The Cost of Running

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This article, written by Dave Dunham, first appeared in our Nov/Dec 2014 issue.

Have you ever thought about how much it costs to race?  There are some obvious costs and others that might not automatically register.  I like spreadsheets and I sometimes dabble in calculating expenses (preparing tax returns), so it may come as no surprise that I’ve been tracking my personal cost of racing since 2009.

The most obvious cost is the entry fee.  Comparing entry amounts for each race is easy but you don’t necessarily get the same benefits from each for you cash.  A 5K and a marathon have vastly different inherent costs relegating any type of comparison as unfair. You can compare one 5K to another but amenities often differ widely. I always look for races with a “no t-shirt” option to save money.  Who needs another shirt?  I rarely take one even when they are included in the entry fee.  I also look for bargain races such as weekly series and free races.  Buyers beware, though, as some weekly series are actually pretty expensive as stand-alone races and other “cheap” races may lack the quality you’re used to.  The only thing I’m looking for when I pay my entry is a clearly marked course and a chance to test myself against the competition.  Although the fee is one of my top concerns when figuring out which race to do, the location of the race should be the first consideration.

The biggest expense associated with racing is the distance driven.  Using the government rate for business mileage (which you might do if you are taking a hobby loss for your racing) is 56 cents per mile.  I rarely factor this in when choosing a race but I should.  With nearly 6,000 miles of race related driving each year I’m “spending” over $3,000 per year just getting to the starting line—not to mention the costs involved if I travel by plane and have to book a hotel room for a faraway race. In contrast I “only” spent between 500 and 800 per year on entry fees for approximately 40 races per year.

Another lesser cost would be running shoes and racing flats. How many hundreds of dollars do we spend on sneakers annually? Furthermore, I imagine that a lot of people simply race in the same shoes they train in, but others use lightweight trainers or flats.  If you are doing a track or XC race, you may want specialty spikes.  Trail and mountain runners can be found checking out the latest lightweight shoes built for traction in mud and over uneven terrain.  Along with shoes there may be gear you’d want specifically for racing or even training.  Items such as a lightweight singlet, hydration systems, and compression socks, all add on to the overall cost of running.

The costs of running go beyond the purely fiscal. Time involved is another consideration.  Twice this year I spent over eight hours in the car driving back and forth to Burlington, Vermont. Rolling out the door and racing close by chews up a heck of a lot less time than losing the entire day driving all over New England to race.  Not only where you are going but the distance and terrain can eat up your time.  A hilly ten mile trail race can take four or five times as long as a flat road 5K.  Ultras are a whole other story as they literally could take the entire day to race.

Another non-monetary expense of racing would be injuries that result from it.  Even if you don’t pick up a full blown injury sometimes just post-race soreness can have a drastic impact.  You could lose training miles and/or speed workouts if you are aching from a race—not to mention the monetary loss if your injury requires professional medical treatment. I remember doing the Cranmore Mountain three-loop version and it took over two weeks for the soreness to finally loosen its grip.  Sometimes I’ll choose a Saturday race over a Sunday because I don’t think I’ll recover in time for a Tuesday track workout.  Heck, just missing a weekend long run because you don’t want to go long the day before a race and can’t do it the day after could be considered a cost.

Although it is important to keep in mind the cost of heading out to race the alternative is much worse.  A weekend without a race is a weekend squandered.  Watching all of the Facebook posts of everyone out there doing it may be the biggest cost of NOT racing.  Since 2009 I’ve spent well over $30,000 on racing, but the value of being able to go out and race is incalculable.

Dave Dunham is the preeminent numbers man in the Legion.

To read more from the Nov/Dec 2014 issue, click here.

To read from our current issue, click here.




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