There are six different marathons that are part of the “World Marathon Majors.” This is a series of the six largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Chicago, New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo, and Boston.
These races are part of a professional athlete series, but what you and I are probably more interested in is the “everyday champion” aspect of the series, or the Six Star Finishers, i.e. the goal of completing all six of these World Marathon Majors.
This goal has become more popular, but it is still a relatively small group of people who have completed all six- only about 1800 people in the world have achieved this goal. That’s not very many! I heard about 175 more were added to that list at Boston and London this year.
If all goes well, Dustin and I will complete our final race of the series this November, the New York City Marathon. We have been in touch with the team in charge of the series to submit our finish times so far, so that when we complete the final race, we will receive this monster of a medal (picture courtesy of my friend Phil who completed the series in 2016!)
I thought it would be helpful to share some more about my experiences with the World Marathon Majors so far as well as logistics cost, etc.to help you if you are pursuing the same goal.
Please let me know if you have any questions at all on any of these races. Send me an email or comment here on the blog!
The Chicago Marathon
Disclaimer…I ran this marathon in 2007, which was the incredibly hot year. It is the year that they “officially” cancelled the race. I was at mile 22 when this happened so I was able to finish (though it took over 5 hours.) I remember going past aid stations, even in the early miles, where they didn’t have ANY water or Gatorade left. It was a disaster.
It took me over 5 hours to finish this race, when I was trained for around a 4:20 marathon. I walked the last 4-6 miles. So hot…so I can’t really comment on this race since my experience was a bit tarnished. Most everyone else I know that has run it other years has LOVED it. They love the flat, fast course, the energy of the spectators, the cool tour of all of Chicago’s unique neighborhoods. I am considering coming back to this marathon to have a better experience. I actually have a “secret” goal of completing all the majors under 4 hours, and this is the only one that I didn’t obtain that goal (that “secret” goal kept me running when I felt like stopping at a hot Boston this year!)
Aside from my experience, let’s talk logistics. The Chicago Marathon is a lottery based entry, though your odds are quite good of getting in through the random drawing. You can also qualify for guaranteed entry with a sub-3:15 marathon for men and sub-3:45 marathon for women. The other option is to run the race by fundraising for charity; the full list of charities can be found here.
The race is held on the second Sunday in October, so the weather should be nice and cool, (but obviously it isn’t always, like in 2007!)
Registration Fee: The registration cost is currently $195 for US citizens and $220 for international registrants. Pricey!
Getting to Chicago is easy, but book a hotel room early as they fill up fast.
The marathon is basically a large loop of Chicago, which makes it a great course for spectators. It starts and ends at Milennium Park. Transportation on the train is free for the runners on race day.
The Tokyo Marathon
I ran the Tokyo Marathon in February 2015 and it remains one of my favorite marathon experiences. From the organization of the event, to the amazing course, to the spectators, it was top notch.
The course is awesome; you get to run through some of the coolest parts of Tokyo and the people at this race were hands down the nicest volunteers. I will never forget coming through the finishing chute towards the gear check and receiving standing ovations from the volunteers. It was so unique and so special. Very cool experience overall.
The problem with the Tokyo Marathon is that it is not easy to get into. We had to go through Marathon Tours in order to obtain entry. This means that you have to pay for their trip/tour, which includes the hotel they chose with at least a 3 night stay, their transportation, and of course their price tag. Yet I have been nothing but impressed with Marathon Tours as a company; they do a fantastic job, it’s just not cheap. Everything is easier with them though- they take away any of the logistical challenges to give you a wonderful Tokyo Marathon experience.
You can get into the Tokyo Marathon through the lottery, but there are 300,000+ applicants and only 35,000 spots. Your chances of getting in through the lottery are quite slim.
You can also obtain entry by qualifying; for women, you need to run a sub-3:40 and men have to run a sub-2:55 (yowsa!) I believe that there are only a few hundred spots though for qualifiers so they go quickly.
Registration Fee: 12,800 yen or about $120
Of course getting to Japan from the US is quite a haul, but once you’re there, there’s a ton to do and see, in addition to the 26.2 you see during the marathon. I recommend spending time in Kyoto too while you’re there- such a beautiful place.
The London Marathon
Nearly impossible to get into via the lottery even if you are a UK resident but especially if you’re an American (or non-UK in general). Your best bet is going through a tour operator if you’re an American.
UK residents can qualify with a “good for age” time, which is 3:45 for women and sub 3:05 for men.
I had a fantastic experience at the London Marathon (read all about it here). It is a really cool course and the fans are amazing. Running over the Tower Bridge to the thunderous applause of the spectators was something I will never forget. The finish at Buckingham Palace was also pretty rad. 🙂
Everything was organized very well- fantastic experience. I would like to do this marathon again, it was so much fun!
The Berlin Marathon
When we ran this marathon, it was not a lottery. We actually were able to set our alarm for the middle of the night and register right when online registration opened. By the following year registration changed to a lottery. It’s free to enter the lottery; it’s €108 to register if you do get in. Like most of the Majors, you can get in via fundraising for a charity (full list here).
Berlin is touted as one of the fastest marathons in the world. It is a cool course that shows off a lot of the city. I had a few complaints on this one (fans didn’t cheer, very crowded for a middle-of-the pack runner) but it was still a very cool experience. Berlin is a very interesting place to visit.
Registration Fee: €108 to register.
The New York City Marathon
The chances of getting in via the lottery are about 16%…not very good. We are running it through Marathon Tours this fall.
New York is the most expensive marathon of the majors- $295 for US and $358 for international runners.
If you live in the New York City area, you can take part in the 9+1 system. This is a series of nine New York Road Runner races, plus volunteering at one other race in a given year.
Qualifying for New York is actually harder than Boston! For women age 18-34, you have to run a 3:13 marathon or a 1:32 half marathon. For men,, it’s a 2:53 marathon or 1:21 half.
A lot of people (including my blog friend Jess!) run New York via fundraising for a charity.
As I mentioned, we tried our chances with the lottery and didn’t get in so we are going through Marathon Tours again, and even their spots go very quickly.
The Boston Marathon
Not a lot of choices here. You can qualify or you can run with a charity. You can’t pay your way into this one!
And as you might know, even just ‘qualifying’ isn’t enough. Last year you had to qualify by at least 2:09 under your qualifying time to be able to register, as qualifiers register in a wave, with the fastest runners first until the race fills.
If you’re too young for your speed 🙂 i.e. haven’t qualified with a fast enough time, you can fundraise with one of these charities.
Registration: The fee is $180. I think for international runners it is close to $250.
Boston is the “holy grail” of all marathons due to the history and of course due to the difficulty of getting in. Everyone wants what they can’t have! Though my Boston experience left a little to be desired, I still believe that it belongs at the top of this list. Organized perfectly and an amazing experience.
Those are the 6 World Marathon Majors, but according to this article, it kind of sounds like there might be more added to the series in the near future. More incentive to get that six star medal before it becomes a 7 star!
Good luck on your quest to be a Six Star Finisher!