We all know that to toe the line of the Boston Marathon, you have to hit a time standard—and a pretty tough one at that.
But for most of the major U.S. and world marathons, runners of all speeds have a chance to compete as long as you’re among the lucky few whose names are drawn in a lottery or you agree to run for charity. If you’d rather not roll the dice or raise funds for a bib, however, you can aim to hit the qualifying standards set by the individual marathons.
Our advice? Jot down your qualifying time on a Post-It note and stick it on your mirror for a bit of daily motivation to lace up and log miles. And whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or you’re just starting to train for your first 26.2, we have loads of training plans and tips to help you reach your goals.
Show up to any group run in a Boston Celebration Jacket, and you’ll immediately earn respect from your fellow runners. The 26.2-mile race from Hopkinton to Boylston Street—which this year is postponed from April 20 to September 14, due to the coronavirus—is one of the most prestigious marathons in the country, thanks to its strict time requirements.
Take a look at the full registration process here, but there is one main thing to keep in mind: If you don’t run a a qualifying time, it’s unlikely you’ll get in unless you run for charity. (About 80 percent of the 30,000 runners is filled by time qualifiers.) In order to qualify for the 2021 race, runners must hit their qualifying times on or after the qualifying window opened on September 14, 2019. The window to qualify will likely remain open through this September.
Runners can qualify for the 2021 race by nailing the following times, broken down by age group:
- 18 to 34 years old (3:00 for men, 3:30 for women)
- 35 to 39 (3:05 for men, 3:35 for women)
- 40 to 44 (3:10 for men, 3:40 for women)
- 45 to 49 (3:20 for men, 3:50 for women)
- 50 to 54 (3:25 for men, 3:55 for women)
- 55 to 59 (3:35 for men, 4:05 for women)
- 60 to 64 (3:50 for men, 4:20 for women)
- 65 to 69 (4:05 for men, 4:35 for women)
- 70 to 74 (4:20 for men, 4:50 for women)
- 75 to 79 (4:35 for men, 5:05 for women)
- 80-plus (4:50 for men, 5:20 for women)
Happening this year on Sunday, October 11, Chicago is favored by runners seeking fast times on a pancake-flat course lined with motivating crowds.
To secure guaranteed entry among the expected 45,000 runners taking part in the 2020 fall race, runners had to hit a time standard between January 1, 2019, and when registration closed last December. The same qualifying window is expected for the 2021 race.
Here are the current time standards for Chicago, broken down by age group:
- 16 to 29 years old (3:05 for men, 3:35 for women)
- 30 to 39 (3:10 for men, 3:40 for women)
- 40 to 49 (3:20 for men, 3:50 for women)
- 50 to 59 (3:35 for men, 4:20 for women)
- 60 to 69 (4:00 for men, 5:00 for women)
- 70 to 79 (4:30 for men, 5:55 for women)
- 80-plus (5:25 for men, 6:10 for women)
New York City Marathon
Running among the 50,000 participants through the Big Apple’s five boroughs is a goal of many marathoners, but the hard truth is that the NYC drawing is extremely selective. For the 2020 race, taking place on Sunday, November 1, less than 3 percent of runners who registered without a time-qualifier were selected via the drawing. To snag your spot in the 2021 race, you can start by aiming for the 2020 time standards below.
[Smash your goals with a Runner’s World Training Plan, designed for any speed and any distance.]
