A Guide to The Abbott World Marathon Majors

Photo: Marco Verch Creative Commons

If you’ve been around distance running for a while, you might have heard of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. They represent some of the largest and most famous marathons in the world. Most people have heard of the Boston Marathon even if they’ve never run in a race before. Well, Boston happens to be one of the Abbott World Marathon major events during the year. These six marathons take place in the same location each year and are where the fastest and most well-known marathon runners compete for prize money and attempt to shatter marathon world records. 

These amazing events also play host to thousands of everyday marathon runners who come from all over the globe to run and enjoy what each city has to offer. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know the thrill of arriving at the day where you put your training to the test, wake up early and prepare to cross the starting line. And if you’re lucky enough to qualify or win an entry via lottery or raise money for a charity, the World Majors marathons are even more exciting, global in scope and are the largest events of their kind in the world! In short, these six marathons are the Super Bowl or World Cup of marathons. 

Here’s an overview of the six Abbott World Majors with the race dates and how to enter each of them. I’ve included a number of quick links to the individual race sites for lottery and drawing info, charity pages and other handy links that are sometimes buried in the marathon web sites.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors are:

Berlin Marathon
Chicago Marathon
New York Marathon
Tokyo Marathon
Boston Marathon
London Marathon

BMW Berlin Marathon 

When: September 29th, 2024
Runners in 2023: 47,912
Established: 1974
Lottery to enter? Yes
Charity entries available? Yes

The first race in 1974 was started by a running enthusiast and a baker named Horst Milde. That first year there were 244 finishers — 234 men and 10 women. Over the following years the race grew and even reached a number of runners from East Germany who had to register under false names to run the race. 

September 30, 1990 was the first time runners were able to travel through the Brandenburg Gate. Prior to that the city was divided by east and west. The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 meant that the city would be unified and the course could include both parts of the city. This made that year’s marathon particularly historic and emotional for German athletes. 

The course is known for being flat and fast. The marathon course is a loop that starts and finishes near the Brandenburg Gate. In 2022, Eliud Kipchoge set the marathon world record in Berlin with an incredible time of 2:01:39. 

Like all World Marathon Majors, getting into the Berlin marathon can be a challenge for the non-elite marathoner. Here are ways to get into the Berlin Marathon. 

Gain an entry with Berlin Marathon charity partners.

Enter the Berlin Marathon lottery during the entry window. 

Book with an official tour operator with the Berlin Marathon and get an entry as part of the purchase of your hotel package. 

Bank of America Chicago Marathon 

When: October 13th 2024
Finishers in 2023: 48,398
Established: 1977
Lottery to enter? Yes
Charity entries available? Yes

Each year, over 1.7 million spectators line the course that spans 29 separate neighborhoods across the city of Chicago. Last year, Chicago hosted over 48,398 runners–which is quite a bit more than the first marathon in 1977–which had about 4,200 participants. 

The marathon starts and ends at the iconic Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The park is huge at over 300 acres and it feels like runners take up all the space before the marathon. A throng of anxious runners gather around Grant Park’s huge Buckingham Fountain as they warm up and make their final preparations before migrating to the starting corrals. 

The crowds in Chicago are huge, loud and enthusiastic and seem to occupy nearly the entire route. The course is as flat as they come — with an elevation gain of 243 feet (74m) and elevation loss of 242 feet (73m). 

In 2023, runner Kelvin Kiptum set a new marathon world record with a finishing time of 2:00:35. This time beat the previous world record set the year before at the Berlin marathon by fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge at the 2022 Berlin Marathon by 34 seconds.

Here is an overview of the ways to apply for the Chicago Marathon including lottery info, charity entries and age group qualifying times. 

TCS New York City Marathon

When: November 3rd, 2024 
Runners in 2023: 51,453
Largest ever field: 53,520
Established: 1970
Lottery to enter? Yes
Charity entries available? Yes

This iconic marathon spans all five of New York City’s boroughs–starting on Staten Island and running through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx before ending up in Central Park in Manhattan.

The race is held each year on the first Sunday in November and is the largest marathon in the world! It truly is a global event with runners from approximately 148 countries participating in 2023.

If you’re lucky enough to get into the race, you’ll be treated to over 1 million spectators cheering you on along the course and thousands of volunteers who provide support to the runners. The New York Marathon has raised over $520 million for charities since 2006. 

New York Marathon lottery information

New York Marathon charity info

There is an additional opportunity to gain charity entries by joining the New York Road Runners (NYRR.org) running club. There are various membership levels available and anyone can be a member. Members are eligible for a second chance drawing sometime after the general lottery drawing. You can find more info on NYRR here.

Tokyo Marathon

When: March 2nd 2025
Number of runners in 2023: 38,000
Established: 2007
Lottery to enter? Yes 
Charity entries available: Yes

In 2013, the Tokyo Marathon was added as the sixth event in the World Marathon Majors. The course was revised in 2017 to start at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the Shinjuku ward and end at Tokyo Station in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. The course itself is relatively flat and fast and the pristine conditions of the Tokyo streets means the running surface is mostly free of potholes and other common road hazards. 

