 18 to 44 need to run a sub-3:00, women aged 45 to 59 a sub-3:20, and those aged 60 and up a sub-4:10. I was 46 years of age, old enough to belong to the second group.
As a runner it is hard to predict when I will start to slow down. So, with "now or maybe never…” in mind, I decided to apply for the Berlin Marathon. And that was also the moment when I set the goal to complete all the Marathon Majors.
Chicago is the second largest race of the series. It is also one of the favorite races for amateurs seeking fast times and personal bests, and for elite runners aiming at national and world records. This is because the course has less than thirty feet of difference between minimum and maximum elevation. The first race was held on September 25, 1977 under the original name, the Mayor Daley Marathon. Along with the Berlin Marathon, the Chicago Marathon is one of the only two AWMMs to start and finish at the same place (in Grant Park, central Chicago).
2018, BY THE NUMBERS
Countries represented: over 100
Spectators: approx. 1.7 million
A FEW MORE FACTS
- The Chicago Marathon is the only AWMM that allows runners younger than 18. Participants under 18 years of age must have permission to participate from their parent or legal guardian. This permission is given and verified during the application process.
- Post-race celebrations take place at Grand Park, where family and friends meet their runners. Grand Park is home to the Art Institute of Chicago and it also houses Millennium Park.