After completing the World Marathon Majors Six Star Journey at Tokyo Marathon in 2023, I am mindful about how daunting the task can be. I have been approached by a number of people asking if it is possible for an average every day runner to complete the World Marathon Majors and become a Six Star Finisher, and the answer is YES! In this blog I am going to give you an overview of each of the Marathon Majors, from my perspective, providing a few hints and tips, sharing ways of entering, and outlining rough costs involved. As with everything the costs involved can vary massively, depending on budget, where you are coming from, how long you stay and whether you travel alone. The World Marathon Majors certainly is not cheap, travelling the World to Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York is expensive business. One of the biggest barriers for people will be the cost so I will share my thoughts to outline the basic costs to help make it achievable.
For more details about each individual race please take a look at the separate race reviews. Also to help people in their preparations for the World Marathon Majors please add your thoughts and tips in the comments below, providing a catalogue of knowledge for people to read.
Overview: The Tokyo Marathon is the most unique experience within the World Marathon Majors. There are lots of unfamiliarities which can put people off, causing frustration and anxiety. Squatting on the toilet before the start, the huge time difference from the UK, and various cultural differences make it a little stressful. The course is relatively flat and can certainly be a PB event. The course was very busy, with good crowd support, but it was quiet. The thing that stands out for Tokyo Marathon, is being in Tokyo. The food, the city, the beauty, it is certainly a fantastic place to be. I only stayed in Tokyo for 72 hours, but would recommend a week or 10 days if you are able to really make the most of it.
Entry: There are a number of ways to enter the Tokyo Marathon. This is one of the most difficult to enter, which has been exasperated through 3 years if covid cancellations creating more demand for this event as people’s final stop. The Official Entry Requirements outlines the options, timings and costs involved. General entry is via ballot, and this is very competitive. However, there are a number of different ways you can get in. Charity, Tour operators, media, one Tokyo programme for elites and various competitions throughout the year after taking part in virtual events. World Marathon Majors now do a 6 star ballot for those who have ran 5 of the 6 Majors.
Costs: Tokyo is the most expensive of the Majors to travel to from the UK. In 2020 I paid £750 for flights, which I thought was expensive. In 2023 this cost me £1,200. I tried making the trip a long weekend, to save costs and leave, however I do think flights would reduce if you could go for longer and take quieter flights. This is where the main costs come in, as whilst in Tokyo the costs are the cheapest of all the Majors. I got away with only 2 nights accommodation as my return flight was at 01:00. I therefore got accommodation for around £150. Race entry is around £180, with food and drink cheaper than in UK, USA and Europe. For a long weekend you can budget for around £2,000 if travelling alone. These costs increase a lot travelling with others, but not so much if you travel for longer. You will need to factor in increased costs if with a tour operator or fundraising for charity.
Overview: Boston Marathon had always traditionally been the most difficult to gain entry for an average runner. If you have heard of Boston Marathon, you will have heard of the Boston Qualifier. There is a huge sense of achievement just getting entry into Boston, so when you are there it certainly is a celebration. The community really get behind Boston Marathon, and Boston is buzzing on Marathon weekend. It’s a very early start on race day, with school bus trip to the start line. It is by far the hardest course in the Majors. The irony of the speed you need to run to qualify, and for most it will be the slowest major.
Entry: The majority of entrants for Boston Marathon gain their place through a Boston Qualifier, you can find the Boston Qualifation information on BAA. It makes Boston inaccessible for most, as there is no ballot entry. Therefore, it is aimed predominantly for the elite, you need to run fast for your age group, and other options are limited. Fortunately it is not impossible, there are other options, however it can become expensive. There are Charity entries, but you need to raise around $8,000 for a local Boston charity. Outside this you will need to be looking at Tour Operators. These can be expensive, but even then, with such high demand you will often need to have booked numerous events with the tour operators to be considered for a place. There are limited opportunities in the World Marathon Majors ballot for those who have completed 5 stars, and there are always a few competitions with media and sponsors.