Here are the current time standards for NYC, broken down by age group:
- 18 to 34 years old (2:53 for men, 3:13 for women)
- 35 to 39 (2:55 for men, 3:15 for women)
- 40 to 44 (2:58 for men, 3:15 for women)
- 45 to 49 (3:05 for men, 3:38 for women)
- 50 to 54 (3:14 for men, 3:51 for women)
- 55 to 59 (3:23 for men, 4:10 for women)
- 60 to 64 (3:34 for men, 4:27 for women)
- 65 to 69 (3:45 for men, 4:50 for women)
- 70 to 74 (4:10 for men, 5:30 for women)
- 75 to 79 (4:30 for men, 6:00 for women)
- 80-plus (4:55 for men, 6:35 for women)
NYC is also the only marathon major on this list that accepts half marathon times as qualifiers. Here are the 13.1-mile times you have to hit to secure a spot, according to your age:
- 18 to 34 (1:21 for men, 1:32 for women)
- 35 to 39 (1:23 for men, 1:34 for women)
- 40 to 44 (1:25 for men, 1:37 for women)
- 45 to 49 (1:28 for men, 1:42 for women)
- 50 to 54 (1:32 for men, 1:49 for women)
- 55 to 59 (1:36 for men, 1:54 for women)
- 60 to 64 (1:41 for men, 2:02 for women)
- 65 to 69 (1:46 for men, 2:12 for women)
- 70 to 74 (1:57 for men, 2:27 for women)
- 75 to 79 (2:07 for men, 2:40 for women)
- 80-plus (2:15 for men, 2:50 for women)
About 40,000 runners line up for this 26.2-miler in the heart of the U.K., and it kicks off this year on Sunday, October 4 (like Boston, this annual spring marathon was postponed due to concerns surrounding coronavirus). Similar to other major marathons, runners from the U.K. and abroad alike can register for the lottery, which opens around the first week of May every year.
Like NYC, the London Marathon is incredibly selective: last May, 457,861 applicants registered for a place on the ballot for the 2020 London Marathon—which was more than 10 percent increase in entries from 2019—registered for one of the 40,000 spots. Unfortunately, the only ways for non-elite U.S. citizens to score an automatic bib are entering via the lottery or running for charity; only U.K. residents can time-qualify for this event. If you are from the U.K., however, you have a decent window of time to have hit a qualifying race. The number of time-based entries was capped at 6,000 for 2019 (3,000 for each gender).
If you are a U.K. resident, here are the “Good for Age” time standards, broken down by age group:
- 18 to 39 (3:00 for men, 3:45 for women)
- 40 to 44 (3:05 for men, 3:50 for women)
- 45 to 49 (3:10 for men, 3:53 for women)
- 50 to 54 (3:15 for men, 4:00 for women)
- 55 to 59 (3:20 for men, 4:05 for women)
- 60 to 64 (3:45 for men, 4:30 for women)
- 65 to 69 (4:00 for men, 5:00 for women)
- 70 to 74 (5:00 for men, 6:00 for women)
- 75 to 79 (5:15 for men, 6:20 for women)
- 80-plus (5:30 for men, 6:40 for women)
Though the Tokyo Marathon is the youngest of the major world marathons—it debuted in 2007—it has grown increasingly popular through the years, because of its fast and flat, albeit often rainy, course. Unfortunately, this year’s race, scheduled for March, was cancelled for all but pro runners due to coronavirus concerns. Runners who were registered for the 2020 race are able to defer their entry to the 2021 race, but they will still have to pay entry fees.
Other runners interested in competing in 2021 will likely be able to register for general entry in August (for the 2020 race, the general application window took place between August 1 and August 31, 2019).
If you live outside of Japan and are fairly quick, you might qualify for the “Run as One” Semi-Elite overseas field, which is usually capped at 300 runners (the percentage of males and females selected varies). To apply for the 2020 Run as One, participants had to run their time-qualifying race sometime between July 2018 and June 2019 on specific courses.
Here are the current qualifying time standard ranges, broken down by gender:
- 2:21:01 to 2:45:00 (men)
- 2:52:01 to 3:30:00 (women)
If you are aiming for a PR, the Berlin Marathon, which kicks off this year on September 27, might be your best shot. In 2018, the blazing fast course produced its eleventh world record (eighth for men) when Eliud Kipchoge broke the tape in 2:01:39, shaving off 1 minute 18 seconds from the previous mark. Kipchoge’s performance continued the city’s history of witnessing breakthroughs in men’s marathon times, having hosted the first marathons sub-2:05, 2:04, 2:03 and now sub-2:02.
To score a bib in the 2020 race, runners had to register between October 1 and October 31, 2019, and were notified whether or not they got into the race between November 27 and December 3 of last year. The same registration window is expected for the 2021 race. To time-qualify for the race, runners have to finish 26.2s at or beneath certain times within two years of registration day (to qualify for the 2020 race, times had to be run in 2018 or 2019).
Here are the time standards you need to nail in order to test your own record in Berlin, broken down by age group:
- Age 18 to 44 (2:45 for men, 3:00 for women)
- Age 45 to 59 (2:55 for men, 3:20 for women)
- Age 60 and up (3:25 for men, 4:10 for women)