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Chicago Marathon Registration and How To Avoid Getting Shut Out

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The recent increase in the popularity of running races (and the simplicity of online registrations) has resulted in a challenging situation: the Sold Out Race. For many of us, race registration is something to delay, lest we put the cart before the horse and end up in a race that we're not in shape for. Last weekend I was caught off-guard when I discovered the half marathon I was planning to run in March is sold out. Worse still, no marathon drop-downs are allowed if the half is sold out and race regos are non-transferrable.

With yesterday's opening of registration for this year's Chicago Marathon, many runners are faced with a difficult decision: do I sign up seven months ahead of the race and risk losing $150? Adding to the pressure of the decision-making process is the fact that last year's race sold out in 31 days, far faster than the previous year's 51-day sellout. Even more challenging is the online registration for the Marine Corps Marathon, which sold out in 28 hours last year (at least MCM bibs are transferrable).

Race sell-outs aren't rare, but the speed with which some races have sold out is astonishing; the 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in eight hours. Eight. The rapid sell-out of Boston last year resulted in qualifying changes for the race in 2012 (qualifying times were trimmed by 5 minutes per age bracket), and a graded registration system was employed, allowing the fastest racers to sign up before those who barely hit their BQ. (New York famously has its lottery system, which is still open).

So what is there to learn from these facts (and my stupidity)?

  • If you're certain that you'll be able to get into shape by race day, sign up when you can -- many races prorate early sign-ups, incentivizing registrations that come months in advance by lessening the financial risk involved.
  • If you're not certain that you'll be able to get in shape by race-day, pick a race that's less likely to sell out. Picking a somewhat local race often is a good idea for these situations as well.
  • Be aware of the popularity of the race you're signing up for, and when the registration opens. Look at previous years of the race and note how quickly they have sold out.
  • Have a back-up race planned within a few weeks of your target race -- especially if you've already started training (for Chicago, the Columbus Marathon is a good alternative flat Midwestern course).
  • If you've committed to running with someone else (like I did), sign up when they do. Then you won't risk letting others down.
  • Don't book non-refundable hotels and the like until you're certain that you're signed up for the race.
  • Don't talk about running an upcoming race unless you've registered (this is mostly a note for me so that I don't write a race plan for the year that is inaccurate a few weeks later).
  • Half marathons are far more popular than full marathons and are more likely to sell out.
  • Races in the first five months of the year tend to be more likely to sell out due to Resolutioners.

Any other tips on avoiding the shutout?