"Running is cheap; all you need is a good pair of sneakers."
Ummm ... no.
"Need" is the operative word, here. Forbes reported that road racing is a $1.4 billion+ industry, and running shoes are a $3 billion industry. You can drop a lot of money on something that theoretically only requires shoes and clothing. Once you catch the running bug, you'll want more than just sneakers. You'll also want:
- Attractive, effective gear for every season and weather situation
- Recovery fuel and electrolyte drinks
- A heart rate monitor
- A GPS watch
- Software to track your progress
- Running books to inspire and inform
And if you want to race, you'll also have to fork out money for:
- Race fees
- Transportation, meals out and lodging, if you're traveling to races
- Souvenirs: photos, jackets, official race gear, etc.
Taking it up a notch, If you're really-really serious about running, you may also want to:
- Hire a coach
- Join a gym so you can cross train or run inside during inclement weather
- Get occasional massages. All that running takes a toll on your body.
- Get tests done, like lactate threshold testing, to pinpoint your training numbers, or blood work to assess your ferritin levels
- Sleep in an oxygen tent. Or travel to train at altitude before key races. (Usually reserved for elite athletes, but some diehards indulge.)
Can you say "cha-ching?"
Want to enjoy running without running out of money? Try these tips.
Saving on race entries
- Sign up early. The closer you get to an event, the more expensive it is to sign up. Plus, many events only promise shirts and other race swag to those who sign up early. Follow race timing companies on Facebook, and register for emails to get alerts for early-bird prices.
- Run for a charity and raise money. Many charities offer free or discounted race bibs if you raise a certain dollar amount for their cause.
- Run as a volunteer. Certain running organizations like Achilles sometimes offer discounts or even free bibs to program volunteers.
- Run with a track club. Track clubs may not pay for all of your race bibs but they'll almost certainly cover some. For example, my team, the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, got elite bibs for the Philadelphia Marathon, Half Marathon and Rothman 8K.
- Run as a pacer. If you're experienced and just want to get a run in while helping others, consider signing up as a pace group leader for a marathon or a half marathon.
- Apply for race fee assistance if you need it. Some larger running clubs and organizations, like the New York Road Runners, offer race assistance for runners in need.
Some might suggest "running bandit" (running the race without a bib or paying) as a money-saving option, but I frown on bandit runners for several reasons. They crowd the course and use resources that other runners paid for. They're basically freeloading. No bueno. Especially when you could do any of the above to reduce or eliminate your race fee.
Saving on running apparel
- Shop at the end of the season. A no brainer. Pounce when sales hit and take advantage of rock-bottom prices. (Here's a recap of my January sale haul.)
- Sign up for your favorite running apparel company's emails. Adidas, for example, often sends out 25-30% off coupons for gear.
- Consider lower-end stores. I love Lululemon but I don't always love their prices. I've purchased attractive running gear at Gap, Old Navy and Athleta, All much cheaper than Lulu but basically the same quality. (All share the same holding company.) Don't forget to also check out racks at stores like Marshall's and TJ Maxx. They often carry fashionable, brand-name running apparel, like Nike and UnderArmour, at discounted prices.
- Let go of the need to run in the latest shoe. Running shoe companies are forever changing their models. Some runners have to run in the very latest model. Not me. When I find a shoe I like, I will continue to buy it until it's no longer made, for economic reasons and because it's just simpler to find what you like and stick to it. Prices on old models tend to fall as time goes on. When I used to run in the Nike Air Pegasus, the newest models tended to run about $110 but the older models that I enjoyed running in were only $60-65.
- Run with a track club. Again, if your club has a decent sponsor, you may get free gear. My team, the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, is sponsored by Puma and Philly Runner. The women got attractive Puma boy shorts and buns, crop tops for summer and singlets with built-in bras for cooler weather racing. The men also got attractive singlets.
- Buy throwaway gear for races at thrift stores. Preferably on $1 or half-off days. Most races collect throwaway clothing and donate it to shelters or other organizations so it's a win-win. Also use old race shirts as throwaway gear.
- Shop around. This is a no brainer that applies to every purchase in life, not just running clothing and gear. Don't grab the first, most-expensive donut from the plate. A little research time can pay off, literally.
- Read reviews and think about price per wear or price per use. Cheapest is not always smartest. Paying more for something makes sense if it will last that much longer or perform better. I don't, for example, pay a lot for running bras because the elastic wears out at about the same rate whether I buy them for $15 at Old Navy or for $1500 at Gucci (Kidding. I don't buy running bras at Gucci. Come to think of it, I don't buy anything at Gucci.) But tights are a different matter. Some tights are visibly flimsy, poorly made and are basically disposable. I only own 3 pairs of long running tights, and it's no accident that 2 of them are Brooks. At about $90-100 a pop, they are not the cheapest option. But the price per wear ends up being lower because the quality is better. I have had them for years. I have worn the heck out of them, yet they still look brand new.
Saving on running extras – massage, equipment, classes, etc
Run with a track club. I sound like a broken record, but many track clubs – for both serious speedsters and weekend warriors – offer significant discounts to members. My team, for example, has worked out a discount with Phila Massages, since so many of us use their services (I highly recommend Phila Massages.).
Put out the word. If you need or want something – perhaps a new foam roller or a hot pink pair of compression socks – drop a hint to your loved ones in advance of your birthday or the holidays. They would rather buy you a gift you would like and use. And you would rather get a new foam roller than the "Greatest Hits of Englebert Humperdinck" on vinyl, right?
Barter. Years ago, my good friend, a massage therapist, needed new business cards. And I needed massages. I designed her cards. She gave me a few sports massages. Win-win.
Take advantage of discounts. If you are joining a gym, see if your employer or another organization you belong to offers a discount. Be sure you are aware of all the discounts available; check in with your human resources department. My old company, for example, offered each employee $200 to spend each year on health-related endeavors. I used this money for race fees, sneakers, etc.
- Stock up during sales. When an item you frequently use goes on sale, say gels for long runs, take advantage of the savings.