Costs: It costs $235 to enter Boston Marathon. Flights cost around £500 from the UK, and you are looking at around £200 a night for a hotel if you book early, but hotel costs can be much more expensive. There is a big draw at the Marathon expo for the marathon jacket, which will cost you $120. As with all USA events, costs of food and drink are much more expensive than the UK, so you want to budget accordingly. I also recommend going to watch the Red Sox at Fenway Park. If you travel alone for a long weekend you will want to budget around £2,000. You can potentially make it a little cheaper. When I went with a family of 4, I went for 5 nights / 6 days. This cost me around £4,500 all in.
Overview: I will always have a soft spot for London Marathon. It is my local major as I live in London and it was the marathon I grew up wanting to take part in. It was my first marathon, and I have so many happy memories at this race. This event is so well organised, and certainly one of the best races in the world. The crowds are amazing and there are so many incredible sights. It is right in the middle of difficulty for the Majors, but can become a little congested with smaller roads in the UK. I am biased coming from London and a lot of the ease and organisation will feel different for someone coming from overseas.
Entry: The London Marathon is notoriously difficult to enter in the UK, with people entering the ballot for years in a row and not getting entry. However, it is much easier to get entry if you are from the UK than if you are an international runner. You can find details about entry on The London Marathon website. The majority of entries are split between Ballot and Charity. The odds at ballot are very slim, but it accounts for almost half the field. These days a charity entry will expect on average a minimum fundraising target of £2,500. There are a few championship and Good For Age entries, but as they are so few, the times are more competitive than even the Boston Marathon. This leaves you a few media entries and competition such as the World Marathon Majors 6 star ballot. As an International runner I would guess there will be tour entries and there is always the charity entry.
Costs: Costs for me living in the UK are low. Race entry in the UK is the smallest of all Majors. It has actually gone up, and sits at £45 for a UK resident, which is actually cheaper than most Marathons in the UK. Entry for international runners is £145, but this is still cheaper than other Majors. I don’t pay for flights and accommodation, so just need to pay for the tube to get to the expo and any spending money. I would guess travel for internationals will be similar to when I travel to other Majors, so although the cost for me is under £200 including spending, you would probably be paying up to £2000 if coming from USA. The tube network is very good, so if you stay further out you will save a lot of money. London isn’t cheap to eat out, but at the moment people in USA will probably find it cheap.
Overview: Berlin Marathon has fast become one of my favourite marathons. I remember really not liking it the first time. I wanted a huge PB, it was hot and crowded and I couldn’t cope with water in cups. I raced poorly and finished blaming the race. But then I went back, and it’s grown on me. It is the flattest and fastest of all the Majors, and where World Records are broken. It has large roads, and if the weather is nice the finish vibe is great. The aid stations can become very busy on the course, despite how wide the roads are. It is such a relaxed feel at Berlin Marathon, and I love it. The race support is the quietest of all the Majors. What I really like about Berlin is how cheap and accessible it is coming from the UK. I also love the food. I know its not the best preparation for a marathon, but a Stein and Pork Knuckle before the event is my routine.
Entry: The main way to enter Berlin Marathon is through their lottery. I got in the second year trying, and although any lottery can be difficult, this feels like the easiest of the lotteries. You can enter as a team event, which is likely to improve your luck, and there are other ways of getting a place. If you do not get an entry there is the skating marathon the day before which is an alternative. There is an entry for the elite runners, and of course tour operators and the world marathon major 6 star ballot is an option.
Costs: It costs €163 to enter the Berlin Marathon. I can get cheap flights from the UK for around £150, and a decent hotel for £100 a night. I have stayed for 1 or 2 nights most times I go, and take very little spending money. With £100 I can eat well and be comfortable for the night. The cheapest I have completed Berlin Marathon cost me £350 without entry. I have also been there with a family of 4 for 3 nights, which cost about £1200.
Overview: Chicago Marathon is the most underrated of the Majors. Everyone raves about New York (rightfully so), but I love Chicago. It doesn’t feel as busy as New York, but it’s just an incredible city with good food, good beer and lots to see and do. The Marathon expo is big and busy, and race morning is well organised. This is one of the flattest courses, on par with Tokyo, and the crowds are just incredible. Wide roads, lots of local culture going through Chicago. You absolutely must get a Deep Pan pizza, my favourite. I love Chicago Marathon.
