Has anyone ever told you running is a low-cost sport? I agree and disagree with this statement. Running starts as a frugal sport but most runners eventually find themselves wanting a challenge. This challenge often takes the form of running their first 5K race. I was there myself, back in 2008. Completing your first race is an exhilarating experience. Some runners decide they don’t like racing, others however, finish wanting more. This is why a racing budget is important.
In the past I have mentioned opting to run fewer distance races due to expense. In fact I first talked about this in 2011 when I was living in Fort Wayne, Indiana – which looking back – was an incredibly affordable location and time for races. Of course, we have also had a little bit of inflation since then.
Back then I ran anywhere from a 5K to a half-marathon. The most I would pay for a 5K or 10K race was $18. If the fee was $20 or $25 or even $30 – forget it. Not much has changed for me in that area, except that finding a 5K for that price is next to impossible these days. Today, in 2017, my unscientific analysis would say the average price of a 5K in a large metro area like Cleveland, Ohio is $25 to $35.
I found a 2011 report by Runner’s World in which a race director was quoted saying entry into her race was $20 and that ten years prior in 2001 that entry fee was $15. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reports race fees are escalating due to runner demand – as long as runners continue to pay the fees will increase.
As the distance increases, so often does price. In addition, what you “get” with the race can impact race entry fees. Today I’m seeing more and more races that offer technical t-shirts instead of cotton, or even long-sleeve shirts or hoodies. I’m also seeing races that offer a vast array of foods post-race, from a full breakfast, to post-race beers.
I have to be honest, when I started racing back in 2008 and 2009 – I knew of no races offering post-race beer. Back then there were the huge national races of course, such as the New York City Marathon. the Boston Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. The only “party” race I remember runners talking about was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon. If you were running large or themed races in 2008 please feel free to include your experience in the comments.
In addition to a rise in races featuring “perks,” there are now countless “themed” races including The Color Run, Electric Run, Pretty Muddy, The Warrior Dash, Cupid’s Undie Run, The Santa Hustle – and so many others. These races are popular, I believe, because they help appeal to newer runners, those who simply want to walk a race or those who want to be active without pressure to win.
While it’s wonderful to have so many race options today, and to see so many running, I’m really a “give me the basics” kind of runner. If you can find me a 5K race in the Greater Cleveland area with a $12 registration fee, a cotton T-shirt and bagels and bananas post-race for food – I’m there.
Regardless of what type of race you prefer, it’s necessary to have a racing budget. At one point my husband and I were each running two to three races every month during the summer. I tallied up the race entry fees and we easily spent $1,000 per year on racing without really planning for the expense.
Today we race less for many reasons – a shift in priorities, having a little one who keeps us busy and financial impact. Racing becomes crazy expensive if you are racing that frequently. I like racing, but I also like keeping sticking to our budget so we can reach future financial goals.
Other Racing Costs
Spending $1,000 per year on race entry fees is fine if you budget for it, but if you don’t have a racing budget, this could be a huge shock to your pocketbook. In addition to race entry fees, running costs typically include:
- High-quality running shoes (which need replacing regularly)
- Running clothing (socks, shorts, tops, visors, headbands)
- Running gels, drinks and fuel (especially for longer distances)
- Travel time, gasoline for miles driven and lodging for out-of-town races
- Other smaller items like BodyGlide anti-chafe balm, a Road ID for safety and more
Today the racing budget includes our top two expenses: new running shoes and race entry fees. While we typically do not race during the winter, we save for these expenses year-round to off-set cost. By putting aside as little as $10 or $20 per month, you can easily save for and cover the items in your racing budget.
More Ways to Save Money While Running Races
In addition to having a racing budget, if you are trying to save on running costs, try the following tactics to reduce how much money you spend on running each year:
- Select races with lower entry fees (most often a race with a smaller field, in a small town)
- Select races with fewer perks
- Register early to take advantage of reduced entry fees
- If credit card fees apply, it might be cheaper to pay via mail with a check and a stamp
- Instead of buying race fuel and drinks, make or pack your own ala Scott Jurek.
When it comes to larger races such as a half-marathon or marathon, I completely understand the fee should be and is higher. But, even for these larger races, by registering early you get the most best bang for your buck. When I ran the Fort-4-Fitness Half-Marathon, I registered early and paid $40. When I registered early for the Toledo Glass City Half-Marathon, I paid only $35.
Now we kept a race budget and this is what we spend. Having a racing budget may seem like it takes the fun out of running, but it really does provide freedom to spend on races as you please – as long as you planned for the expense. At the end of the day, I prefer to keep my hobby/sport more frugal. The last thing I need is for my hobby to become a financial stressor.
Do you have a cap for how much you will pay for a race?
*This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.