We’ve all heard that saying about running being cheap; all you need is a pair of shoes. Well, if you’re just running around your neighborhood that might be true, but if you’re running races, the costs can add up quickly! Think about it: the race fee itself, gas or airfare and a rental car, new shoes, a hotel and don’t get us started on managing an injury … it’s all about the Benjamins. Runner’s World‘s Mark Remy even quotes his colleague Bart Yasso as saying that “the average marathon medal costs about a thousand bucks“. I’m here to help you navigate the world of marathons and half marathons while softening the blow to your bank account.
Time – it’s on your side. A little planning can save you a lot of dough. If you’re the type of person who plans out your races a year or more in advance (what, runners? Type A?), think about not just the race costs, but any other expenses you may have on the horizon. For example, I’m only going to do local races this spring because I’m saving for an epic trip out West. Or ponder if you can combine purposes of your trip. When I do a California race (I’m eyeing CIM), the Mr. and I will probably make it into a mini-vacation. Getting back to the actual race fees, pay attention to deadlines and get in on those early bird race rates! Generally, the race website will have a table showing the dates that the different rates take effect, so don’t snooze.
Go on a Surfin’ Safari… on the World Wide Web, that is. When it comes to saving money, the Internet is your friend! If you’re even thinking about doing a race, sign up for their email newsletter, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Races will not only remind you of those pesky deadlines, but often offer promo codes for discounted registration. (You can sometimes find these guys in race goody bags, at expo booths or in magazine ads, too.) Use your Google-fu to search for codes or put your friends to work if they’re doing races nearby. One of my friends ran in the Indy 500 Festival in May, so I had her check to see if Monumental had a booth there to save me some moolah. Sites like RetailMeNot sometimes have race deals, and RunGearGuy is a great source for deals as well.
If I Had A Million Dollars… While I hope my tips help you save some money, sometimes you’ve just got to splurge on the race fees. Only you can decide when it’s worth it to pay more for that experience. It may be a bucket list destination race, a once-in-a-lifetime event or a reunion with old running buddies halfway across the country. I paid $125 when registered for the 2012 Houston Marathon (I ended up running the half, but that’s a whole other story); since it meant getting to spectate at the Olympic Marathon Trials the day before the race, I considered it money well spent.
… And Everything Else
The actual registration fee isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re mentally doing the math. Unless you’re racing in your town, you’ll have to pay for travel to the race – whether you’re road tripping or flying -, for a place to rest your head and for eats to fuel your body the next day.
My Houston travel ended up costing me approximately $30. I will admit, though, that totally lucked out with the timing and like-minded travel partners. I cashed in airline points for a free flight (sans the $5 fee). My friends and I agreed that since everything we were doing was located within a small area, we could skip the car rental, and instead used a Super Saver Shuttle to get from the airport and a cab to get back. Rather than staying at one of the official race hotels, I searched for one that would fit with my rewards points … and found one less than a mile from both the start and finish!
Now, you may not get as lucky as my nearly-free trip to Texas, but there are still lots of ways to reduce costs by planning ahead.
Bills, Bills, Bills. If you have a credit card that earns points, check to see if the rewards catalog has a “travel” category (anything from car rental to flights) and get credit for money you’d be spending anyway! For my out-of-state half this spring, my friends and I stayed at one of the official race hotels. In this case, it was a Marriott and I was able to cash in credit card points for a Marriott gift card. I’m saving up those points so I can do the same when I go to Indy in November!
Travelin’ (Wo)man. Chances are, you belong to at least one hotel or airline reward program. Maybe you haven’t stayed with that chain in a while or even forgot the account existed. Don’t let those points go to waste; use them to take the edge off your race travel! I am admittedly a bit of an award mileage nerd and have a whole folder of travel blogs in my Google reader, but using a program like Award Wallet helps you track your points and stay organized. Many programs also offer a “cash plus points” option if you don’t have quite enough points to reach your reward. Keep in mind that you can earn points many, many ways besides actually travelling!
How to Deal. You know those emails you get from daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and their cousins? Once you know what farther-flung races are on your calendar, sign up for deals in those cities, whether you get them in your inbox or just use the app version. You never know when you’ll spot a bargain for a pre-race pasta dinner or a post-race massage or beer!
What’s the most you’ve ever paid for a race? Do you have any tips for keeping race and travel costs under control? What races are on your “splurge list”?