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Abbott World Marathon Majors collage image on RaceRaves
(Photos & logos: Abbott World Marathon Majors)

With the new year underway and many of us eyeing ambitious goals and resolutions, there’s no better time to plan out your 2024 (and beyond!) race schedule. For many runners this schedule will include one or more “bucket list” races, chief among these the six marathons that comprise the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Founded in 2006 to advance the sport and raise awareness of its elite athletes, the World Marathon Majors (WMM) are — in chronological order — Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.

Why Run the Abbott World Marathon Majors?

Due to their outsized popularity in recent years, registration for each of these six prestigious events is now restricted to a lottery selection process or other approved qualifying method (e.g. finish time or charitable fundraising), thus further enhancing each race’s prestige and perpetuating the cycle. As the number of applications continues to grow — London alone received a world-record 578,374 applications for the 2024 race — the odds of lottery success continue to shrink, and gaining entry to each of these events has become as easy as running in high heels.

What’s more, you’ll need to complete all six races over time if you hope to earn what many consider marathon running’s Holy Grail: the Six Star Finisher Medal. Currently the number of member races is six; however, in recent years the Chengdu Marathon in China (May 2019), the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in South Africa (Aug 2021), and the Sydney Marathon in Australia (Dec 2022) were officially announced as candidate races for the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Each is now undergoing a multi-year evaluation process, with Sydney in Nov 2023 becoming the first race to pass stage one assessment and proceed to stage two of the candidacy process.

With all that in mind, we’ve created the following primer to demystify the World Marathon Majors application process. Our handy step-by-step guide will help you to plan accordingly, reduce anxiety, and optimize your chances of success.

Getting into the Abbott World Marathon Majors

Several entry points exist for WMM hopefuls. While guaranteed entries for locals are available in some cases — for instance, the 9+1 Program created by the New York Road Runners or the legacy programs offered by Boston, Chicago and New York City — here we touch on the five modes of entry targeted by the vast majority of runners.

1. Enter the lottery

Submit your free online application 6–12 months prior to the race date. Below are some key dates to keep in mind — the exact dates vary by year, but this is representative of the timetable for each race:

Abbott World Marathon Majors 2024 key dates for lottery application and notification

2. Run for charity

This approach requires a fundraising minimum for guaranteed entry, and since each event partners with dozens to hundreds of official charities, you’re sure to find a cause that inspires you.

3. Channel your inner cheetah

Run fast enough to meet the time-based qualifying standards. Boston has no random lottery, and so a qualifying time is mandatory (see below; charity runners excepted). New York City is the only member of the World Marathon Majors that accepts a qualifying standard for the half marathon distance, while London’s Good For Age Entry is valid only for UK residents.

4. Contact a tour operator

Reserve a package deal that includes travel, lodging and a guaranteed race entry. With a tour operator you avoid the lottery, plus you’ll know within days or weeks whether you’ve secured a spot. And if you do happen to win the official race lottery, any reputable tour operator will credit you the price of their guaranteed entry. Yes you’ll pay a bit of a premium for the convenience, but for those seeking a hassle-free way to control their own destiny — especially those who want to run with friends or family — this option may be the best bet. Marathon Tours & Travel works closely with the WMM team, and having traveled abroad with them several times we can vouch for their professionalism. Likewise, Destination Marathons offers packages with guaranteed entries for London and Berlin. 

5. Enter the second-chance drawing

To help athletes complete their Six Star journey, AbbottWMM allots up to 2,000 slots (distributed across the six World Marathon Majors) in a second-chance selection process to runners who have earned at least three of their six stars. To be eligible for the second-chance drawing, Six Star hopefuls must maintain an updated profile and claim their stars on the AbbottWMM website. Eligible runners then receive an email inviting them to enter the drawing in advance of the appropriate Major.

Similarly, in February 2024 the AbbottWMM Global Run Club announced the return of Road To The Majors, a series of six virtual half marathons throughout the year, to give runners who have earned at least three of their six stars additional entries into the second-chance drawing for any Major they still need to complete. Registration for each virtual race costs $45.

NOTE: We recommend joining the official AbbottWMM Six Star Journey Facebook group and following each of the six events on social media to stay informed of time-sensitive offers. Case in point, for the past few years the TCS New York City Marathon, in partnership with Strava, has awarded a limited number of guaranteed, non-complimentary entries to the next year’s marathon for runners who register for and complete a virtual (and verifiable) 26.2-mile run anywhere in the world during a specified timeframe (typically early November to coincide with the in-person marathon). Registration for this Virtual 26.2M opens in June on a first-come, first-served basis and reaches capacity within hours.

