The Cost of (Casually) Running a Marathon

Is running actually a frugal way to keep fit?

The Long Run

When I was young, my dad told me that running is one of the cheapest ways to stay fit. He would send me on the three mile course around my neighborhood to get in shape for whatever sport I had coming up that season: “Just a pair of running shoes, a t-shirt, and shorts!” How simple it seemed to throw on some ratty clothes and move around the neighborhood at a pace barely faster than a walk.

Ever since, I have had a love-hate relationship with running. I’m a bit addicted to the challenge it brings, pushing myself to run longer distances, wondering when my body will finally break. (This seems like an extremely unhealthy way to go about life, please don’t mind me.)

But beyond the challenge, I find running miserable. It’s miserable to plant one foot in front of the other for minutes, maybe hours, on end with little to distract you but the loud sound of your own obnoxious breathing. It’s miserable to think about going for a run, getting up early or leaving work on time to throw on your workout clothes and burst out your door. It’s especially miserable to develop a cramp during a run and be too far from home to stop but in too much pain to continue.

“Running is a cheap way to stay fit” has been my mantra for ages, which I suppose is why I continue to put myself in a position of running as often as I do. But how inexpensive is it really?

Last year I ran the Chicago Marathon. It was a whirlwind of long summer Saturday runs, a flight from Newark to O’Hare, a hotel check-in, some beautiful sightseeing, a devastating race that almost destroyed my hip and my knee, and another flight home. I was thrilled I had the chance to explore a new city, even when I was partially blinded by my own sweat and tears during the race, but I wondered: how much did running a marathon actually cost me? Aside from my physical welfare and emotionally drained psyche, I wanted to calculate how much it cost my wallet to run 26.2 miles. Because it certainly doesn’t feel like a cheap sport anymore.

A few months ago I signed up for yet another marathon, my third, the Philadelphia Marathon on November 20, 2016. In an effort to better budget for this race, I have calculated and projected my full expenses, seven weeks into my eighteen week training program. Here’s where I stand:

$105, Marathon Registration

The Philadelphia Marathon is relatively easy to sign up for (no lottery, so you can definitely get a bib) but when you sign up matters. The closer you get to the race, the more expensive it is. I registered in mid-May, a couple days earlier and it would have been $10 cheaper.

FREE, Hal Higdon Marathon Training Program

I picked the Novice 1 program (I used the same for the Chicago Marathon) and plugged the eighteen week schedule into my calendar. I began my training on July 18. Four run days and three rest/cross-training days a week.

$119, New Balance Running Shoes

At the beginning of, or several weeks into, a training program, I get myself some new kicks. This is mainly so that I can learn how my body responds to new shoes in every condition (weather, terrain). Also by the time the race comes around, they will be completely broken in. Soon after the race finishes, I will get a new pair because I read somewhere that you should only run a couple hundred miles in each pair of sneakers you have. From the beginning to end of my training, I will have run around 461.3 miles.

$100, Leggings, Socks, Shirts, Sports Bras, Shorts, Hair Elastics (projected)

When I run, I don’t use the nicest clothing available. Why? Because I don’t have endless amounts of money to spend on fancy t-shirts or name-brand leggings. I buy a lot of my clothes from thrift stores, consignment locations or sample sale deals I find in Manhattan. Plus I have a lot of shirts, socks, shorts, leggings, and bras from years past. So I budget about $100 for added costs to beef up my wardrobe and make sure I have the appropriate clothing for all weather conditions.

$23.14, Lärabar Variety Pack (16 Count)

This may not have been my most economical purchase but I wanted to find a healthy snack bar to munch on before/after my long runs. In order to decide which flavors I liked best, I ordered the variety pack on Amazon.

Unsurprisingly, I only really like one or two of the flavors, but I will finish them and buy a pack of the flavor I like (Blueberry Muffin or Chocolate Chip Cherry Torte for those of you who are curious about my tastes) if I need to supplement later in my training.

$12.99, Foam Roller

I had a lot of problems (knee, hip) during my Chicago race so I decided that I would purchase a small foam roller to work on my muscles after my longer runs.

$180, Yoga Classes (for cross-training)

At a local yoga studio near my apartment there is a pay-as-you-wish sliding scale of $7–15. To cross-train, I try to do at least one yoga class a week, throwing $10 into the jar each time.

$85.80, Merrill Lynch Harrisburg Half Marathon

The training schedule recommends that runners do a half marathon during Week 8 to break up the monotony of the schedule and to learn how to set a good pace. I didn’t do a real race last year and I wish I had. I found the Harrisburg Half Marathon lined up exactly with my training so I impulsively signed up for it.

$88.00, Round-trip Amtrak Tickets to Harrisburg from NYC

Of course, my impulsive decision led to a lot more spending. I need to travel to Harrisburg and book a place to stay.

$140.96, One Night Stay in Harrisburg

I found a moderately priced hotel near the start line of the half marathon so I won’t have to take a car or public transportation. I will walk from the train station to the hotel and from the hotel to the start/finish line of the race. I’ve never been to Harrisburg and I’m looking forward to exploring a new city.

$100, Harrisburg Budget (projected)

I will bring $100 to spend on food and necessities while I am in Harrisburg. I don’t expect to spend this much but I did some basic research on the city and intend to check out the brewery and some local restaurants during my 24-hour stay.

$20, Round-trip Bus Tickets to Philadelphia from NYC (projected)

The weekend of the marathon, I will need tickets to and from NYC. I looked up basic bus tickets on Wanderu and expect to spend around $8–10 each way.

FREE, Accommodations

I’m staying with a friend in Philadelphia who is also running the race so I won’t be spending much on living costs while I’m in the city.

Priceless: Eating for Two, for One

The main reason I run is not because it’s extraordinarily fun — honestly, if you have read this entire post, you’ll find I don’t actually like running all that much — but instead to eat like nobody is watching/judging/caring. Shockingly, no one is ever watching/judging/caring, I just like to think that people are supremely interested in my life. Two slices of cake? Why yes, I just ran 10 miles. Second breakfast? Yes, that’s what the Olympians do, so I will do it too. Loaded nachos? Has anyone ever said no to these?

(Projected) TOTAL: $974.89

Ok, so running — or in my case, jogging — is actually costing me quite a bit. But I’m relatively happy to spend my money this way. I get to visit two different cities, explore local haunts during my long training runs, and eat like an unhealthy pregnant woman for four months. You win some (chocolate cake), and you lose some (toenails).

Maria Whelan is a book publicist in New York; when she’s not running around Prospect Park, she’s at the local library picking up ten more books to read.

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