In the world of marathon running, there is no accomplishment quite like finishing the six Abbott World Marathon Majors. Comprising six of the world’s biggest and most prestigious marathons, the World Majors stand out as a unique quest in marathoning, with thousands of runners from around the world aiming to complete the task (and get the gorgeous medal that comes with it). So what are the World Majors and how do you run them? I’m here to explain it all.
What are the Abbott World Marathon Majors?
The Abbott World Marathon Majors, often called the World Marathon Majors or the Marathon Majors, is a race series of six prestigious marathons run each year across the globe. Many of the six races have existed for decades. The concept of the Marathon Majors was created in 2006 to championship series for elite runners to compete in. High-ranking finishers in each race would earn points with the runner who garnered the most points at the end of the series taking home an additional title and prize money. Originally the Marathon Majors included the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York Marathons, but the Tokyo Marathon was added in 2013 as the sixth.
While the series have been a draw for elite runners since 2006, they became more popular with amateur runners starting in 2016, when the Six Star Finisher Medal was introduced. This medal, awarded to runners who have completed all six races, made the World Majors “bucket list” races with an increasing number of runners attempting to finish all six. With the completion of the 2023 Tokyo Marathon, over 11,000 runners have competed all six races.
Every year, Abbott World Marathon Majors also hosts a global run club, a virtual global community of marathon runners seeking to participate in one of the upcoming marathons.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors grow in popularity every year. The marathons are frequented by Olympic and elite athletes as well as celebrities and amateur runners alike.
Which marathons are included in the Abbott World Marathon Majors?
The six Marathon Majors are the Tokyo Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the London Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, and the New York City Marathon.
- Tokyo Marathon – The only World Major set in Asia, the premiere Japanese marathon sees runners winding through the massive metropolis before finishing outside the Imperial Palace. Tokyo hosted marathons since the ‘80s. The modern Tokyo Marathon was founded in 2007, with the course modified to its current iteration in 2017.
- Boston Marathon – The oldest and most prestigious of the Marathon Majors, Boston features a point-to-point course in which runners trek 26.2 miles from the Massachusetts countryside into the heart of the city. It is also the sole Marathon Major without a general entry lottery meaning that runners need to qualify to run with blisteringly fast race times.
- TCS London Marathon – Held every spring (often less than a week after Boston), London sends runners from one end of the city to the other before finishing in front of Buckingham Palace. The course is lauded as one of the most interesting in the group, and it’s one of the most difficult to gain entry to if you aren’t a Brit.
- BMW Berlin Marathon – Germany’s largest marathon is a loop of Berlin with runners racing through the iconic Brandenburg Gate before finishing. Famed for its flat course, the Berlin Marathon often yields impressive PRs and is used to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It’s also the only World Major to include an inline skating division.
- Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Perhaps the easiest of the six to earn entry into, the Chicago Marathon is often one of the first run by those in search of the Six Star Finisher Medal. It winds through dozens of Chicago’s iconic neighborhoods with a clover-shaped course that repeatedly returns to the beautiful downtown. Like Berlin, it’s known for its flat course. In 2023, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is the race for the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships. The entire AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World rankings can be viewed here.
- TCS New York City Marathon – New York’s marathon is the world’s largest when it comes to field size with over 53,000 runners in 2019. With perhaps the most difficult course of the six, the marathon traverses all five of the city’s boroughs, sending runners up and over a number of bridges as they make their way to the Central Park finish.
Because of the scale and popularity of these marathon events, there is no half marathon on the same day of the marathon races. The most popular half marathon races that correspond with the Abbott World Marathon Majors are:
- The Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon in October 2023
- The B.A.A. Half Marathon in November 2023
- The Big Half on September 3, 2023
- The Generali Berlin Half Marathon on April 2, 2023
- The Bank of America Chicago 13.1 on June 4, 2023
- The NYRR RBC Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 20, 2023
When are the World Marathon Majors?
Each of the six Abbott World Majors are run every year with Tokyo, Boston, and London taking place in the spring and Berlin, Chicago, and New York taking place in the fall.
Here are the 2023 race dates:
- Tokyo Marathon: March 5, 2023 (typically the first Sunday in March)
- Boston Marathon: April 17, 2023 (typically the third Monday in April or Patriot’s Day)
- London Marathon: April 23, 2023 (typically the last Sunday in April)
- Berlin Marathon: September 24, 2023 (typically the last Sunday in September)
- Chicago Marathon: October 8, 2023 (typically the second Sunday in October)
- New York City Marathon: November 5, 2023 (typically the first Sunday in November)
How do you enter the World Marathon Majors?