Entry: There are numerous ways to enter Chicago Marathon for guaranteed or non guaranteed entry. The ballot is the main way to enter, and is onw of the easier ballots to enter, like Berlin Marathon. If you are not successful the Time Qualifier is the most generous of all the Majors. You can also get an entry through Charity and Tour operators, along with a legacy entry if you have taken part in the Shamrock Shuffle 8k 4 or more times. On top of the World Marathon Majors 6 star ballot and other sponsors places, it makes Chicago Marathon the easiest to gain entry to.
Costs: It costs $240 to enter Chicago Marathon. The cost of travel to USA from UK has gone up since covid, I have got airfare from anywhere between £330 to £600. Hotels are usually around £200 per night, it can be cheaper if you stay further out, and it can also be much more expensive. It is expensive in USA travelling from UK, and so you need to factor that into your spending. I have paid as little as £1,000 for 3 nights. I have also been with a family of 4 for 4 nights, 5 days, which cost around £3,000 all together.
New York Marathon
Overview: New York Marathon is undoubtedly one of the greatest marathons in the world. New York is a sought-after destination and the marathon does not disappoint. New York Marathon has amazing crowds, and arguably the best crowds of all the Majors. I love the city, and the marathon. It isn’t my favourite, and I love Chicago just as much, although the two cities are very different. If you want to make New York a family trip there is much Korean to do, and it is the city that never sleeps. After Boston Marathon, New York is the most difficult course, which makes a PB very difficult in New York. It is tough, but the finish in Central Park is incredible.
Entry: New York Marathon is one of the hardest Majors to get entry to, after Boston and Tokyo. The main entry is through the ballot and you need to be lucky to get a spot at the start. There are however various other ways to get entry. Of course there is the time qualification, but this is one of the most competitive. You can get entry with charities and tour operators, with NYRR teaming up with Team for Kids and offering charity entry at a minimum of $2,100. There is also the 9+1 programme. If you take part in 9 other NYRR events plus volunteer at 1, you get a guaranteed, non complimentary entry. There will always be other media and competition entries, and there is the World Marathon Majors 6 star hopeful ballot.
Costs: It is $295 to enter the New York Marathon, with a $40 discount if you are a NYRR member. Costs are very similar to go to Chicago, my most recent flights cost me £450. It is possible to get cheaper accommodation with a great range, and so many options to choose from. I have managed to spend 3 nights and pay little over £1,000 altogether. Going with a family of 4 for 4 nights costs closer to £4,000 to make the most of New York, with so many sights to see, and maybe even fitting in a Broadway show.
World Marathon Majors
Overall Costs: It must be remembered that costs vary a lot according to a number of factors such as:
- Your starting destination,
- How long you make your trip,
- How flexible you are with flights,
- How much you want to spend when there,
- How much you spend on hotel, as a hostel is always an option,
- Whether you travel alone or with family and friends,
- Method of entry (tour operators can significantly increase costs, but also reduce stress by sorting our logistics, whereas charities can increase financial pressure owing to need to fundraise a minimum amount).
Travelling alone I would suggest you could complete the World Marathon Majors for around £7,000. If you travel with a family of 4, extending each trip for 4 or 5 nights, you are more likely to be spending around £20,000.
If you can justify and afford the cost of the World Marathon Majors, then it really is a great way to see the world. There are other marathons that are as good, but the World Marathon Majors comes with a standard you would expect.
The World Marathon Majors have began to offer draws for entry at each World Marathon Major for those that have 5 stars, helping more people to achieve their six star journey. If you are looking for your final star, it is worth ensuring you are in the draw.
There has been speculation and announcements over the last few years that there will be up to 3 more World Marathon Majors, making up to 9 in total. What this will mean for the six star medal, and what the reward programme will look like is unknown. At present Cape Town and Sydney Marathon are both active candidate events, which means they are completing a number of assessments to meet criteria over the next couple of years to determine if they meet the standard to become a world marathon major. Singapore and Chengdu Marathons were both previously candidate races. Singapore is no longer a candidate, and I have not hears anything about Chengdu so I am unsure if they are still in the selection process. The selection of events makes sense, broadening the reach of the world Majors to areas without current World Marathon Majors events. There are clearly many events across Europe and America who could become Majors, but ultimately this is a business and there are sponsors involved which will determine who is selected. Not all events that meet a standard can become Majors.
