How to Get Into the 6 Abbott World Marathon Majors–Because One Medal Is Never Enough

The start line of the Chicago Marathon.

Running a marathon is an amazing achievement. While research shows approximately 1.1 million people annually finish a marathon, this equals just 0.01% of the world’s population earning the distinction. If you’ve run Boston, Chicago, NYC, Berlin, London or Tokyo, you’re already on track to complete the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.

The World Majors Six Star challenge was started in 2016 and over 17,000 runners have completed the challenge. The average age of finishers is 51 with the youngest finisher at 27 years old (2023 Boston Marathon) and the oldest at 86 (2023 London Marathon). In short, it’s never too late to start your Abbott World Marathon Majors journey!

Because these are some of the world’s most popular races, it can take years to complete the Six Star journey, with the average at approximately 7.5 years. Completing this challenge requires tons of training and even more patience. This guide helps you sort out how to get into the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.

How to register for the World Majors

Most of the Abbott World Marathon Majors have the same primary avenues for registration. However, there are a few exceptions that are unique to some of the races.

Boston Marathon

The finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Boston Athletic Association (BAA) is the steward of the Boston Marathon. Athletes have been running this race since 1897, earning its recognition as the world’s oldest marathon. It’s one of the more difficult races to enter due to its popularity, and it’s considered one of the more difficult World Major courses, second only to New York.

Qualifying athletes must meet time standards corresponding to gender and age, and those standards can change from year to year. Because of the large field of applicants and limited number of race bibs, qualifying athletes aren’t guaranteed the chance to toe the start line in Hopkinton. Here are nine ways to run a Boston qualifying time.

Unlike the other five World Majors, Boston is the only race that does not have a lottery system for athletes who do not submit a qualifying race time. Thankfully, your dreams of running Boston aren’t totally squashed. There are many other ways to snag a Boston Marathon race bib.

There are a handful of backdoor avenues to score a bib, including being a celebrity or knowing someone who knows someone, but most people can’t count on those options!

Berlin Marathon

While all the Majors are historical in their own right, the Berlin Marathon has the most interesting history. Started by Germany’s most prestigious athletics clubs, SC Charlottenburg, the first marathon took place in 1974. In 1981 it moved into the city center of West Berlin and quickly developed into Germany’s biggest and best-quality marathon. After the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, this race entered a new era.

Today, athletes race a course that travels through both parts of Berlin and runs through the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Considered the easiest of the World Majors, the Berlin Marathon is fast and flat, and an excellent prospect for a personal record.

There are four standard ways to enter the Berlin Marathon:

  • Run a qualifying time (check the Fast Runners section for the time chart)
  • Enter the lottery
  • Run with a charity
  • Purchase a bib through an international tour

For many, an international marathon is their first experience with traveling abroad. Here’s a guide for how to prepare for an international marathon.

Chicago Marathon

Runners cross a bridge during the Chicago Marathon.

The Chicago Marathon’s inaugural year was 1977, starting with 4,200 runners. Today, Chicago’s largest field of athletes clocked in at nearly 46,000 runners, plus a whopping 1.7-million spectators through 29 neighborhoods. If you love a race with loads of spectator support, this is the World Major for you.

This fast-and-flat course is on the easier side compared to other World Majors. It’s where Kelvin Kiptum nearly broke two hours in 2023! We love a race that can result in a personal best. Plus, celebrating with iconic deep-dish pizza is *chef’s kiss*.

The Ultimate Guide to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Weekend

Chicago has several methods for registration:

London Marathon

Inspired by Boston and NYC, the first London Marathon took place in 1981. More than 20,000 people wanted to run, but only 7,747 were accepted. Today, London draws a field of more than 43,000 athletes.

The course isn’t the easiest, but it’s not the hardest. Strangely enough, there are more than 100 Guinness World Record attempts on file for the London Marathon. These include “fastest marathon carrying a household appliance” and “fastest marathon dressed as a plant,” so don’t be surprised if you see some strange stuff out on course. Apparently, proposals and weddings are also quite popular along the way.

London Marathon runners bring their generosity, having raised more than £1 billion for charities. Charity bibs are quite popular. There’s no need to be intimidated by fundraising minimums. You can fundraise like a pro with these 6 tips for charity runners.

Here are all the ways to get into the London Marathon:

  • Run a qualifying time (known as Good For Age entry, or GFA, only available for UK residents)
  • Run the virtual London Marathon My Way accompanied by an in-person, certified half marathon course with a Good For Age time
  • Enter the lottery
  • Run with a charity
  • Purchase a bib through an international tour
  • Member of the British Athletics Club

New York City Marathon

Runners for Achilles International during the New York City Marathon.

Ah, the Big Apple. Gotham. The City that Never Sleeps. Regardless of what you call New York City, it’s home to what’s considered the World Majors’ most difficult marathon course. According to NYRR, the first New York City Marathon took place September 13, 1970, in Central Park. Of the 127 registered runners, there were 55 finishers. Today, the race field tops 53,000 athletes and has more than a million spectators lining the streets in every borough the course travels through.

This race has the standard registration options, but thanks to its popularity, the lottery system results in heartbreak for many athletes year after year. More than 128,000 runners entered the lottery for the 2023 race, and only 5% were chosen. In 2024, 165,000 athletes entered the lottery and just 4% were selected. Odds are also slim for time qualifiers, as NYRR stated only the fastest 19% of runners within each age and gender group were selected for 2024. It’s competitive and can be a contributing factor to how long it takes an athlete to complete their Six Star journey.

Here are the ways to get into the New York City Marathon:

Tokyo Marathon

The youngest of the Six Abbott World Major Marathons is Tokyo with its inaugural race in 2007. This course is solidly in the middle in terms of difficulty. Strangely enough, it has become something of a tradition for athletes to run in costume. If you’re considering adding some unique style to your race-day ‘fit, be sure to follow the rules and regulations about costumes.

Getting a race entry through the lottery can be tough, so this is another race that can slow down your efforts to earn the Six Star medal.

There are a bunch of ways to register for the Tokyo Marathon:

Running the six Abbott World Marathon Majors is an amazing goal that will take you around the world and seeing cities in a way most people won’t experience. Check out these running travel tips from the sport’s elite to help you navigate your international travel like a pro.

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