“All you need is a pair of trainers and you’re good to go!” is a commonly repeated phrase among the running community. But, as anyone with a mild, moderate, or extreme running addiction will know, that’s not entirely true. Running is not always as accessible (read: affordable) as it portrays itself to be. Sure, you may be able to forego a monthly gym membership, but once you’ve added in a GPS running watch, sweat-wicking running clothing, max-cushioned running shoes, a training plan or coach, race entries, supplements, meal plans, and more, you can easily be spending into the thousands, per year. Ouch. So, where can you cut corners? What are the hacks to running on a budget?
Here are a few ways running can be more affordable.
Find Cheap Running Gear
Every runner needs appropriate clothes. But, buying technical gear every year will add up. Running on a budget means making smart choices about what gear to stock up on…and when.
Second-Hand Gear for Running on a Budget
The second-hand running gear industry is thriving.
There are specialty running discount retailers like RelayGoods which buys surplus inventory from running brands, then passes the savings on to the runner. But, you can also find lightly worn gear from popular running brands like Patagonia, REI, On Running, and lululemon.
End of Season Discounts
There are two “end of season” forces you should pay attention to.
The first, is the actual transition from winter to spring, spring to summer, and summer to fall. Brands produce inventory based on that season’s trends. When summer comes to an end, you’ll see the summer inventory marketed at a discount. It’s the perfect time to stock up on next season’s needs.
Secondly, the transition from one generation of a shoe to the next. When you hear that Nike will be releasing the version 40 of the Pegasus shoe, that means the Nike Pegasus 39 will be discounted within a few weeks following.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need the newest iteration of trainer to be able to run well. Aside from the marathon racing super-shoes, technology between generations of shoes doesn’t change all that much. Yet, older styles are often cheaper or discounted more than newer shoes.
If you find you’ve signed up for a race that requires an extensive mandatory kit list, adding up into the hundreds, if not thousands – consider borrowing kit from a running friend. Especially if this is your first race and you’re not sure if you’ll do more.
Borrowing from a friend has the added benefit of allowing you to test out kit before committing to something expensive. Don’t have a peer group of runners to borrow from? Join websites like GeerGarage which will allow you borrow a specialist kit like a running backpack or crampons from locals.
Affordable Running Watches
While it’s perfectly possible to run without a GPS watch (in fact, it’s become a bit of a trend to run without a smartwatch), there are many reasons why you might want one (not least that many races require a GPX option for mapping).
Unfortunately, most GPS watches aren’t cheap and are hard to find if you’re planning for running on a budget. However, older models of GPS watches can be bought second-hand or when the new model comes out for discounted prices.
There are many refurbished tech sites, which offer good-as-new tech, that for whatever reason cannot be resold on the original site. Sites like ebay, BackMarket, and FactoryOutlet are great places to buy used, previous models, and refurbished running watches.
Cheap Races: Marathons, Half Marathons & Beyond
Race entry can be outrageously expensive! Even shorter races must pay out huge amounts of money for permits, staff and insurance, and the prices reflect that. And, while you want to participate in a race to flex your new fitness, running on a budget in a race may be tough to stomach.
In recent years the prices have gone up and up, and looking at half marathons, marathons, and multi-day ultramarathons – prices can get very steep indeed…looking at you, $11,000 Highland Kings race.
How to Race Affordably
Here’s a few ways that make sense to get involved in races, without the price tag:
- Volunteer: Certain races will offer free or discounted entry in exchange for volunteering. Not only that, but volunteering is a great way to get to know the race and course.
- Early Bird: When events open their registration, prices are at their lowest to incentivize the most eager of runners to jump aboard. Traditionally, these will go on sale within a weeks (or days) of the current year’s race. Follow the race on social media – they’ll let you know about early bird pricing, competitions, or other eligible discounts.
- Join a Running Club: As part of the social fabric of a running community, some run clubs get discounted entry into races with referral codes. They may distribute through email lists or Facebook Groups.