Presenting the Abbott World Marathon Majors

Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon logoMar 3, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 3.9 out of 5 (23 reviews)

Tokyo is not only the youngest of the World Marathon Majors in absolute years, having run its inaugural race in 2007, but also the new kid on the block, having been added to the series in 2013. Billed as “The Day We Unite,” the lone Asian member of the WMM has a capacity of 38,000 runners (including 500 10K runners) and the highest male:female participant ratio of the series at just over 3:1. With upwards of one million enthusiastic spectators lining the crowded course at every turn, Tokyo offers its runners a unique cultural experience in one of the world’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities.

Click for details on Tokyo’s “Run with Heart” charity entry and “RUN as ONE” time-qualifying standards. Charity Runner entry typically opens on a first-come, first-served basis in late June or early July.

Cutoff time: Seven hours (two hours, ten minutes for wheelchair athletes) based on gun time, with the cutoff time enforced at each checkpoint due to reasons of traffic control, security, and event operation.

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon 2024 logoApr 15, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 4.8 out of 5 (82 reviews) 🏆

Now in its 128th year, the world’s oldest annual marathon is the race at the top of every serious marathoner’s wish list. And the event — held each year on Patriots’ Day — lives up to the hype with top-notch choreography, raucous crowds and its renowned unicorn medal waiting to celebrate your achievement at the finish. But here’s the catch — Boston is the only member of the series with strict age- and gender-adjusted qualifying standards, while a fundraising minimum exists for those looking to qualify as charity runners. No matter how you get there, though, “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” are two directions you won’t soon forget.

Looking to qualify for Boston in 2025? Get started with our trusted guide to the top Boston Marathon qualifying races across North America.

Click for details on Boston’s official charity program. See below for time qualifying standards, updated for the 2025 race. For UK residents, a limited number of guaranteed entries are available for purchase each year on a priority basis from Sports Tours International Limited and on a lottery basis from 2:09 Events.

Cutoff time: Six hours from the time the last starter crosses the start line in Hopkinton.

Minimum Qualifying Standards for the 2025 Boston Marathon

TCS London Marathon

TCS London Marathon logoApr 21, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 4.1 out of 5 (28 reviews)

With its densely packed field boasting all manner of costumed runners, London has earned a reputation as the ultimate 26.2-mile party. The course passes many of the city’s historic landmarks including Big Ben and Tower Bridge while finishing in front of Buckingham Palace. Runners agree that London is unrivaled for its quality of spectator support, with RaceRaves member Lorelei S. calling its crowds “the best on the planet”. At the same time it’s one of the most difficult races on the planet to get into, with an estimated acceptance rate of — this is not a typo — less than 5% of lottery entrants. Crikey!

Click for details on charity entry and “Good For Age” (exclusive to UK residents) time-qualifying standards.

Cutoff time: Currently 19:00 local time (BST), subject to the organizers’ discretion; in 2023 the “mass race” start time was 10:00 BST. Only competitors who complete the course before the cutoff time of 19:00 will be eligible for a finisher medal and inclusion in the official results.

BMW Berlin Marathon

BMW Berlin Marathon 50th Anniversary logoSep 29, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 4.2 out of 5 (62 reviews)

The fact that eight of the past nine men’s marathon world records (most recently in 2022) were set in Berlin speaks to the course’s fast and flat profile. As the first of three World Marathon Majors staged in the fall, Berlin typically offers ideal running weather on a course that showcases one of the world’s most historically significant cities. Though the crowded, narrow streets at times may feel more like a parade route than a marathon course, arguably no home stretch in the sport inspires such raw emotion as passing through the Brandenburg Gate with the Tiergarten finish line in sight.

Click for details on charity entry and time-qualifying standards.

Cutoff time: Six hours, 15 minutes after passing the start-line time measure mat; participants who do not meet this time limit must leave the course and continue on the sidewalk or ride in the broom wagon to the finish, and are not eligible to receive a medal, refreshment, massage or poncho.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Bank of America Chicago Marathon logoOct 13, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 4.7 out of 5 (137 reviews) 🏆

As the second largest member of the series, Chicago has several compelling factors in its favor. The first is its fast, flat course which takes runners on a scenic tour of the city’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The second is its Midwestern hospitality, on full display with jovial strangers congratulating you for hours after the race. And the third is its relatively sensible acceptance rate, which rivals Berlin as the highest among the World Marathon Majors. From its wide streets featuring ample elbow room to its finish in Grant Park, Chicago offers everything you could want in a big-city race.

