Running is for Rich People

English: Cartoon of George C. Scott as 'Scroog...
Scrooge says “No running for you!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s all relative.  Some of us are willing to do more than others to get faster.

Huh. Willing.

If you’ve read my sister’s post about recognizing what you’re willing to do to maximize your training, you know that it’s all relative:  super fast runners Shalane and Kara earned their success at Boston this year because they were willing to make sacrifices necessary to pursue running as a career.  Runners like them shape their lives around training:  they pay coaches and therapists, they travel all over to races and push hard. But why not you? Why not me?  If we’re willing to sacrifice everything, if we train as long and as intensively we could do it too, right?

Well, maybe.  But a lot of us have other stuff going on in our lives that precludes all that.  For me, and I know for many of you too, it’s a financial burden, and I can’t run away from that.  Does that make me unwilling, or is it okay to feel like I’m not able?

This stuff is expensive!

First off, don’t give me that “all you need is a pair of shoes” crap.  Because I’m going to counter you with, “shoes cost a buttload of money when you’re running high mileage, and you also need time.”  And as we all know, time is money.

I don’t want to get too deep into my own financials, of course, but point blank, I don’t make a lot of money and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Granted, I don’t work as much as I could, but my physically intensive 14-hour-a-day job can get a little prohibitive to race training as well.  I consider myself very, very lucky that I can have days off here and there, during which I can rest my body from all that heavy lifting, stair climbing and the long hours on my feet and also squeeze some extra training in on the side.

It’s often that I find work and running at odds with one another…in fact, I very nearly had to work the day before the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  The half for which I’ve been training since January.  The half that’s supposed to be my big comeback and my first step toward a BQ marathon.  If I had a desk job and would be out of there by 5 it wouldn’t be a big deal, but as a filmmaker, anything goes – I could be outdoors in the rain until 4am.

Plenty of us have different work schedules than the traditional nine-to-fivers. We work retail. We work in food service. We offer childcare.  We are health care staff and practitioners.  We’re teachers.  We’re single moms.  We have two or three jobs.  A lot of us have trouble making ends meet, and the financial stresses and the challenge of having nontraditional work and life schedules can make running a very appealing escape indeed.

So we run. But is it irresponsible of us to run when often our jobs don’t afford us health care?  In the event of injury that can leave us financially screwed–which I know all too well, as I’m still paying off the credit card debt I accrued from physical therapy last year when I was injured.  I often wonder how professional runners handle this; they can’t possibly make enough money to pay for insurance on their own, and certainly not low-deductible insurance.  Are they all married to wealthy spouses? Of course not-plenty are married to their coaches.  Perhaps they’re all under 26 with benevolent parents and no student loans, like the athletic equivalent of HBO’s Girls? Impossible; not all of them. I know it’s got to be hard for them too.

So we run…carefully.  And we want to get faster as much as the next gal, but when we’re scrambling for rent the first of every month and can’t afford to see a doctor and even the fee to a race is a financial burden, how can we even consider weekly massage therapy, personal coaching sessions, or paying for access to a gym that isn’t even open during hours we can go?

Forgive the animated .gif, but it’s a great illustration – You can see “poor man’s process” in effect behind Fozzie and Kermit’s heads. Looks real, right? Nope.

In the movies, we have a term called “poor man’s process,” which refers to shooting a scene that takes place in a car without making the car actually move.  You just use lighting tricks and green screens or backdrops to give the illusion of movement.  You’ve likely noticed it in old movies before, when the backdrop looks blatantly fake between the two heads of the characters in the car.  Well that’s what I feel like I’m doing with my training.  It’s a poor man’s process, and the best I can hope for is a substandard, hokey replica of the real deal.

I want to get faster.  And I know I need help to do that.  Winging it on my own just isn’t working…my nutrition could use tweaking, my recovery methods are clearly not enough and my knee and piriformis continue to nag me; something about my hip alignment is off.  I could use monthly PT or chiropractor visits to constantly work at correcting the issue.  I could use weekly massage visits, or at the very least, regular yoga classes to keep me on top of my flexibility.  Or hell, even just the extra time to get a weekly massage or yoga class in would be nice.

