Are Investment Races Worth the Cost of Time, Training, and Travel?

Imagine this: You find an amazing race that you decide will be your goal race for the season. The weather is perfect there, the competition is stiff, and people go to this race because they know that no matter what, it’s just fast. There’s just one tiny little problem. It’s on the other side of the country which means you’re about to drop hella cash on this race.

Will that financial investment motivate you or stress you? Whatever you’ll feel, you push that thought aside and forge ahead with your plans.

You book your round-trip flight and a hotel for a couple of nights. Then you reserve a rental car. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the entry fee for the race which can be anywhere from $35 to $250, depending on the race you’ve chosen. Before you know it, you’ve spent a thousand or more dollars just so you can put yourself through a bunch of pain for however long your race lasts. This doesn’t even include the money you will spend on food or the new pair of shorts you had to buy because you forgot yours at home.

Ok, so now that you’ve spent a good chunk of your paycheck on travel it’s time to start getting up at 5:00 every morning to run and then getting in a double and some #extrasalt after work. Oh, and don’t forget to tell all your family and friends your specific goals for the race so they can really get your pulse racing when they ask about it every day. Once you’ve done all of that and race week rolls around and you’re fit, confident, and ready, you do your very last pre-race workout. You pack your bags and check in for your flight the day before and then you … FREAK. OUT.

stanford bib
Don’t let its looks deceive you. That paper and those pins were expensive!

As I write this, I am 100% feeling all of this right at this moment. I’m racing a track race all the way across the country as an open athlete, which means there is no travel or lodging assistance like there is for many road races for top athletes. I dropped a ton of money and trained my butt off for the past three months to race a 10k in Palo Alto, California and I am scared.

I’m not worried about my fitness — I’ve put in the work — I’m worried that the huge physical and financial investment I made will turn into pressure that will hover in the back of my mind, just waiting to sabotage my positive thoughts when I inevitably start to get tired during the race. I’m worried that I will crack under that self-imposed pressure, fall short of my goals, and let myself down.

I mentioned my fear to my coach the other day and his response was:

It’s impossible to put a price on running well.

That really jolted me out of my pity-party because it is so true! The feeling I get after running fast and crushing my goals is better than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s why I do this. It’s priceless to me and I would do anything to feel it.

Sure, I would never fail if I avoided every situation that scared me and made me feel pressure, but I would also never accomplish my goals! I would never get that amazing high that accompanies success and where’s the fun in life if that’s missing? I have made a choice to be brave and to chase success rather than running from fear. This doesn’t mean that I won’t get nervous and scared, but whenever those butterflies hit me this weekend I’m going to tell myself that I am brave, strong, ready, and fast. 

***

Did the investment pay-off?

I wrote this post right before I flew across the country to Palo Alto, California to race a 10k on the track at the Stanford Invitational. I was determined to be brave and mentally tough. I hoped the other amazing athletes around me would carry me to a fast time. Things didn’t quite go according to plan, as I was in a gap between packs and running alone the last 5k, but I didn’t let that put a damper on my confidence. My goal was to break 33 minutes and I crossed the finish line in 32:50!

My coach was right: the feeling I got from running well and crushing my goal was priceless. I’m so glad I took a risk and invested in a race that I will remember for a very long time.

Have you spent a lot of money on a single race? Was it worth it?

I'm an aspiring elite runner from the DC/Northern VA area. I love road racing and am currently training for a half marathon in April. I write about attempting to balance a career with running and enjoying the process of training and improving!

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15 comments

  1. I love that you dove in, took a risk and went for it. It’s so true what you said about not failing by avoiding scary situations but you also won’t succeed or reach new levels- something we need to remember when shooting for big goals. Rewards very rarely come without risks.

    While I’ve certainly spent my fair share of money on races over the years. I think the most I spent/furthest traveled/biggest risk was back in 2013. I was shooting for a time goal for the marathon trying to make a racing team. I missed the goal (but still PR’d) in October and decided I wanted to go out to CIM in December to try and achieve it. Another friend of mine was going out there and we decided to take the risk together. Expensive race fee, cross country travel, hotel, etc. As friends we could obviously share the hotel cost etc but it was still a $$/risk weekend. In the end, I more than met the time goal only to find out the team I was trying to get onto lowered the standard even more last minute. It would have been easy to look at the weekend as a failure on that note- but I didn’t because I met the goal I set to reach, had a great time and was proud of the risk I took and trust I put in myself. That race was a turning point for me in a lot of ways, 100% worth the investment and risk.

