Do you feel lucky? Now is your chance to get into two popular races through lotteries.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m going to use the term “lottery” even though these aren’t technically lotteries. They’re actually drawings used to decide who gets to run in a race. A few years ago, the New York Road Runners changed the word they used after being sued for running a lottery (they used to charge a nonrefundable fee to enter the marathon drawing; after a 2016 settlement, they don’t).
Even though a lot of races say they have lotteries, if you’re not paying to enter, it’s not a lottery. But still, many races and runners still call them lotteries. So: lottery.
Anyway, two big lotteries are open right now: for the New York City Marathon, which will be run on Nov. 1, and for the Broad Street 10-Miler, which is the largest 10-mile race in the country, to be run in Philadelphia on May 3.
I don’t think lotteries are a bad thing. As the sport of running grew, demand for races grew with it. When popular races didn’t set a limit on the number of runners in their events, those races became crowded messes. I ran a few. Not fun.
Races with qualifying times, like the Boston Marathon, just made it harder for runners to qualify. But for those races that want runners of any ability to compete, a lottery is about as fair a thing as they could do. The Cherry Blossom 10-Mile run, Peachtree Road Race, Chicago Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon all added lotteries in the last decade. The NYC Half debuted in 2006, then added a lottery five years later.
Broad Street added its lottery in 2013. I wrote about running for The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, and the race director said they switched to a lottery because the race used to sell out so quickly. They made the switch because they felt that the old way wasn’t fair to those who couldn’t be at a computer the second that registration opened.
Lotteries aren’t the only way runners can get into popular races, of course. Other paths to entry include being a faster runner, raising money for charity and running the race for a certain number of consecutive years. The Planet Money podcast did a deep dive into how the New York City Marathon drawing works, looking at the economics of picking the fairest way to allocate a scarce resource.
How many people get in? Depends on the race. Last year, Broad Street had an 85 percent acceptance rate. The New York City Marathon had a 9 percent acceptance rate. And then there’s the lottery for a spot in the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. For the 2020 race, there were 6,666 entrants for the 264 spots filled via lottery. Each applicant has a different percentage chance of getting in based on how many times they’ve entered the lottery before. Race officials announce the results at a party they broadcast on Facebook Live, then choose three people who came to the party in person.
And because I know a lot of you were mad about this: yes, the New York Road Runners had a major snafu in January with registration for the Brooklyn Half. The organization does not offer a lottery for that race, and when registration opened, the website crashed. Once it was fixed, the race sold out in a flash. So they are evaluating whether or not to institute a lottery for it in the future.
What do you think about lotteries? Let me know! I’m on Twitter @byjenamiller.
Jen A. Miller
Author, “Running: A Love Story”
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