To say I’m willing to do what’s necessary to get faster is an understatement; I’m not just willing, I’m longing for it.  I salivate at the thought of a real coach or a real gym or a real doctor or the time to get in the ancillary training I need.  The idea of having those things gives me warm fuzzy unicorn rainbows in my tummy.

But frankly, I just can’t afford it.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re too poor to run?

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. You are right–it’s NOT a cheap sport. What with the gear, the race fees, and the team of support in the form of chiros, etc., it adds up. In my case, I have a family–how much $$ am I willing to spend on maintaining my body for running vs. the needs/wants of my kids? I’m 47 and not going to the Olympics anytime soon. On the other hand, staying healthy and enjoying my running makes me a better person and mom. It’s a delicate balance.

    Great post!

  2. I’m right there with you. I see people who seem to be constantly racing (all over the country too) and buy the latest designer runner gear and I just don’t understand it. I’m lucky to have health insurance so my PT is covered but I clean a yoga studio once a week so I can practice and do side work for a coach so I can train. It keeps me really busy and often very tired but it’s the only way I can afford it

  3. Running is as cheap as you want to make it. Unlike, say, golf, where unless you know someone with a set of clubs and a course membership, the start-up costs are high and only get higher the more you play, running can be almost free. If you can’t afford a coach or a gym membership or expensive race fees, you can still just run. It’ll cost you maybe $500 a year for shoes and half that in other clothes, if you run *a lot*. That’s cheaper than bowling, which isn’t even a real sport!

    You can go nuts with any sport. The trend with everything is to get the most high tech gear, do all the hard core things, and travel all over the country to make your activity an all-consuming adventure. But with running, you can tailor it to what you can afford. That’s not the case with many, many other sports. If you have time constraints with running, you’ll have them with anything else, and at more expense. You and Salty had a great time, dirt cheap, while on a family reunion by going out for a run with a local running Club. And that was free. So, on the flip side of your question, I challenge you to name a sport that’s cheaper!

    1. True. Sports / hobbies are expensive. I can’t think of one that is cheaper. And I admit that I do choose to make it more expensive as I like to race, I love to travel to race, I invite my family to race with me and I love gear. 🙂

  4. I too agree that it is an expensive sport. It is convenient in that all you usually need to do it throw on your shoes and go, but it is definitely pricey. I am really feeling it these days as my kids are really getting into running and races. Try registering a family of four for a fun 5k. It can easily exceed $160. Crazy.

  5. I agree with Marty that running uniquely offers a sliding scale for participation. However, to be a competitive runner, whether that means age group or beyond or whatever, it costs considerably more than to be a “hobby jogger” (for lack of a better term). There are ways to minimize the cost, but I agree that for most of us the cost of staying healthy enough to reach the upper echelons of our potential is prohibitive. For me it’s finding time to get to my massage therapist that prevents me from going more than how much it costs. I could hire a sitter, but then that doubles the cost of the massage! Or I can just sit on my tennis ball for free and hope that’s good enough and be really careful with my postpartum comeback since my body is particularly vulnerable. And do my core exercises more regularly, which are also free (mental note: DO THEM!)

    But I think you’ll find that almost all hobbies are occupied by “rich” people. The truth is that people with means tend to have the time and money to spare for such “frivolous” things (read: non-income earning activities). I even see this on the farmers market set. Those of us that do it for fun are in a much different financial place than those who do it for a living.

    1. Well I think a caveat we all need to remember is that there are only a fraction of people with the talent of Kara Goucher or Shalane Flanaghan, so it is a bit incongurous to try to compare to their training / lifestyles. It wouldn’t make sense for me to quit working and train like they do because I would never come to their level of talent and frankly I’d be wasting other talents by devoting all of my time to running. I think the key is to stop comparing yourselves to others and just do what you can do within your means (both financially and time-wise). Not everyone is super gifted, not everyone is rich, not everyone has a job (or 3). Just do what you can with what you’ve got and enjoy it.

