London Marathon: What Are the Alternatives

By Joe Peat

It’s one of those times of year when I eagerly await the postman. It’s not my birthday and it certainly isn’t Christmas, but the week the Virgin London Marathon ballot magazines are sent out.

The six month wait is finally over and my hopes to run arguably the most iconic marathon in the World are at their peak. Unfortunately, once again, I am disappointed. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. This year 247,069 people applied for the 30,000 ballot places; the odds are not good.

So what’s next?

If your heart is set on running the VLM you still have a few options. There are still thousands of places available to those who are willing to run for a charity. Your chosen charity will expect you to raise a set amount of money and once you have reached the quota your donors will expect you to complete the 26.2 miles, which can add a certain amount of pressure to a marathon novice but can make the event a thoroughly fulfilling experience.

The second option only applies to people who belong to a UKA registered running club. These clubs will receive a certain number of guaranteed places for the race depending on their size – a club with 50-100 members will usually receive two places which they can award to a couple of their most deserving members.

For the truly dedicated and those who considered themselves a ‘marathon-runner’ and not just a ‘get-arounder’ there is still hope of getting a place at the 2017 VLM. However, it does require a bit more effort than simply filling in the entry form. If you’re between the age of 18-40 and already run a sub 3:05 marathon (if you’re male) or sub 3:45 (for the ladies), congratulations – you’ve qualified for the VLM ‘Good for Age’ guaranteed entry. For details of the target times for other ages, check out the website.

But missing out on the VLM doesn’t mean the end of your 2016 marathon dreams. If you are willing to travel outside the capital for your marathon, there are several unique alternatives to consider:

Combine your marathon with a sight seeing city break


Consider an alternative European capital.

Rome and Paris offer a 26.2 mile tour of the most iconic sights the cities have to offer. In Rome you will start and finish next to the Colosseum, pass the Vatican at around nine miles before running the final third through the rustic old town of Rome.  Plus the Roman solders lining the final 100m stretch certainly make for an interesting finish line photo.

Paris Marathon sees a start on the Arc de Triomph before winding through the most famous avenues and plazas taking in sights of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Both races accommodate and attract many overseas runners and comply with the strict conditions to qualify as an IAAF gold label race.

Achieve that PB

Marathon PB

So you’ve decided you’re going to target that ‘Good for Age’ entry for next year and for that you’re going to need to run a personal record – if you’re going to run a fast time, you’re going to need a fast course.

Organisers claim that Edinburgh Marathon is the flattest and fastest 26.2 miles available. Starting at the top of Holyrood Park, you’ll descend down to a quick out and back along the coast. Even better, if you have been rejected from VLM you will be guaranteed entry into Edinburgh.

Another option is to head over to Holland. Rotterdam Marathon is known as a super fast course often attracting a very strong elite field due to its flat course and ideal climate. With no less than three world records, Rotterdam could well be the course for you to run your fastest 26.2 miles yet.

Something to write home about

Marathon du Medoc

If your finishing time doesn’t concern you, and you believe time in the pub should be part of your training regime, then Marathon du Medoc maybe the one for you. In fact, veterans of this marathon would encourage people to take as close to the 6:30hour cut off as possible! Take your time soaking in the beauty of the French wine region and ensure you refuel at the many stations where you will have chance to taste 23 vintages of wine, fine cheese, oysters and ice cream!

If you are willing to travel slightly further afield then the Great Wall Marathon could be one to consider. Not recommended for those running their first marathon, this tough route sees you climb 5,164 steps as you traverse one of the world greatest landmarks.

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