Click for details on charity entry and time-qualifying standards. To secure guaranteed entry, runners must meet age-graded qualifying standards or qualify for the event’s American Development Program which recognizes the fastest amateur athletes. Chicago 2024 hopefuls must have met the time-qualifying standard between January 1, 2022 and the close of applications on November 17, 2023 or before the field reached capacity, whichever came first.

Cutoff time: Six hours, 30 minutes (approximately 15 minutes per mile) from start line to finish line; participants must meet this time limit in order to be recorded as an official finisher and to receive full on-course support from aid stations and traffic safety personnel.

TCS New York City Marathon

TCS New York City Marathon logoNov 3, 2024
RaceRaves rating: 4.6 out of 5 (125 reviews)

Annually the largest marathon in the world, New York is the 800-pound gorilla of the series with a world-record 53,636 runners crossing its Central Park finish line in 2019. Its sprawling course traverses the city’s five boroughs, starting on the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge in Staten Island and passing through Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx before finishing in Manhattan. And like the city itself, the race attracts a decidedly international field, with runners from all 50 U.S. states and (in 2023) 148 countries. If you’re looking for 26.2 miles of memories, no race does “epic” on a grander scale than New York City.

Click for details on charity entry and time-qualifying standards.

Cutoff time: The race officially ends at 8:00pm local time (EST). Sweep buses will follow the marathon route at a pace of 6 hours, 30 minutes (approximately 15 minutes per mile) after the final wave start; once these buses pass the streets will reopen to traffic, services such as aid stations and medical assistance will no longer be available, and participants on the course should move onto the sidewalks.

Wanda Age Group World Rankings

Complementing its long-time focus on professional athletes, in 2018 the series launched the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings to celebrate the achievements of age-group marathoners and “everyday champions.” Each year, marathon runners in nine separate age groups (ages 40–80+) can compete at any of 350+ Wanda Age Group Qualifying Races worldwide to earn an Automatic Qualifying Time. At the end of each qualifying period (Jan 1–Dec 31), the top-ranked age-group runners are invited to compete in the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championship, which typically takes place in tandem with one of the six World Marathon Majors.

For the fifth edition (qualifying period ending Dec 31, 2023), the World Championship will take place at the Sydney Marathon on Sep 15, 2024.


Whether you’re seeking the perfect first-time marathon or chasing the coveted Six Star Finisher Medal for completing the series, the Abbott World Marathon Majors offer something for every running enthusiast. If you’ve run one or more of these races, we and your fellow runners would love for you to post your review(s) and share your experiences here on RaceRaves!

(Updated Jan 23, 2024; originally published Jan 30, 2017)

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Author: Mike Sohaskey

RaceRaves co-founder Mike Sohaskey holding his Six Star Medal

Mike Sohaskey is the co-founder of RaceRaves, the premier online reviews community for runners to share their race experiences and find their next challenge. Mike honed his creative and critical thinking skills as a research scientist, earning a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford. He’s completed over 120 races — including 60+ marathons and ultras plus all six Abbott World Marathon Majors — in locations ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.

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4 thoughts on “Getting to know the Abbott World Marathon Majors

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! After running the Chicago Marathon this past October, I have been trying to figure out the information for the other races. It was great to have it all in one article. Thank you for putting this together!

    1. Our pleasure Cheryl, great to hear! We know how challenging it can be to piece together the details for all six races. Congrats on your Chicago finish, and good luck on the rest your Six Star journey… you have a lot to look forward to!

  2. Hi Mike ! Thank you for creating RaceRaves! You inspire me a fair bit! I am running the Berlin and AbbottWMM Age Group Championship at Chicago and then New York this year. I finished the Boston last year. So I would complete 4 out of six WM. Do we have to complete all six in one year ? It is very hard to get into London as they don’t accept qualifying time for non UK residents and lottery is almost impossible ! Thanks to you I realize that I can try Tokyo! All and all I enjoy RaceRaves. Thanks

    1. Much appreciated, Tam! And great question, we should add this point to the article soon since I’m sure a lot of folks are wondering the same thing. The answer is NO, you don’t need to complete all six in one year. In fact, there’s no time limit for finishing all the Majors. (A recent episode of the Marathon Talk podcast featured a fellow who took 46 years to finish all six! He first ran Chicago long before the series started.) So you can take your time and enjoy the journey. Congrats on your own Six Star progress, you’re well on your way and with a great autumn ahead! 👏

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