  6. I agree with Marty and I also think this post brings up some valid points. I would argue that I do think it’s possible to get pretty fast without spending a whole lot, but it really is the luck of the draw. If your body can handle minimal shoes, then you don’t need to buy shoes as much. If you are not that injury prone, then your body can get by with lots of training fairly easy. If you get to a point where you are pretty fast, more than likely, you’ll get hooked up with shoes at the very least and maybe race fees. Professional runners typically get 30-50k salary and then health care and the like (massages, ART, even haircuts if you are really fast) are included in the deal. But I do know that there are still many runners, both fast/sub-elite and trying to get there, that are struggling. As such, it still can be what you make it. One of the frugal living websites that I follow (early retirement extreme) lives on $7,000/year. But karate is very important to him so guess what? He allows $2500/year to be spent on that. I’ve found that it is helpful to see where I can cut costs, such as the grocery store (but without cutting nutrition) and going out to eat, and have found it to help free up some funds to be spent somewhere else.

    1. Well sure, Ginger, I know professionals are taken care of by their sponsors, but I’m thinking more about the folks who are aaaaalmost there. The health care, to me, is the biggest expense and frustration.

      And I’m not trying to say I couldn’t cut a corner here or there, but I definitely can’t during those weeks when i work “full time” (70+ hours). There’s barely time to sleep, much less run, much less stretch, much less do my own laundry. Luckily I eat at work, so that’s taken care of (although what is available to me there is up to the caterers and craft service personnel). But how do I find time to rehabilitate a knee? As a freelancer, I don’t get paid leave of any kind. The $3500 I spent doesn’t count the days I took off work after I injured it, or the days I had to pay for missed appointments because I couldn’t afford to take off work. It also was double what I could afford and STILL couldn’t pay for an MRI.

      I’d be interested to see how the Early Retirement Extreme guy would handle a job that doesn’t offer him his high-deductible health insurance. He doesn’t even cover the possibility in his 21 day plan:

      I’m not complaining–I love my job, and I’m very lucky to have it. I just know there are other people out there like me who constantly feel the stress from this stuff, and it’s nice to know we’re not alone!

      1. He’s already retired so he uses a High Deductable Health Savings Plan independently, and I could be wrong (I’ll research it later) but I believe he pays $90 month for this plan. It’s the same plan I have through work and I was very apprehensive of it at first but after researching it, it makes a lot of sense. Now without employer provided insurance, it makes it a bit harder to build up funds in your health savings account but it might be an option to look into. If you paid $3500 already out of pocket, with a high deductable plan, typically the deductiable is $2500 then after that, every service utilized in network is free. Plus health savings accounts are able to be carried over each year, versus a health savings plan, which doesn’t carry over.

        Anywho, I often think that many of these pickles we are put into with money and how to spend it are not a fault of our own but the culture we are a part of. For a Kenyan, running is a daily part of life, often a mode of transportation. I’m sure when they get to higher levels and training, they become more prone to injury and such but because running is viewed as a means of transportation, rather than a hobby, their bodies become adapted to managing more. This is why I think I find myself thinking that I take running too seriously sometimes; it really is just one foot in front of the other. Unfortunately, if injury happens, sometimes we are reduced to just resting until healed if the money isn’t there to help recover quicker.

  7. I used to think that running was an affordable sport… until an injury comes up. I recently had to be seen for my foot and after 2 doctor visits, 1 xray and an MRI, I can honestly say that running is NOT A CHEAP SPORT!

  8. Yes, it can get quite pricey. I will generally get the shoes I need, but maybe not the latest and greatest shorts or shirts. I don’t care that they are last season or (dare I say) several years old. I did splurge on and I hate to sue that word because it was a necessity a hydration system. I needed it for those 15+ mile days when I did not have a support crew at 5am. I am learning to choose my gear wisely, look for sales, and try to register for races as part of a team.

  9. I think running is pretty cheap as sports go. I used to do loads of cycling – now there’s a money-drain! I do think all you need is decent shoes and a good sports bra. You can get cheap, good running clothes from Target ($10 for a wicking t-shirt).