  2. My first thought is: CIM. It’s on my list for when I think I’m ready to go real, real fast and need that extra bit of oomph. But, likewise, it’s on the other side of the continent and I won’t be getting a comp entry for sure!

    Both times I went to Boston it was a big investment, especially at that point in my life (in my early 20s and during the recession; disposable income was not a thing). In fact, it was so expensive I couldn’t even afford the jacket! This year I’m heading for Chicago which packs a hefty price tag for travel, hotel, food, and race entry.

    On the flip side, the one time I ran my local marathon, I had a free entry (through a work thing, not an elite comp). I never felt “invested” in the training cycle and eventually DNF’d the race.

    Congrats on that PR at Stanford!!!

    1. I, too think of CIM! While I had a breakthrough and took a risk there a few years ago, I have a feeling if I get to the point of that big goal (same as you!) CIM would probably be the place, and certainly an investment and risk!

    2. ooh I can’t imagine how expensive it must be to run Boston. Especially since hotels and flights are probably crazy expensive that time of year due to the number of people going/staying there. I bet you have amazing memories from those 2 races though.

  3. Congrats on your PR! And for a great race in Raleigh- I drove up to watch one of the GRC girls run the 10K, and we cheered for you earlier in the 5k!

    I learned I don’t do well when I spend a lot of money going to a race. Or other people’s money. When I used to run for the Army, I’d feel all sorts of pressure thinking about how much they spent to send me there that I’d better perform well or else. Now if I’m going to spend a lot going to a race, I try to make it about more than just about the race, so if the race doesn’t go well, it’s not a loss. That’s why the past two marathons I’ve run have turned into family vacations the week following the race!

    1. Wow I didn’t know you were at Raleigh! That meet is amazing. I can totally see feeling pressure to perform when people have paid to get you there. That’s nerve wracking. Your family vaca/runcations have sounded really awesome and I like the idea of making it about more than just your race!

  4. Congratulations on the race! That’s wicked fast!!! Every race I go to is a huge financial decision for me, even close ones. I have to take time off from work, gas, small things that add up like you mentioned. It has been worth it simply because I love to run and see new places through my running. However, I do get anxiety about money ALL THE TIME and it’s the absolute worst. I love your coach’s words, it’s so right! I tell myself that when I don’t want to spend money on recovery equipment or say no to an extra shift to rest or relax. I think that’s one of the hardest things about running for me. Crazy isn’t it?

    1. I completely agree! Taking time off of work is so tough. Not only do you have to eat up vaca hours, but you also have to tell your boss why you’re taking off which inevitably means he/she will think you’re a weirdo haha

  5. My biggest investment was for the Phoenix Marathon, and the 2:49:20 I ran there was worth every penny! But, even if I had DNFed the trip would have been worth it because it was a vacation with my husband — we hadn’t taken one without our daughter/just the two of us in years. I’ve found that I can justify spending on race trips because I always have another goal for the trip, and because it doesn’t place a financial strain on me (during grad school I would have never even considered it because it would have been a strain). I did another with my dad, and luckily netted a half PR on that one, but again even in the case of a DNF I would have always had the memories of that father-daughter vacation!

    Congrats on your insanely speedy 10K! It really is impossible to put a price on running well and I love that quote.

    1. Father/daughter race trips are the BEST. I’m glad you had a great time! There’s just something about getting to hang out with the dad all weekend that’s really special 🙂

  6. Love this! Sometimes you just have to take the risk. My attitude toward this kind of financial investment has changed a bit with age because there are now so many things that are not in my control that can screw up race plans (looking at you, daycare germs). But I’m probably also a bit like parsley in that I feel pressure and a bit of guilt if a lot of money and family time has been sacrificed or invested so that I can run a race.

  7. Absolutely loved this post! I will be writing down what your coach told you as a good reminder! Thanks for the insight…and way to kick butt at your race!

  8. First congrats – on a strong race and on taking a big risk!

    I’m about to head to my first Boston marathon – it’s been a goal 10 years in the making. It’s going to be $$$$ plus my parents are watching my young kids for 4 days so I’m feeling a lot of guilt. I’ve actually been trying to balance wanting a strong race because I’ve trained so hard and – it’s Boston! with not wanting to have too much pressure on myself for those 3+ hours of the race so that it overshadows the rest of the Boston experience.