If you watched the 2018 New York City Marathon on Sunday—either in person or remotely—there's a chance you may have felt inspired by the 50,000+ athletes who pushed through physical pain, fatigue, and mental roadblocks to tackle 26.2 miles across the city’s five boroughs. For many viewers, whether regular runners or not, that inspiration evolved into a singular thought: I want to be one of those athletes.
Yet, sadly, simply wanting to run this iconic NYC race isn’t enough to guarantee entry. The New York Marathon ranks just behind the Boston Marathon as one of the most selective 26.2-mile events in the country. Here’s how to score a bib—plus four other marathons across the U.S., all great bets for first-timers, that offer easier entry.
There are four ways to get into the New York City Marathon: winning the lottery, fundraising, completing the 9+1 program, and qualifying in another race.
If you’re serious about lacing up next November, you have several options. The first: the drawing system, also called the lottery. Chances are pretty slim that you’ll actually get a bib this way—less than 15 percent of applicants last year were successful—but it’s free to enter and takes just a few minutes, so you might as well try. The time window to apply to the drawing is January 14 to February 14, 2019, and the drawing will take place on February 27, 2019. The link to enter the drawing will be posted on the race website closer to January. There’s also a sweepstakes, expanded in 2019, which will offer 262 winners non-complimentary entry (you get a spot but still have to pay the entrance fee) to the 2019 race and a pair of New Balance socks. You can enter the sweepstakes here.
If you’re looking for a more surefire way to snag entry, you can raise funds for one of the race’s charity partners (see a full list here) and in return, receive a guaranteed spot in the 2019 race. Just keep in mind individual fundraising requirements are pretty high—at least $ 2,500. More info on running for charity is available on the race website here.
Another route, which is a good bet for Big Apple residents (particularly those who love running races throughout the year), is to opt into the 9+1 or 9+1K programs with New York Road Runners, the non-profit organization that hosts the marathon. Both programs involve becoming an official NYRR member (annual registration costs $ 40 for adults), and then participating in 9 NYRR races. On top of that, the 9+1 program requires volunteering at one NYRR event during one calendar year (that's the +1), and the 9+1K program requires donating $ 1,000 to NYRR’s youth and community service programs. If you meet either of these requirements between January 1 and December 31, 2019, you can guarantee your entry to the 2020 race. Learn more here.
Lastly, in what is arguably the most difficult approach, first-timers can secure a bib by achieving a qualifying time for your age group and gender in either the half- or full-marathon distance. These times aren’t easy—women between ages 18 to 34, for example, have to run a full marathon in 3:13:00 (that's a 7:21 per mile pace) or a half in 1:32:00 (a 7:01 per mile pace). To secure entry to the 2019 race, you’d have to meet this standard at certain designated races between January 1 and December 31, 2018, and then apply for guaranteed entry through the NYRR website between January 14 and February 14, 2019. See here for a full list of time standards, sanctioned races, and more info.
Looking for a race that's not as challenging to enter, but just as rewarding? Here are four other marathons across the country that are great options:
- About: This iconic race through the Windy City is known for being flat, fast, and fun. It’s also one of six World Marathon Majors, the largest and most renowned 26.2-mile races across the globe, which means thousands of athletes—both amateur and elite—participate every year.
- When: October 13, 2019
- How to Gain Entry: Apply through the lottery by Thursday, November 29 at 3 P.M. EST. The odds of getting in through this method change every year, but in general, it’s much easier than the NYC lottery. According to Runner’s World, 64 percent of entrants scored a bib to the 2015 race. Similarly to New York, first-time participants can also guarantee entry by raising money for one of the race’s charity partners (at least $ 1,250 per runner), or by running a qualifying time at another marathon in the past two years. These time standards are easier than New York, though still tough—women ages 16 to 29 must run 26.2 in 3:35:00 (that's a pace of 8:12 per mile).
- More Info: chicagomarathon.com
Marine Corps Marathon
- About: Dubbed “The People’s Marathon,” this annual race through Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., is organized by men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps. Participants rave about the monument-studded course and family-friendly weekend events.
- When: October 27, 2019
- How to Gain Entry: The registration process unfolds over several waves. Active duty members of the military can gain entry by registering between March 6 and 11, 2019. Then, any runner can register on March 19 for first-come, first-served entry. From there, runners can partake in the lottery from March 20 to 26 (just be aware, your odds could be tough—just 18 percent of applicants gained a bib in 2015, per The Washington Post). Guaranteed entry options include charity entries, and participation in the Marine Corps 17.75K on March 23, 2019.
- More Info: marinemarathon.com
- About: This flat, fast course through Philly’s neighborhoods and alongside its iconic Schuylkill River attracts thousands of pro and amateur participants—and thousands more spectators—every year.
- When: November 18, 2018 (next year’s race will be November 17, 2019)
- How to Gain Entry: Simply register on the race website. Entry is still open for the 2018 race; registration for 2019 has not yet been announced. Check the website (link below) for updates.
- More Info: philadelphiamarathon.com
Los Angeles Marathon
- About: This annual footrace and its “Stadium to Sea” course brings thousands of runners—both elite and amateur—from Dodger Stadium across Los Angeles, through Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and more, to an oceanside finish alongside Santa Monica Pier.
- When: March 24, 2019
- How to Gain Entry: Simply register online here.
- More Info: lamarathon.com