“Oh my god, I got in!”
I spun around in my chair, lifted my hands and almost started doing the jig.
My colleagues looked at me in wonder. Usually, I don’t get this excited about work.
I had received an e-mail on March 3 from the New York Road Runners Club, saying I was selected to run the 2015 New York City Marathon. This was my first time entering the lottery and frankly, I’m beyond surprised I got in. (And for the record, I didn’t say I was a journalist.)
This year, 14,326 applicants were selected from the non-guaranteed entry lottery process, up from 9,170 in the 2014 lottery. However, 80,080 runners applied, making that about an 18 percent acceptance rate.
Judging from comments on social media, making or not making the lottery is almost akin to running the race. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat! Yet it’s a sign that these races are very popular affairs.
New York isn’t the only major marathon with a lottery system. Chicago’s lottery runs until April 21, while the Marine Corps Marathon’s lottery system just closed. Aside from Boston, which has entries based on time qualifications, the rest of the World Marathon Majors in London, Berlin and Tokyo use lottery systems for non-guaranteed entries.
According to the Marine Corps Marathon’s race director, Rick Nealis, he and his staff were surprised by the demand when they instituted a lottery in 2004. (Previously, and again afterward, it was first come, first served.)
“That was a real eye-opener, in that it really was the first time that we honestly didn’t know how many didn’t get in,” Nealis said. “People are not getting into New York, into Chicago. There’s a lot of people out there that want to run marathons.”
This year’s lottery is the second after the Corps re-instituted the lottery after the marathon sold out in record time in 2013, causing servers to crash and frustrating hopeful participants.
Corps officials say this lottery process will be much smoother than last year’s and there’s plenty of time for participants to register.
“We want everything to run smoothly for those registering because you don’t ever want difficulty getting people in. We want it to be a simple and easy process,” said spokesperson Tami Faram.
Faram said that in addition to the lottery, charity entries and some guaranteed entry slots are still available. Counting the military contingent, officials are expecting close to 30,000 registrants.
You’re not picking and choosing people, it’s an electronic process,” Faram said about the lottery. “The MCM is a good race to try to get into, it’s very popular and we do often sell out. I think allowing the charity registrations and early registration for the military, there’s a lot of opportunities to get in.”
Electronic or not, it’s still disconcerting for those trying to get into a race on their dream list and finding instead an email suggesting you try again next year.
Jennifer Forman, 36, of Gaithersburg, entered the NYC Marathon lottery with her friend. The friend got in but Forman did not.
“I don’t think I could take another chance of being so disappointed,” Forman told me over email. “In the past, though, I tried to get into the Marine Corps Marathon and did not get chosen. I did that race with a charity bib. I then ran MCM four other times but ‘bought’ my way into the marathon by spending a certain amount of money at the MCM shop at the expo. I didn’t want to take the chance of not getting into the lottery again.”
Forman decided to run the Columbus, Ohio, Marathon this fall, which will be her 11th. She has had luck getting into the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, which are both lottery-based.
“I’m not a huge fan of lotteries but I guess they make sense in terms of letting people participate in a fair manner,” she wrote.
Phil Stewart, race director for the Cherry Blossom , has had a lottery since the 1980s because the race was limited to 3,000 finishers. Back then, it was a bit, well, analog. Participants sent self-addressed stamped envelopes with their social security numbers, and one of Stewart’s staff members would pick every third envelope.
This year, amazingly, the race will be run during peak cherry blossom time. Fifteen thousand people were chosen through electronic lottery earlier this year and will run the race. For Stewart, it’s a lot of work but it’s worth it.
“I find there’s a moment on race day that I climb on the scaffolding at the start/finish line and I look at the people getting lined up and I see what a special event this is for people,” he said. “I do get a moment and it only lasts a moment.”
Since the demand for marathons is so great, lotteries are likely here to stay.
“There probably isn’t any race director that really loves the lottery. But the lottery takes the stress away because in our case, we give people a 10-day window to be able to register at their leisure,” Nealis said. “If it’s on your bucket list, and this is the year you want to do it, there’s stress until the names get pulled.” After that, “they know that now they can focus on their training.”
So, for those who got into the NYC Marathon, I’ll see you there Nov. 1. For those waiting to get into the Marine Corps or whatever race is on your bucket list, as the saying goes: May the odds be forever in your favor.
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