- I ran a marathon a few years ago and was surprised by some of the unexpected costs that come with running an organized race.
- The cost of food and drink along the way can be an expense that adds up over time, as well as new running shoes and accessories.
- Other things like missing work and class to run the marathon itself added to the total amount of money I invested overall.
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A marathon costs more than its registration fee — and depending on what you need to pay for, the unexpected purchases can quickly add up.
I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2015. I chose to run a marathon while I was still in college, which resulted in some additional costs, and overall the experience ended up being more expensive than I thought it'd be.
While I picked a marathon with a relatively low entry fee, additional costs ranged from financial fees like expensive running sneakers to non-monetary ones like losing free time on weekends. Additionally, small purchases — including extra granola bars and boxes of Band-Aids — spread out over six months of training definitely added up.
Keep reading for a look at some unexpected costs I encountered while training for a marathon.
New sneakers cost more than I unexpected.
This was an item I knew I needed to invest in from the beginning, but I was surprised by how much a decent pair of running shoes actually costs. I wanted to make sure I used the same pair I'd wear for race day during my training and went to a running store soon after signing up to get properly fitted for a new pair.
While some people always splurge on sneakers, I typically bought running shoes on sale for around $50 to $60, which was really all I needed to spend for the light running I was doing prior to the marathon. After visiting a legitimate running store, getting my feet measured, and talking with seasoned runners, I quickly realized the unexpected cost of sneakers.
Sources recommend replacing your running shoes roughly every six months or every 300 miles — both of these metrics correspond with training for a marathon, so it's worth investing in a new pair soon after signing up.
At specialty running shops, sales associates observe how you run and examine your current pair of sneakers to help you pick which new pair will work best. I run on the outsides of my feet and had worn down the heels of my last pair of sneakers. I ended getting fitted for a pair of Asics, which retail for around $100 — a good $30 more than I was planning on spending. I could have easily spent even more money, but I drew the line at $100.
Additional running gear, including quality shirts and running socks, added up.
While this certainly wasn't a necessary purchase, I decided to spring for some new running clothes for race day. Sources advise not running in "suffocating" cotton T-shirts — which, prior to running a marathon, was my usual go-to. As a college student, I usually ran outside or frequented the gym in one of many T-shirts I had gotten for free in freshman orientation.
I didn't know how cold it would be come late October, so I bought performance sports shirts in both long-sleeved and short-sleeved versions. I saved money by buying cheaper items from Target, but costs for a new running outfit can quickly add up. I ended up wearing an older pair of leggings since they had pockets on the sides — great for holding food — but a new pair would have added at least $40 to my running total.
I also opted to wear thick Nike running socks. Thankfully I received these as a gift, because $18 is way more than I'd typically spend on a pair. However, I can confirm these were worth the money, as running for 26.2 miles with blisters can ruin a race.
Food and drinks quickly added up, too.
The schedule I followed required a few short runs during the week and then one long, slow run on the weekend, typical of most basic marathon training plans.
These long runs also required a lot of refueling. Unlike a quick two-mile jog, running over 10 miles regularly prompted me to stock up on granola bars and Gatorade. These small purchases, spread out over six months of training, definitely added up. That semester, I noticed I was spending more than usual with all the extra trips to the campus market to grab handfuls of overpriced Clif Bars.
In addition to the race entry fee, I had to find a way to get there.
While buses or cars are typically cheaper options to travel, due to my class and work schedule I was forced to fly to make it to the race with time to spare. I didn't want to be stuck on a bus until 10 p.m. the night before the race, so I purchased a roundtrip plane ticket from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC — a more than $200 transaction.
While this hefty additional cost was definitely avoidable, if I were to ever run another marathon outside my home city, I'd still have to pay for the cost of transportation, whether by bus, car, or train. Initially, I had only accounted for the entry fee, which at around $120 in 2015 (now it's $180) was cheaper than most. (The NYC marathon, for example, costs $295 for non-New York Road Runner Club members). Despite this saving, I soon realized that I would need to factor in the cost to get there.