There are very mixed feelings about there becoming more Majors, but I guess this is fueled by your perspective. If you are seeking the six star medal it creates uncertainty, are you going to be able to achieve it in time and will it disappear? If you completed and said never again it could feel like a never ending expensive monopoly. Personally, having just finished the six star journey, I am keen to see 3 more races added, creating a nine star program and something more to strive towards.
So, where are you on your six star journey? I hope this blog has helped to put the World Marathon Majors into perspective. Let me know in the comments about your experiences within the World Marathon Majors, and give tips to others who are on the journey. Also feel free to ask any questions and I will help if I can.
12 thoughts on “How to become a World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher”
Great summary. Looks like you paced a number of these? Kudos to you! I got my 6-star in Tokyo 2019. Agree that it’s a great way to see the world, am hoping to run these again tough not sure I can afford another charity for Boston, which I ran (swam) in 2018 so would like a do-over.
Thank you so much. 2019 was a great year, wish I had done Tokyo before the big C.
I hope you are able to do all again, agree the fundraising is pretty tough
All 6 🙌 Tokyo was by far my favourite place, if not my favourite marathon (not a very inspiring route).
Boston – best tip is to buy everything with a unicorn on 🦄 oh and to do the duck tour. That was great fun!
Chicago – didn’t really enjoy this one. Clung on to a pace group (no offence pacers, they were ace), but as a result got no photos and was so focussed on staying with them I didn’t really take in much of the course.
New York – possibly the most amazing course (apart from the bridges – they broke me!). Always choose the ferry over the bus to the start, because it’s all part of the experience.
Berlin – like you, I wasn’t really a fan of this one. But I think I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. It taught me you need to be 100% committed to the race.
London – I’m probably biased but the crowds here are second to none. And so many amazing fancy dress runners. The right turn on the approach to Tower Bridge is my favourite point in any of the WMM.
Now just waiting to see which ones they add for more stars 😁
But the very best part is the friends I have made along the way. I’ve been lucky to meet up with runners from home at all but one of the majors, and that’s what makes it most special 🤩 Congrats on your six star success 🙌
Thank you for your thoughts Fiona. So interesting how everyone’s individual experiences makes a huge difference to how the events are perceived. Also how you race has a huge impact. Head down for a PB makes it hard to enjoy any race
Great article Paul! Thank you. I have run 18 marathons, but none of the majors. My goal was to qualify for Boston – which I have finally done last month – so Boston 2024 will be my first star. This month, I started to explore the others and didn’t realize the difficulty with entry. I have known recreational runners who have run Chicago, NY, and London, so I had no idea. I have run the Marine Corps Marathon in DC 6 times, which overlaps with Chicago and NY timewise, so I had never pursued it. Now it is a goal, with the BQ hurdle finally leaped, so i guess I will start to enter all of these lotteries and see if I am selected. Here is to hoping! Thanks again for the write-up.
Incredible mate… for most Boston is the hardest star to achieve, so starting with that is amazing.
Amazing review, as a latinamerican runner I have to say that WMM is an expensive journey, so adding more Majors (stars) means the dream is going far away 😞
I am sorry,keep going and doing all you can, mostly enjoy the journey
Great read. As a late starter to running at the age of 52 never having run I would never have imagined trying to run a marathon. When I discovered I liked it and could run a marathon I set myself the challenge of running the majors. However at almost 61 with no majors this year I’m not sure it will happen. I still need Boston, Tokyo and New York.
Well done to you. What are the times you need yo qualify and is this realistic for you? I really hope you get there
What was the most surprising thing about each race you wish you knew going into them? And what was your favorite and least favorite part of each race? (SUPER congrats again!)
Ohh Hillary, what a great question… thats going to take some thinking… I will come back to this