Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Chicago Marathon Lottery: My Observations

In November, I wrote about ways that the Chicago Marathon could best accommodate runners in the face of the huge demand for entries last year. The ideas I floated at the time (qualification standards, price increases and lottery) turned out to be close to the what the new entry system looks like: A hybrid approach of offering some guaranteed entries and non-guaranteed (i.e. lottery) entries.
I'm wearing the yellow hat at the start of the 2012 Chicago Marathon
A guaranteed entry can be obtained if:
a) You're fast (Have run a sub 3:15 marathon for men, Sub 3:45 for women in the last 2 years.)
b) You live in another country and pay big bucks through the Marathon's travel partner
c) You run for charity
d) You are a "legacy" runner (5 Chicago Marathons in the last 10 years)

Sadly, the open registration era is gone and a new era of entry requirements/lotter is upon us.

A few observations:
  1. The time qualification is tougher than I would have liked. First of all, there is no accounting for age. A 60 year old male who can run a 3:16 marathon could be relegated to the sidelines if he doesn't win a lottery spot.  Boston and New York both have age-based qualifying times. I don't know if Chicago will do this in the future and just arbitrarily set 3:15/3:45 as the universal threshold to simplify things administratively for the first year. This needs to change for 2015.
  2. There is no half marathon qualifying time like they have for NYC. An up-and-coming runner who is training to run their first marathon, but is a 1:25 half marathoner (a sub 3:00 hour marathon equivalent) is also thrown into the lottery and may not get in.
  3. The number of runners from other countries will probably diminish somewhat. I'm guessing that buying a package (entry, plane, hotel) through the marathon's travel partners will be a lot more expensive than buying an individual entry, using your frequent flyer miles for a plane ticket and staying at the youth hostel downtown. If an international runner opts out of buying a travel package, they will have to enter the lottery, then wait until April 14th to make travel arrangements. If an international runners gets in via the lottery but their friend doesn't they might not travel alone and they will forfeit their spot.
  4. The legacy runner threshold is kind of high. I've supported (i.e. run) the race for the last three out of four years, but that won't count for anything now.
  5. The price increase was less than expected, but it is still an increase.
  6. If your credit card doesn't go through you lose your lottery spot

So how does this help those who have to "go lottery" this year?

  • #3 above will increase the odds of getting in via the lottery, since I anticipate less international runners will apply.
  • #5 will help a tiny bit as the price increased from $175 to $185 which may be $10 more than a  handful of people want to pay.  
  • #6 will help if some lottery winners have entered a credit card number that is expired or is maxed out, they lose their spot. If 1% enter a bad number, that's 1% extra spots for those whose names didn't get picked first.

How it impacts me:
Luckily I ducked under the qualifying time threshold with my 2012 Chicago Marathon time. Amazingly, I would have been too slow using my 2013 time, even though I finished in the top 8% of my age group. I will really have to focus on running a 3:14:59 this year to make sure I can get into the 2015 race.

Pre Race Chicago Marathon 2013 with the BRC
After years of having an amazing open field race in our backyard it is disappointing that it will be closed off for some dedicated (and fast) runners in the future. Here's hoping that they modify the system in 2015 to let more time qualifiers in based on age and accept half marathon times.

How do you like the the new registration system for the Chicago Marathon?

19 comments:

  1. Looks like I have to get faster or lucky. The changes were expected though and I've been looking at Grand Rapids as a fallback plan for awhile now.

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    1. Eric, here's hoping you get in. Maybe the new system will cut down on demand as some people will not want to wait until April to find out if they get in (and have their credit card automatically charged). Hoping the odds of getting in are northwards of 90%.

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  2. So if you're age 45 or older, it's now easier to time-qualify for Boston than Chicago. But it also looks like the odds of getting in by lottery are about 75%, maybe a little better. Last year they had 51,000 total applicants (30,000 direct, 21,000 lottery) and 45,000 entries.I'd expect total applications to go up a bit this year.

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    1. Great point. Boston is 10 minutes easier for me to qualify for than Boston! I would agree with your numbers, I think it may be better than 75% to get in via lottery. Will be interesting to see if demand goes up or down.

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  3. I missed the cutoff as a legacy runner because my 2003 race doesn't count. Poop.

    I guess I'll take my chances with the lottery :/

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    1. Hoping the odds are high enough that most lottery people get in like you. By the way, you're going to run two full marathons this year?! :)

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  4. Like you, my first observation was that the field will be skewed toward younger runners with no age qualifying conditions. I suspect they'll adjust that for future races.

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    1. Yes, the new system definitely favors younger runners, but I think they'll make the change to age groups in the future. I base that on no evidence at this early stage, however. :)

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  5. I ran a 3:31 marathon in 2011, but that doesn't help me. I'm definitely disappointed and hope they change things in 2015. I'm going to enter the lottery with Fox Valley as my back up plan.

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    1. Sorry you're 3:31 (speedy!) from 2011 doesn't get you in. I guess the main beneficiaries of this new system are all of the suburban fall marathons. Maybe we'll even see a couple of new ones that will take the runner overflow. Good luck with the lottery (fingers crossed).

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  6. I was really surprised at the flat time cutoffs. Basically, for many folks it will be harder to gain guaranteed entrance into Chicago than it would be to quality for Boston! That just blows my mind. Could that lost detail have possibly been an oversight? Or was it done on purpose for whatever reason? Either way, it's really going to skew Chicago into being a super elite race this year.

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    1. Yes, the Boston comparison blows my mind as well. Chicago is now 10 minutes harder for me to qualify for than Boston! :) It may turn into an elite and young race unless changes are made.

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  7. I am also surprised by the time qualifications... every other race that has qualifying times has age groups. There are several guys that I know that are already chasing a 3:15 to BQ and now they are (possibly) being blocked from a good qualifying race. It will be interesting to see how registration goes this year and if they make any changes for next year.

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    1. Yes, I did not even consider that runners trying to BQ on Chicago's flat course could not even qualify to get into the Chicago marathon. Perhaps a half marathon qualification for Chicago time would help some of these runners get in.

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  8. great post, Pete. I guess I *kinda* get the gender parity issue, since it seems pretty similar to what they did for the SS last year, but at the same time, the times seem somewhat arbitrary to me. I was hoping that somehow, BOA would relinquish a little control to CARA and set up CM somewhat like NYCM does through the Road Runners-- qualification by time, travel partners, charity, lottery, or participation in local race circuits + volunteering. I totally get that the CARA connection would be a TON of work, and maybe not something that could happen in a year's time, but it is disappointing that another WMM has become restricted to the masses. Supply and demand, I guess?

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    1. The participation in local circuit races and volunteering would also be great ideas to as ways for runners to get in. I think they were trying to lighten their load as they roll out the new system and did not want the headache of trying to do age groups. The 3:15 pacer will be the most popular pacer in spring marathons!

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  9. Robert was stongly considering running Chicago, and I was as well. Now we're looking at charities, or perhaps doing the Indy Monumental Marathon or something. Luckily we have some time to decide.

    I wonder how this will impact registration of other fall marathons in Illinois and neighboring states.

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    1. The decision to enter the CM lottery is tougher when you are trying to coordinate running it with someone else. If one of you gets in and the other doesn't, you still get charged for the one entry. I bet there will be lots of interest in other Illinois marathons as local runners now have to find alternates. Good luck.

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  10. Quick question. If you run a BQ in the fall of 2014...can you run the 2015 Boston Marathon or do you have to push it to 2016 since registrations opens in Sept 2014?

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