- The Race Facebook Group: Sometime you’ll find bib swapping (if the race allows it) or ride sharing between racers. If there’s a carpool going from your side of town, it could save you in the long run!
Running on a Budget & Picking Your Race
The more expensive races you’ll find are those that attract a larger audience. The cost to run the most popular half marathon in the United States, the United Airlines NYC Half, is $160! So, if you’re looking for something more cost effective, you’ll be looking for something small and more local feeling that are equally great.
Smaller races may not have the same fanfare about them, but they are usually friendly, significantly less stressful, and equally rewarding.
If local races are beyond your budget at the moment but you want to test how much your running has improved, consider committing to a a time trial.
This should be on flat ground, and pre-measure the distance you want to run. The most obvious location would be your local track. This is a good way to get a good baseline pace for your 5k, 10k or half marathon speed in this way, without having to fork out for race entry. Invite friends and make an event of it.
Even if you’re running different paces, the atmosphere will encourage your best times. Alternatively, if you are experienced, choose a marked trail (there are thousands) or create a fun looking GPX route and set off – you don’t need an official race to have the adventure of a lifetime!
Affordable Run Coaching
Once you’ve been running for a while, progress can start to slow. To renew your excitement for training and faster racing times, many runners consider getting a coach.
However, one on one coaching can be very expensive. A personalized training plan or even monthly calls with a coach can be upwards of hundreds of dollars per mont.
While the individualized training advice is invaluable, this is just isn’t practical for all runners.
If you’re comfortable with a free training plan, Half Marathon Guide has you covered. But, while a free training plan is great for making sure you have enough strength and stamina to cross the finish line, it won’t necessarily improve your running times.
Recently, there have been more coaching apps popping up. My favorite is the hugely popular Runna app. At just $17.99 per month or $109.99 for the year, it offers a genuinely useful alternative to coaching for everyone from beginners, to advanced runners. The app takes into account your current ability, schedule, and goals. You can even add strength training sessions into your plan!
You can use code HALFMARATHON for 2-weeks of free training.
If coaching isn’t your thing but you need some added motivation, consider joining your local running group. Not only is it a great place to socialise, it can also push your running to new levels, especially if the club offers things like interval sessions. Many clubs are free or cheap, and have added perks such as discounted race entry and kit.
Supplements & Nutrition
Rule number one about supplements: most people will be able to get all they need from a healthy, varied diet with sufficient calories.
Supplementing with protein powders and creatine for runners is a case of marginal gains, and isn’t necessary for most.
Eating real food first will always be more beneficial (and cheaper) than relying on supplements to remain healthy. Having said that, they can be useful, especially if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Use own-brand supplements and buy protein from cheaper stores in bulk. If you consume dairy, milk powder is a reasonable substitute for whey protein powder. Avoid too many fillers and preservatives. Simple is usually better.
As for running nutrition, many running stores will sell running gels towards their sell-by date at reduced prices. If you know you will use them in your training, stock up. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need gels to perform in a race. Gels are primarily sugar, and you can get sugar from many different sources. Sweets like Haribo work well to replace gels, and flapjack, cake, trail mix and biscuits all provide sufficient calories to sustain for ultramarathons. Avoid ‘sports drinks’ in bottles.
If you need electrolytes, buy it in powdered form or tabs – it’s cheaper, healthier and more sustainable.
Running on a Budget Mentality
On top of all of these practical pieces of advice is to work on the internal motivation to buy new things all the time. So long as they’re still in one piece, you should be able to consistently run in your running shoes beyond the 350 to 500 recommended miles. All your running essentials should be able to last you a long time – using what’s already at home is both cheaper on your wallet and more planet friendly.
Upgrading to the latest version of the super shoe or technical tee-shirt isn’t just bad on your wallet, but has negative impacts on the environment. Science also suggests it doesn’t actually make you happy beyond the initial purchase.
Take care of the kit you have, repair things when they break, and you’ll end up saving money and the planet.