8 Registration Hacks for Getting into Washington’s Top Races and Marathons

Missed out on the Marine Corps Marathon? An experienced race director shares her insider tips for getting a slot in one of DC’s most in-demand races.

2015 Marine Corps Marathon.

Washington is a hot spot for runners–tens of thousands of runners congregate in the nation’s capital for races throughout the year, from the Marine Corps Marathon and the Army Ten-Miler in October to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in March and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in April. But these races’ overwhelming popularity has also made it a bit of pure luck for runners to secure a spot–in 2012, the Marine Corps Marathon sold out in two hours and 41 minutes. And as the bigger races continue to add lottery programs, entry to the area’s best races is becoming more and more based on chance.

But there are a few ways you can put the odds in your favor, and to find out more about them, we consulted Kathy Dalby, CEO of Pacers Running. As CEO, Dalby both oversees the brand’s five stores as well as the Pacers-hosted road races. With her background as a race director, Dalby knows the ins and outs (and insider secrets) to getting registered for race day.

Start thinking about registration a year out.

Whether the race you’re looking to get into accepts registrants through a lottery or on a first-come, first-serve basis, either way, DC’s most in-demand races don’t give registrants much time to get their name on the list. In 2015, the Marine Corps Marathon lottery was only open for ten days. “You have to know when the registration dates are happening, and a lot of time they’re six to nine months before the race date,” says Dalby. Start looking today for the races you’ll want to run a year from now. (Pro tip: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon is already accepting registrants for March 12, 2016, as is the Parkway Classic for April 24, 2016, and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run lottery will open December 1 through 12.)

Be a repeat customer.

“Legacy runners–those who run a race a number of times–will sometimes get guaranteed entry,” says Dalby. While this won’t help you get into your first marathon, being a repeat runner is in your favor with the race lotteries. In fact, if you compete in five Marine Corps Marathons, you’re eligible to join the MCM Running Club, which guarantees entry for all future Marine Corps Marathons.

Volunteer now, run later.

“In some races, if you volunteer, they’ll guarantee your entry for the next year,” says Dalby. “So if you think you want to get into one of these big races, you can look into the options you have a year prior to help guarantee your slot for the next year.” For example, those who don’t get into the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Race through the lottery can volunteer in 2016 to guarantee they can run in 2017.

Partner with a charity.

“If you don’t get in through the lottery, almost every race has some kind of charity component to it where you can raise money for a specific charity and get a guaranteed entry that way,” says Dalby. “Name a charity, and they probably have what’s called an ‘endurance program,’ which is essentially when the charity buys slots from the marathon, and then produces fundraising goals.” Even though the Marine Corps Marathon is filled for this October, there may still be slots available for those who contact their charity partners.

Pay attention to the race sponsors.

“Look at the race sponsors, and if you have a connection with one of them–you’re an employee or a customer–you can go to those sponsors, and they might also have a slot or two as part of their sponsorship package,” says Dalby. While there’s no guarantee you’ll get a spot through a sponsor, it’s a good place to start when hunting down a last-minute race entry.

Keep an ear to the ground in the running world.

As the race approaches, there are always some runners that, due to injury or not enough training or a scheduling conflict, won’t be able to compete. Many races allow registrants to transfer their slot to someone else if they don’t intend to run, but Dalby warns runners against looking for these transfers on the race website message boards. “It’s a seller’s market for sure,” she says. Instead, Dalby recommends interested participants “ask your friend of a friend or your colleague who runs with the running club–there’s always someone.”

Always have a plan B.

After all the dollars spent registering and the hours spent training, if the race weekend arrives and something comes up, you won’t want all of your hard work to have gone to waste. “I always like to tell people to have a plan B,” says Dalby. “Great plan B races for the Marine Corps would be Philadelphia and Richmond–great events, well run, a couple of weeks later, and they don’t fill up so soon.” Registration is still open for both the Philadelphia Marathon and the Richmond Marathon.

Watch your bank statement.

If you’re waiting to hear if you’ve made it through the lottery, Dalby recommends you keep an eye on your bank statement. “They’ll run your card before they send you the email,” says Dalby. If friends are starting to announce on social media that they’ve made it into the race, it might be time to take a look at your plan B options. “Start thinking about your next race you want to run, because there’s going to be a lot of people who get denial letters, and they may take slots in races that you want to run.”

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.