This week I’ve received an email I’ve been expecting for several months: my rejection notice from the Virgin Money London Marathon public ballot. For the second year running I’ve been cast aside; set adrift; discarded; tossed away like a used tissue, yet I’m not alone. Thousands of others, friends included, have received the same thing. Some of them have been rejected more times than me. As ever, this has got me thinking. I should be feeling disappointed. I’ve just been denied the chance to compete in an iconic, one for the bucket list road race, but you know what? I don’t feel in the least bit bothered.
According to the London Marathon FAQ page, over 253,000 individuals entered the ballot this year. Only about 50,000 will get offered a place. This includes elites, charity and good for age entrants too. VMLM are quite adept at forecasting drop out rates and can forecast within around 1% how many of those offered places will actually line up at the start. The Guardian reported in April this year that around 40,000 people started the race in 2016. That puts the chance of success in getting a place somewhere in the region of 15%. If we try and put some scale around the number of entrants, the town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk had a population of 35,015 in the 2001 census. That means the VMLM has more starters than the population of a medium sized town. Just imagine an entire town full of people all trying to catch a tube train to the start of the race at the same time. Or trying to use the portaloo facilities before the race. Let’s also not forget that we are only talking about competitors at this point – we’ve not even considered spectators or London residents. The numbers of people involved is just mind blowing and it all seems a bit too busy for my liking. Logistically it sounds horrendous.
If you’re not successful in the ballot, there’s always the charity option. Many charities offer places in exchange for a minimum target in sponsorship. The trouble is, some of the “minimum target” figures are pretty significant – £2200 for the NSPCC in 2016. Now I’m absolutely not against charity running – I’ve raised over £1000 for East Anglian Air Ambulance this year myself – but raising the minimums required by some of the big charities for VMLM is another layer of stress that I’m happy to be without.
The most significant driver for my apathy to rejection is the simple fact that there are nicer races out there whose routes are much more picturesque. On 22nd October I’m running in the Suffolk Coastal Trail Marathon organised by Endurancelife. This is part of the Coastal Trail Series which has routes in Devon, Wales, Kent, Dorset, Yorkshire and Northumberland to name a few. Sure, they may not have the same kudos or atmosphere, but they have scenic beauty, are actually accessible and don’t rely on hours of fundraising to avoid the wrath of charities. There’s also the DIY option. There’s nothing to stop anyone getting out and designing their own adventure. Our propensity to explore is limited only by our imagination. There are hundreds of miles of roads, trails and paths to run on in our beautiful land – it just takes a bit of planning and you can run your own marathon any time you want.
So will I enter next year’s VMLM ballot? Probably. It’s a once in a lifetime race and I’m sure the experience IS worth it. Will I be bothered when I get rejected again? Not in the least bit, thank you. I’m convinced there are nicer races, and other brilliant experiences out there.