I stayed with family in Arlington, Virginia, but for those without friends or family in the area, additional costs to consider before running also include a hotel and restaurant meals for the day before and the day after the race.
A small investment was an armband to hold my phone while listening to music.
A new armband was a last-minute purchase just a day before the race, but I realized it was something I should have invested in from the beginning. I usually held my phone while running, especially since I oftentimes used it as a GPS or would need to answer a phone call. However, during the race, there was no need to hold it, and I was advised to purchase an armband to attach the phone to my arm while I listened to music.
I ended up using an old pair of headphones that plugged directly into my phone — mainly because I had a ridiculous fear that wireless headphones would die and I'd be left music-less for the last 13 miles. Looking back, I should have invested in a quality pair of wireless headphones, which would have been an additional charge of at least $100.
For casual joggers-turned-race-runners, investing in quality phone accessories for listening to music and tracking runs is important, but this unexpected cost could total a couple hundred dollars. Regardless, I still think it's worth the investment if you'll be running often.
And another small, but still unexpected, cost was first-aid supplies.
Another small, but still unexpected, cost of my marathon was medical supplies. I ended up buying Band-Aids for blisters, along with an Ace bandage and ice packs to wrap my knees after running. I later purchased a compression knee brace which I wore for the last few weeks of training.
Like food, these small purchases quickly added up over the months. While none of these drugstore items broke the bank, I did splurge on higher-quality Band-Aids to make sure my new shoes weren't rubbing. At over $4 a box, this was certainly more than I'd typically spend on a box of Band-Aids. However, like the running socks, they paid off in the long run, but this still didn't change the fact that they were an unforeseen cost.
Then were some non-monetary costs. During training, for example, I lost free time on the weekends.
The schedule I followed required a few short runs during the week and then one long, slow run on the weekend, typical of most basic marathon training plans. This long weekend run began as only three or four miles, which took less than 45 minutes. However, as it got closer and closer to the race, I was running up to 15 or 20 miles on weekends, which ate up hours of the day.
Especially during my sophomore year of college, those hours were time my friends spent together in the library, the dining hall, or the dorm lounge. My part-time job in the athletic department also required me to work sporting events many weekends, and I had to squeeze in runs around this schedule. As a result, I missed out on social activities while I was training. This was something I didn't realize until after race day had passed — I suddenly had way more free time than I'd had before.
And training for the marathon also impacted my other athletic activities.
I had signed up for a cycling class the semester I ran the race, and I didn't consider the impact marathon training would have on the regular athletic activities I wasn't willing to give up. The cycling class proved beneficial, as it kept me active during the week if I ever had to skip a run, but there were definitely many days when I showed up with extremely sore legs. Compared to my roommates who took the class with me, their regular gym routine was way more compatible with the class compared to my irregular running schedule.
I also played club field hockey at the time, and marathon running definitely took a toll. Practice was only once or twice a week, but when these days aligned with my running days, I felt an extra strain than I usually did for quick pick-up games and drills. As it got closer to marathon weekend, I even skipped practices to avoid injury just days before the race.
Lastly, running a marathon might put you out of commission for a time. I had to deal with the costs of missing class and work the weekend of the race.
Even with flying to save time, I still missed the Monday after the Sunday race, which cost me a day's hourly wages plus class attendance for that day. I was able to make up the work, but I originally hadn't accounted for missing a full day's schedule when I signed up months before.
Overall, this is something important to keep in mind, as you typically sign up for a marathon six months before, and sometimes more. It's almost impossible to know your work schedule for an hourly part-time job, meetings you'll miss at a salaried full-time position, and for those in college, you sometimes haven't even signed up for classes yet to know what lectures you'll have to skip. Most of these calendar events are hopefully adjustable, but you'll still have to make sacrifices to make it an event you paid for months in advance.
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