Marathon Man: The real cost of running races

NEW YORK Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:19am EST

Men's elite runners make their way through the borough of Brooklyn during the New York City Marathon in New York, November 3, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Men's elite runners make their way through the borough of Brooklyn during the New York City Marathon in New York, November 3, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Adam Hunger

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - It was around Mile 25 of the Brooklyn Marathon that it hit me.

I'm not talking about The Wall -- although that definitely hit me, too, during the cold and drizzly morning of November 17.

By that point of the 26.2-mile race around Brooklyn's Prospect Park, my body felt like it was disintegrating and that I was running on some kind of comical wooden stilts. Meanwhile, my mind had gone to a very dark place, praying to every deity and ancestor I could think of.

No, I'm talking about being hit with a central irony: I had paid good money to put myself in this situation. And lots of it.

There was the four-month marathon training program, run out of my local Brooklyn running store, JackRabbit Sports: $315. There were my running shoes, Brooks Glycerin models (two pair), that I beat into the ground with around 35 miles of training a week: $150 each.

There was the marathon entry fee itself, $90. Then there was various gear, like synthetic shirts and socks, required so that I didn't chafe my skin into a bloody mess multiple times a week: $200.

Don't forget the entry fees for preparatory races, like an October half-marathon I did in Central Park: $100. And there were all those gels and Gatorades I ingested during training, to get enough calories to be able to cross the finish line: $50.

Then there was the incalculable time I spent running around Prospect Park on this quixotic goal -- instead of, say, playing more soccer or Monopoly with my two young sons.

All in all, I plowed over $1,000 into this idea of pushing my 41-year-old body to its limits, and just for a single race. Not that I regret it for a second. I had never even considered a marathon as a physical possibility, and now I've done it. That's a powerful thing to know and experience.

But it didn't come cheap. And I'm not alone in paying that price.

One of my running coaches, Brooklyn's Cipriana Cuevas, ran multiple marathons this year. Car rental, hotel and entry fee for Boston (she crossed the finish line mere minutes before the bombs went off): $850. Chicago flight, hotel and entry fee: $675. Philadelphia: Another $320.

Tack on assorted purchases of $200 for each trip, and you're quickly into the thousands of dollars. Including all her gear and fees for non-marathon races, Cuevas estimates she dropped well over $3,000 on her running habit in the last year.

"It's a surprise and not in a nice way," says the 28-year-old, an income auditor for a major Manhattan hotel. "I probably shouldn't be spending that much on a hobby.

"Honestly, I didn't take any non-running-related vacations this year, and I don't spend a lot in general," she says. "So the fact that my personal luxury is also good for my health is a big plus."

We're only a couple of running freaks among many, of course. Almost 30 million Americans went running on at least 50 days in 2012, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. That's an increase of about 3 percent over the year before.

Of course, you don't have to spend quite as much as I did in pursuit of the marathon goal. There are free online training courses, you can always run in your trusty old sneakers and sweats, and even gain free entry by running for philanthropic groups like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training.

My little running adventure also did some public good, as I raised $2,277 from friends and family to help preserve and promote the Haida language. It's an indigenous tongue spoken by only a few dozen people, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s, living on the islands of Haida Gwaii off the northwest coast of British Columbia. Like many native languages, it's in grave danger of disappearing forever, and I did what I could to help.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been more efficient to forego all the fundraising emails and all those sweaty afternoons on the track and just donate all that money directly.

Of course, that's a hypothetical no runner ever really considers. Once the habit is in your blood you'll do whatever it takes, and spend whatever is required, to come face-to-face with your absolute limits and defeat them all over again.

I finished at an exhausted and rain-soaked 3:34, by the way, and immediately swore never to do another marathon. Since then I've already gone back on that pledge -- and signed up for the Central Park marathon in February.

I just wish this addiction were cheaper.

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here Editing by Lauren Young and Leslie Adler)

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Comments (1)
theweeklynabe wrote:
Sure, there are financial costs – but there are upsides that you just can’t buy. Demonstrating to your sons how to set a goal and stick with it through thick and thin (and a nasty surprise rainstorm), for one. And a healthy lifestyle that will increase the odds that you see them grow up and put that lesson to good use.

There are always opportunity costs with both time and money, but there are many, many worse things we could be doing instead of running loops of the park.

Dec 15, 2013 9:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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