Thoughts on the New ING New York City Marathon Guaranteed Entry Guidelines

In case you’ve been living under a rock you haven’t been following marathon news, NYRR recntly announced new guidelines for guaranteed entry into the marathon.  Basically they’ve a) eliminated the lose-the-lotto-three-times-and-you’re-in rule b) tightened the time requirements to the 75% age grade for those speedy folks looking to qualify c) restricted deferrals to one year only d) stopped unlimited entries to the race if you have completed 15 previous NYCMs.

NYRR says if they do not make these changes now, they will not able to offer lotto spots starting in 2015 – craziness! But these new rules have left alot of folks unhappy. The out-of-staters are upset because they no longer have an automatic in after three lotto attempts, and the speedsters are upset because they believe the 75% age grade times are too restrictive.  Which then of course leads to the age-old debate: do faster marathoners deserve a slot over a slower or more casual runners?

Well obviously I’m a bit biased as a slower runner myself (my age graded times are usually in the 50% range), but I do believe we are all equal when we toe the starting line.  Speed and hard work are not mutually exclusively.  One runner might BQ on a standard 40-50 mile week plan on their first marathon attempt while another might barely crack 5 hours on their 10th marathon after running 70 miles/week.  And what about those who are facing huge hurdles? Some of the slowest marathoners are battling obesity, serious arthritis, even cancer – did they work any less than the rest of us?

And then there are those who run New York not for a fast time, but for the experience.  New York does not have an ideal course for a fast time to begin with – the crowds, the turns and the late hills can all add some significant minutes to your time.  And since travel costs are so high for the average tourist, I think alot of them consider it a “once in a lifetime” type marathon.  So rather than race through it, some might choose to take the race a little slower so they can take in all the sights and sounds the city has to offer.  While it’s not my exactly my plan  (if I put in the training hours I want to get every last drop of speed out of my legs, I’m also lucky enough to consider New York my hometown race. But I think alot of us, especially those NYYRers who race in the city year round, tend to lose sight of the sheer awesomeness of the city.

Besides, if it wasn’t for Fred Lebow, there might not be a New York Marathon for us to all clamor over spots for.  And Fred was considered one of the slower runners of his day!

And while I do sympathsize with those trying to get in via lotto, I think these rules will eventually make the lotto easier to get into.  Right now it seems like many runners throw their names into the lotto with no intentions of actually running the race this year and, hopefully the new rules will help to eliminate that.

What are your thoughts on the new rules? Do you think NYRR is favoring one type of a runner over another?

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the New ING New York City Marathon Guaranteed Entry Guidelines

  1. Honestly, I think it is fair to favor faster runners. In the end, I think someone that earns a BQ HAS worked harder than a slower runner. I've gotten faster this training cycle and it hasn't come easily! I think it's safe to say that a lot of lottery and charity spots end up going to people who don't train properly and end up walking most of it because the NYC Marathon is merely a bucket list goal for bragging rights. It would irk me if I got a BQ time but didn't get in thanks to the rolling admission system if my would-have-been spot went to a slower charity runner. Boston at least should remain time-exclusive.

    I know it would bother too many to eliminate the lottery system bit, so maybe it would make more sense for NYCM to offer slightly more attainable guaranteed entry times. For example, my hometown race (the Chevron Houston Marathon) is actually pretty popular (believe it, tri-state-area people– it's notoriously flat and also hosts the Olympic Trials). This is the first year that they tacked on a guaranteed entry option to the lottery– sub-2:00 hour half and sub-4:00 full times got anyone in. Even though I haven't accomplished the second one yet, I know it's doable.

    For someone who is eager to dish out her opinion on the new rules, I would think it would be in your best interest to share how you yourself got in last year and this time around (9+1? Lottery? Charity?) I'm curious as to why you left that out. Care to share?


  2. I think one reason we're uncomfortable is that we know who should get priority but we don't know how to identify them. “Pace” is one proxy, but limited, largely because it excludes lots of other worthies. In a perfect world we'd allow those who are taking it “seriously”, at whatever pace, in and keep out those who do it as a lark or as an item on a bucket list. Is it fair to say to someone who's been running for years but is simply incapable of running a 3:30 to lose a spot in favor of someone who want to have a “New York Experience” and otherwise considers running something clocks do?

    The reality is that we can't identify who's who. NYRR makes tons of money on the 9 + 1 and the charity runners. Foreigners too, probably. So to sustain the lottery system (which was altered this year after the NYC HM debacle) it must eliminate some of the guaranteed.

    More generally, I'm not a marathoner. Every year I enter, with a qualifying-time, to keep a place open and then end up not doing it. I got in the race in 2006, and ran it, via a sponsor simply because I had not thought of doing it until August. That may affect my perspective. But I think too many people want to run NY. I imagine that the race gets very crowded for those slower than 3:30. It is markedly more crowded at a 3:00 pace than it is at 2:45 (from my experience). There are lots of other marathons to do. Sure, they may not be ones that allow one to sleep in her own bed, but it's really not that hard to find a less crowded but well-run marathon in the northeast. The first Brooklyn Marathon will be held in November, with a field of 250.

    I like the idea of having NY available to me if I want to run it. I realize that that's something not many people can say and I realize it's not entirely fair. I think it relates to NYRRC's traditional road of putting on races as opposed to “experiences” but since the NYC Marathon isn't what it used to be (I've run it twice, in 1983 and 2006) eliminating guaranteed entries would not be the end of the world. And it might get people to focus on shorter distances, as I think more people should do anyway.

    As I said on Facebook, I think limiting the number of consecutive appearances to two is an idea worth considering although it surely would be rejected given the loss of many 9 + 1 participants.


  3. We really enjoyed the way you tackled this difficult topic. We always run together and making it into NYC is an extra challenge when there are two of you. At least as internationals we can buy a tour package by planning a few years in advance.

    We think the new guidelines make sense in a difficult situation. Other than increasing the number of runners we can't come up with a better solution.

    If there is a positive side as a couple of Australian runners we look on with a touch of envy at the options available to US runners. You have such a vibrant running community and if we lived in the tri-state area Hartford, Empire State and Marine Corp would be three attractive options for the years we could not run NYC.

    Thanks for a great article and we look forward to following your blog now we have found it.


  4. I saw the changes and was a little disappointed. I do believe that it leaves out-of-staters in the dust, since the lotto is skewed towards foreigners. However, I'm very happy that there has been no change to the 9+1 program since I believe that by shutting New Yorkers out of this race would be disastrous. All in all, it's a tough decision to make but it had to be done.


  5. Thanks all for chiming in! It's fun to hear everyone's viewpoints on the matter. I agree it must of been very difficult to be the one to have to call the shots and decide on the new guidelines…glad it wasn't my job 😉

    Joe – thanks for acknowledging the fact that pace doesn't always show effort! It's a sensitive subject for me. My mom is a walker (with very severe arthritis) and I can't even imagine the pain she deals with on a day-to-day-basis – yet she still managed to push herself to get through quite a few of half marathons, and 3 full marathons. Her full marathon days are done with – but she is fighting so hard through so much pain to try and hang in there and not give up on her distance walking. She'll obviously never be a runner, but she works harder than many just to get to the starting line. So it's not really my times but hers that I get defensive over 🙂


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