    Now race fees are exorbitant – coming from the UK where a half generally costs $30 (maybe $40) I am appalled at the race fees here and that’s why I don’t race as much as I’d like. But you can race more cheaply if you choose well.

    I don’t think running is cheap, but if you want to get fit, you won’t find a much cheaper way of doing so. I think.

  10. I am a nurse that recently went through a divorce. I work 2 jobs, but running is what saves me. It gives back as much as I give and more. I buy last years shoe model and when I find a favorite on sale I buy more. I can’t say I’m poor and I’m fully insured which has helped with my injuries, but I feel like running is a ThreeFor. It’s a hobby, exercise and socially fun all wrapped up into one. The extra plus is the therapy it does for my head. It’s free! I can’t give it the attention I want, but that has been because of injuries this year. Maybe next year!

    1. I can relate. My clothes, socializing and therapy budget go to support my running and my time spent running is social, therapeutic and even spiritual. I guess when you look at it that way we’re getting quite a bang for our buck 🙂

  11. Wow — phenomenal post, and I relate 100 percent. Unlike other hobbies, running is an aspirational thing … most people in it for life are driven to achieve, and yes, achievement costs more than mere effort. Also, because for most of us, running IS a hobby, there’s the guilt factor of spending anything at all on it, beyond shoes. I know the value of massages, but I’ve had one in two years, because there are always other, more critical needs that shove it to the back of the line. (Massage, or take the family dog to the vet for his stomach flu? Dog wins every time.) So, you speak for a lot of us about the struggle, and I’m grateful for it, and for your honesty. Poverty loves company. 🙂

  12. I was just talking about this the other day – this is spot on! My shoes are expensive, sports massages weekly are crazy expensive, and race fees keep going up. I can barely afford it, and I’m a single gal who lives in a cheap(er) city! I have to love to run to stick with it!

  13. I just want to say that I really relate. Up until a year ago I was a freelancer in the media field (also in, I believe, that same expensive city). When I was injured I had pretty much one choice- the ignore it, hope it goes away, take several weeks off plan. (No way I could have afforded an MRI, and as a mid-pack runner, far from the ‘close to elite’ level, I can’t justify taking on credit card debt to rehab a running injury). A high-deductible health insurance plan is $300/month, not $90/month, in my state– that’s $3600/year before you incur a single medical expense.

    I was lucky enough to get a job with health insurance last year, and at the same time I got a $20/month gym membership, but there are still a lot of things I can’t afford– a coach, a home treadmill, regular PT or massages– that I know would make me a better runner.

    1. It’s amazing how much health insurance impacts the equation, and how much people take having access to health care for granted, even when they’re paying so much for it!

      I’m glad I could speak up for you! If you’re still in NYC, drop me an email (cinnarunner@g mail . com); maybe we can run together sometime and commiserate some more. 🙂

  14. This was a great post and I loved reading all of the comments. I am fortunate to have insurance through my job, so I haven’t had to deal with an injury or even the threat of an injury without insurance. I feel for anyone who has experienced that or is stressed over the possibility of an injury happening under such circumstances. I know we would all love to get massages after long runs, but it is not practical for the majority of runners. While we may not be able to treat ourselves after every long training run, I try to treat myself to some form of pampering after a big race. For example, I ran a half marathon on Saturday and got a pedicure today and paid $10 extra for a 10 minute foot massage. Amazing! The time and money involved in training can be daunting, but I think we all agree that the mental and physical rewards are worth it. My advice is to put a little money aside each week while training and/or cut back on something else so you can treat yourself to something after your race. You’ve earned it! i.e. Cinnamon – you kicked butt at the half marathon and deserve something special for all your hard work:)

    1. Thanks a lot, Beth! You kicked butt too, and I $10 is a small price to pay to reward yourself. I rewarded myself by staying in bed and napping instead of hashing, and wound up saving money today! That nap was hard-earned and the best gift money couldn’t buy.