You may read or hear that compared to other World Majors marathons, the crowds in Tokyo are quiet but supportive. I ran in Tokyo in 2024 and I am happy to report that the crowds are plentiful and enthusiastic. They are more organized and coordinated than other races so they will cheer in unison and/or wear the same outfits but there are plenty of individuals and families cheering you on along the way. The overwhelming feeling you’ll get from this marathon is that it’s ultra-organized, clean and packed with friendly volunteers who do their best to make your marathon experience in Tokyo unforgettable. 

The 2020 marathon also served as the trial for the Olympics held in Tokyo the following year. Due to the pandemic, only elite runners were able to run this year and all other runners got a deferral until 2021. 

If you are looking to enter via a charity, there are 5,000 spots available. The Tokyo charity process can be a bit confusing, but the gist is you apply, make a bid at least at the minimum level and then are selected by the individual charity you apply to. The Tokyo marathon Charity page provides an overview along with dates for the charity entry process. 

You can find information on the 2025 Tokyo Marathon here

Boston Marathon 

When: April 21st, 2025 
Number of runners in 2024: 26,491
Established: 1897
Lottery to enter? No
Charity entries available? Yes

For most marathon runners, the Boston Marathon is the dream race because it’s the most difficult to get into based on qualifying time standards–which have gotten even lower over the last decade. However, there is hope for non-time qualifiers if you can secure a charity entry. 

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest. It was founded in 1897 and has been run every year with the exception of 2020 which was canceled due to the pandemic. 

The Boston Marathon is held each year on the third Monday in April. This is a holiday observed by Massachuets and five other states called Patriot’s Day–which commemorates some of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. 

It may be hard to believe, but women were not officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972. Nina Kuscsik was among eight women competitors that first year and she won with a time of 3:10:26. 

The first time a woman unofficially ran the marathon was in 1966. After her race application was rejected, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb snuck onto the starting line on April 19, 1966 and became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She was so angry when she got her rejection letter, she asked her mother to drive her from their home in San Diego all the way to Boston so she could run the race. 

At age 80, she recounted that other male runners eventually discovered she was a woman but were supporting her all the way and wouldn’t allow her to be pulled from the race. 

Boston Marathon Qualifying Standards

Boston Marathon Charity Information

TCS London Marathon

When: April 27th 2025
Number of runners in 2024: 54,281
Established: 1981
Lottery to enter? Yes
Charity entries available? Yes

The London marathon takes you through some of the most iconic locations in the world. This point to point marathon begins in a huge open field in Blackheath and takes you through the streets of London where you’ll pass iconic landmarks like Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The race finishes just in front of Buckingham Palace. 

One of the highlights of this race has to be crossing the Tower Bridge around the halfway point of the race. Rounding the corner and seeing the bridge ahead of you, knowing you’ll soon be crossing it is an experience of a lifetime. 

The crowds along the marathon route are huge, loud and very enthusiastic. The course is almost entirely flat and any elevation changes are gradual and quite manageable. This is one of the best organized and most supported marathons in the world with the city really coming out to support the athletes with ample facilities at the start and finish line. Water and electrolytes are plentiful at nearly all the mile markers. 

London Marathon lottery (ballot) entry information.

London Marathon charity information.

London Marathon Age Qualifying Standards

Six Star Journey – Completing All the Abbott World Marathon Majors

There are many thousands of marathoners throughout the world who are pursuing their six stars–finishing all 6 marathon majors. Unless you are an elite runner and can time qualify for each race, getting your 6 stars can be a real challenge as race entries for each marathon are  highly sought after and limited each year. 

If you are interested in running any or all of these marathons, be sure to stay up to date on when the lottery is held for each marathon and when to apply with the participating charities.  

For even more tips, you can join the official Abbott Six Star Journey Facebook Group. You’ll find a wealth of tips from those who have made it into any or all of the races and inspiration too from six star medal recipients. 

Another resource is the Abbott Global Run Club. Creating an account is free and you can often find insider info and special promotions on marathon majors. This is also the official home of where you’ll register any results you have from these races to track your stars. 

Tour Operators

Each marathon participates with a limited number of tour operators around the world which allow you to gain a race entry by purchasing a tour and hotel package. Tours are normally available only to residents outside the country the race is being held at. So if you are in the U.S. and buy a tour package for Belin for example, you’ll be able to get in through this method.

These packages can be quite expensive but the reviews overall and the word-of-mouth reviews I’ve heard indicate they are a good way to go if you’ve got the cash. Each marathon site has a list of official tour operators.

We will do our best to add to this guide periodically to give you the latest information on these events. If we missed something important or you have a tip, let us know! 

Best of luck on achieving your marathon dreams!