Running on a Budget When Running Ain’t Cheap!


Crista has written 23 posts on Salty Running.

I'm currently a graduate student in Clinical Psychology (trying to earn that Ph.D!), freelance creative writer, aspiring ultrarunner, part-time Vegan (and part-time In & Out and Sushi lover), acoustic guitar player and crafter of cute things (like crocheted owls). I like to tackle life head on. I like to learn. And I'm not afraid to make mistakes.

English: A picture I took on my senior trip

I’ll take a race entry and a new pair of trainers over these any day! Image via Wikipedia.

Some women spend their money on new heels, clothing and pedicures. I, on the other hand, choose to spend my money on race entry fees and new running shoes. I’ve heard people say that running is a cheap sport. Well, after looking at how much money I’ve spent on running in the past year, I’m not sure I agree.

I find it kind of ironic that a sport which is free, can end up costing an exponential amount of money. One of the funniest things I ever saw during a race was a man on the sidelines holding a sign that read: Remember! You paid for this! He had me laughing for the next five minutes (which I was eternally grateful for– it was a difficult race). And he was right– I did pay for it. I paid a shocking amount of money for it. 

In fact, race entry fees have been drastically increasing in the last six years. This has also coincided with recent increases in popularity in the marathon distance. Supply and demand! Even so, there are ways to continue running on a budget!

Race entry fees keep going up and up! Image via.

Last year, the New York City Marathon reached an all-time high of $255 dollars! The Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon (formerly the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon) which I am signing up for next spring tops out at a whopping $325. It’s hard to justify that much money for a race when you have a truckload of bills/other expenses. That is not to say that the money you spend  for these races isn’t going towards important things like permits, medical staff, aid stations, workers, security, etc. Regardless, many cannot foot the bill for the ever-increasing price of racing. There are some runner/bloggers out there that even ask the question, Can you afford to race?

New shoes, GPS watches, foam rollers, race entry fees, travel expenses, clothing, energy gels, electrolyte tablets, handhelds…the list is overwhelming and goes on and on! Sometimes I miss the days of high school cross country when I would simply lace up my shoes and head out the door. Being a graduate student, I find that the majority of my money gets funneled into books, gas and food. As I’ve gotten more serious about running, I’ve found myself spending large amounts of money on race entry fees and gear. As a twenty-something just getting established, I need to find ways to cut down on these expenses and I know I’m not alone. To prevent myself from going bankrupt, I’ve had to become more clever about the way I spend my money.

Piggy Bank

Is racing and running breaking your bank? (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Here are some tips for saving money on races and gear:

Shop around for last year’s model shoes, discounted running gear, and running clothes in the clearance section.

Buy clothing in the off-seasons. Look for summer running clothes now at your favorite local or online running store. You might be pleased what you find on the clearance rack! Likewise, shop for winter clothes at the end of February or March. Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, Ross, TJ Maxx, the clearance section of Macy’s…if you want to save money on running gear you gotta get yourself in those sales racks! Stock up! There is no reason to pay full price for athletic clothing.,,…there are tons of websites that offer the previous year’s model shoes/clothing/gear at a discounted price. This past year I saved 30% on buying my running shoes from the previous season’s stock.  Shoe companies update shoes very frequently meaning the previous version of your favorite shoe is headed for the clearance rack. If you know the make and model and size of your favorite shoe, Google it and see if you can find it on sale or call your local running store to see if they have any discounted in your size. Just think: the money you save could end up covering your next race entry fee!

Get involved in free training workouts.

It’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars on a coach, gym membership, training program, and group training workouts. Being able to afford all of these things on a budget is a challenge. If you can’t afford a coach, seek out a buddy to train with/learn together. Find a mentor or someone with experience who may be able to give you tips! (Or, keep reading here at, where we dish out lots of free advice!). Get involved with local group runs instead of paying someone who organizes them. Now, I’m not trying to negate the power of a great coach, running team or organized group-running workouts– this is just my advice for making the most out of a small budget!


Have a plan and create a budget! (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

Search for local races and/or smaller races, which tend to be cheaper. Don’t forget to ask about a student discount!

Stay local and save money! The most popular races (Chicago Marathon, NYC Marathon, Boston Marathon, etc.) tend to draw in massive crowds, and thus, they charge an arm and a leg because people are willing to pay it. On the other hand, local races tend to attract a smaller crowd, so their fees tend to be lower to encourage more entrants to sign up. You could save yourself hundreds of dollars by doing a local marathon instead of a far-away destination (think about lodging, food, car rentals, plane tickets, etc.).

On, the average marathon fee for 2012 was listed as $65, so if you are finding races much higher than that, know there are cheaper options out there!

If you have an expensive race on your horizon….

If local races aren’t an option for you and that destination marathon is on your list, plan accordingly! Sign up for races early to avoid extra fees (many races offer early bird specials, get on it!). I’ve had to pass on some races because I decided to put my money towards a more expensive race. Recently Sassafras posted about how to find the right marathon. Planning in advance is an effective way to manage your budget!

Buy in bulk.

If you’re like me, and buy your energy gels, electrolyte tablets, and protein powder on the fly, chances are you’re spending more money than you should be. is a great resource for buying gels in bulk, and if you invest in Amazon Prime
($69 a year), you get free shipping on items listed under Amazon Prime. Since I always buy my school books used on Amazon, this deal ends up saving me tons of money. Shipping can increase the cost of your items by over 20%! You can also buy in bulk at stores like Costco, Smart & Final and Sams Club.

Savory Gu

Buy your energy gels in bulk to save money! (Am I the only one who wants to know where I can find bacon-flavored energy gels? ha!!) (Photo credit: robbplusjessie)

Take care of your gear.

A few years back a friend told me about the horrors of the dryer: it can age your clothing double-time. I’d always wondered why my clothes were getting progressively more faded and worn. Then I started hang-drying my clothing. Not only do you save money on the power bill, but, your clothes will last much longer! I now hang-dry all of my running clothing, and for the most part, they have all stayed in fantastic condition.

Taking care of your gear will ensure that you get your money’s worth out of it and you won’t have to invest in more items because you lost/damaged it!

Dearest Salties, does the cost of running get you down? How have you found ways of racing and running on a budget? What are your favorite discount stores/websites? 

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5 Responses to “Running on a Budget When Running Ain’t Cheap!”

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  1. Rachel says:

    these are all great tips!! I am a huge proponent of never paying full price for running clothes and avoiding overpriced super-popular races, but I could definitely improve on some of these other points!

  2. Sassafras says:

    Awesome tips! If a race has an option for paper registration, I usually take it… even though you have to use a stamp, it is still cheaper than the online registration fees!

  3. Cathryn says:

    I think running is a pretty reasonable sport as long as you don’t fall for the lure of unnecessary new clothes and gadgets that you just don’t need. The thing that shocks me is the price of races. I’m a Brit, living in California and races here are ridiculously expensive. You’re looking at $50 – $60 for a half marathon. Halves in the UK cost $15 – $30 max! I’d love to race more but as a stay at home mum, I can’t keep asking my poor husband to foot the cost of my medal collection!!! I don’t understand why races here are so much more expensive than in the UK.

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