Though not unheard of, it actually is a small miracle, as the majority of applicants do not get a slot via the lottery. This year, Mary Wittenberg, the race director for the New York Road Runners (who host the event), stated they had received nearly 100,000 lottery applicants and that only 1 in 10 would receive a lottery slot.
The entrants field has been capped at 40,000 runners this year (a 5,000 increase since I ran the race in 2007), so clearly, many of the runners will get a slot in the race by other means, and there are, in fact, a number of ways to earn a guaranteed entry to the event. Some meet qualifying times at previous marathons (which are a bit more stringent than the Boston qualifying times, but also not elite standards. Men under age 40 must have run a sub-3-hour marathon time, for example). Some earn entry by being NYRR club members and running at least 9 other events hosted by the NYRR during the year (and by paying all those dues and race entry fees). You can also be a carry-over from a cancelled entry the previous year, or have run at least 15 NYCMs, and there are other less common ways of guaranteeing entry.
Perhaps the biggest group of entrants, though, other than the lottery winners, are the charity runners. If you’re willing to commit to raising a large sum of money for a charity sponsored by the race, you get a guaranteed spot. Many runners who don’t get a lottery slot, then become a charity runner, instead.
There’s also one other way to get a guaranteed entry, and that’s to enter the lottery and fail to get a spot three years in a row. In the fourth year, they move you to the front of the line and give you an automatic spot in the race. That is exactly what I imagined I’d do in 2007 when I first submitted a lottery entry. Imagine my great surprise that year when I wound up winning a slot in the race on my very first try!
I had to rearrange some of my plans for November that year, but it turned out to be an incredible trip, because the NYRR hosted the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park the day before the regular marathon, and I got to be there in the park to see Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell each run amazing races to earn spots on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
The marathon itself, on the next day was incredible. The sheer logistics of getting down to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island before the race were not so fun, and the mass of people in the holding areas there was not easy to navigate, but once the race itself began, it really was extraordinary.
The start of the race on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is truly majestic and from the top of the bridge you can see all the way across the bay to your destination in the Park in Manhattan. It was the first time I had run a marathon that was a point to point course, and it was kind of awesome to see the full distance spread out in front of you from the top of the Bridge in that first mile. It was my 4th road-based marathon, and I ran a 4:03, which was short of my sub-4-hour goal, but still, a PR for me at the time.
The logistics and the cost of the event were so rough, that I knew I wasn’t eager to go back and run it right away, but the course and the race were so exhilarating that I promised I would be back.
And now it looks like 2011 will mark my return.
This January I decided to take my second crack at the lottery, and this past Wednesday (April 27th) was the lottery drawing for this year’s event. I wore my 2007 Finishers hat all day for luck, and sure enough, that evening when I typed in my name, the word “Accepted” popped up underneath!
There was a little payment snafu with my credit card that temporarily had my status turned back to “Not Accepted” on Thursday, and I was on pins and needles for a few days waiting to see if the NYRR would be able and willing to sort it out, but I got an e-mail last night letting me know that all was clear and I was officially, and finally, IN for 2011.
I love the Chicago Marathon and I have run some other, great, smaller marathons elsewhere in the country, but nothing in my experience compares to the NYCM. If you run marathons, you really do owe it to yourself to try to run New York just once in your life.
So, it’s going to be a busy year! I don’t have a lot of “speed” goals this year, but I do have a lot of “finishing” goals, most importantly at the Burning River 100 Mile in July. At some point in the next 7 months, I will run my 30th marathon or ultra. And I’ll wrap up my running year with a return to the NYCM in November. It remains to be seen if I’ll try to run it hard or just go back to enjoy the experience again, but either way, I’ll be looking forward to it. I expect to have a lot to celebrate this November 6th.