Here’s how it works – due to their popularity, cost, and geographic locations, often gaining entry to the six races is nearly as difficult as running them. In general there are three ways to enter the Marathon Majors, but the specifics vary from race to race. The three most common entry methods are:
- Win the entry lottery: Every Major marathon with the exception of Boston has a general entry lottery, meaning that anyone, regardless of talent, may submit an application and be drawn at random to participate in the race. Depending on your citizenship and the race, however, some are much easier to enter than others.
- Time-qualify: All of the races with the exception of London (unless your a UK resident) have time-qualifying standards, meaning that if you can run a qualifying marathon fast enough, you can secure guaranteed entry separate of the lottery.
- Run for charity: If you have your heart set on running one of the races but don’t win the lottery and aren’t fast enough to time qualify, you can raise money for a charity (the amount varies by race) to earn a guaranteed bid. This is a nice option if there is one or two races you’re having difficulty qualifying for.
Check out the website for each of the six Major marathons for more specifics:
- Tokyo Marathon: The lottery and application dates are in the late summer/early fall, but the field is mostly Japanese runners so entry for Americans can be difficult to attain.
- Boston Marathon: Without a general lottery, those wishing to enter must submit qualifying times from qualifying races by September to gain entry for the following year’s race. However, the process is more complicated than it sounds because if too great a number of runners meet the qualifying times only the fastest of the qualifiers will actually be admitted to the race. Long story short, you could run fast enough to “qualify” but still not be fast enough to actually receive entry.
- London Marathon: For those who aren’t UK residents, gaining entry to the London Marathon via the lottery can be difficult and there is no time qualifying for international runners. You can, however, qualify through their charity program.
- Berlin Marathon: Submit your entry for Berlin each fall to run the following year. Berlin is one of the easier lotteries to win and you can enter as a group rather than individuals which is nice so that you and your significant other/friend can get into the same year’s race.
- Chicago Marathon: Enter in the fall to run Chicago the following fall. Lottery, time qualifying, and charity spots are all available so you have plenty of options for entering.
- New York City Marathon: For New York City residents you can qualify through New York Road Runners’ 9+1 program. For everyone else there is a lottery held every winter in addition to time qualifying and charity slots.
Is there a second chance if I don’t win the lottery for a World Major?
Starting in 2023, there is for the first time an additional way to enter a World Major if you’re close to securing the coveted Six Star Finisher Medal. Due to the increased volume of applicants for the six Majors and it being more difficult than ever to gain entry into the races, Abbott has provided an addition pathway for avid marathoners. Now after the traditional lottery for each race, additional entry slots will be doled out to runners who are well on their way to running all six. The specifics are layed out here, but if you’ve completed three of the Majors you could receive a second chance entry for the London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York Marathons. If you’ve run all five of the other marathons, you could get a second stab at entries for Tokyo and Boston.
Who has won the most recent Marathon Majors?
Here’s a list of the most recent winners along with their times:
- Tokyo 2023:
- Male: Deso Gelmisa (2:05:22)
- Female: Rosemary Wanjiru (2:16:28)
- Boston 2022:
- Male: Evans Chebet (2:06:51)
- Female: Peres Jepchirchir (2:21:01)
- London 2022:
- Male: Amos Kipruto (2:04:39)
- Female: Yalemzerf Yehualaw (2:17:26)
- Berlin 2022:
- Male: Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09)
- Female: Tigist Assefa (2:15:37)
- Chicago 2022:
- Male: Benson Kipruto (2:04:24)
- Female: Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18)
- New York City 2022:
- Male: Evans Chebet (2:08:41)
- Female: Sharon Lokedi (2:23:23)
What is the Six Star Finisher Medal and how do you earn one?
The Six Star Finisher Medal is a special medal given to runners who have completed all six of the World Marathon Majors. After you complete your first Major, you can sign up on the Abbott World Marathon Major website and “claim your star” for the race. This is called the Six Star Journey. As you run the following four races, you can continue to claim stars. When entering your sixth and final race, you can sign up ahead of time to notify Abbott that you will be completing your final Major. Then at the finish line of the race, you’ll follow a separate exit path which will lead through an area dedicated to Six Star finishers where you will receive your medal.
Will there be more Abbott World Marathon Majors added to the list?
The answer seems to be yes. The process to become a World Marathon Major is exacting and involves running your race for three years following strict protocol from Abbott. Currently three marathons are attempting to become the seventh World Major sometime after 2025. The Sydney Marathon in Australia, the Cape Town Marathon in South Africa, and the Chengdu Marathon in China are the three races vying to make it a Seven Star Finisher Medal. Sydney and Cape Town would be the first marathon in Oceania and Africa respectively to each the prestigious mark, making them the most likely winners. Many in the running community have been asking for an African World Major. The winners of the vast majority of the Majors in years past have been from that continent. For the next few years, however, only six races will hold the title.