The Cost Of Being A Runner: Make A Budget And Run With It!

The Cost Of Being A Runner: Make A Budget And Run With It!

When I began running at my local park in April 2015, my wardrobe had already comprised of everyday sweatpants, a hoodie, sneakers, and a sports bra. Well-equipped for the elements, my timing to complete even one mile wasn’t great, but I worked at improving my performance as all runners do.

I ran my first 5K in September of that year, not having added – or purchased – too many items or garments to my routine other than a few tank tops and a velcro armband to hold money and my cell phone. Even though I finished my first 5K in 32:32 I knew something had to give – something had to be holding me back despite my dedicated training.

It wasn’t until one year later and have gone through several pairs of old cotton sweatpants that were not running friendly, and a couple of pairs of sneakers that caused shin splints – as I watched the rubber soles wear down like abused pencil erasers – for me to realize that I had to spend a little more money on running gear. I also didn’t have a smartwatch to challenge myself along the way – a “splurge” purchase that’s helped me visualize all the challenges I had to overcome to be a stronger and faster runner.

Soon, investing in skin-tight, form-fitting running pants made of polyester and spandex was a priority. Investing in several different types of running sneakers for different types of runs and distances – and a pair for the gym – became a financial splurge that cut my 5K time down to 26:28. Equipping myself with a handheld water bottle pouch was another purchase that I learned was critical for surviving my next challenge, a 10K run.

What started out as a leisure trek through the local park sporting average lounging gear already in my wardrobe circulation soon became a powerful determination to push for more – and this “push” required some budgeting!

Subsequently, the more dedicated we become as runners, the more we realize we need a “running budget” to keep up with our threads, accessories and even our food expenses to make those long runs safer and more bearable.

Many of us are already on a tight budget and we’re always working on ways to make ends meet. However, when you look at a runner’s budget, it eventually becomes a slightly “expensive” sport! Still, when you reflect on its benefits you realize that it’s truly a priceless investment in the long run!

Food And Fuel – What’s The Cost?

Carb-loading, protein fueling, staying hydrated…Runners consume a lot of calories and liquids! Many of us also meal prep while we’re intensely training to ensure sure we build muscle and have enough energy to push through a run. We’re buying protein bars by the box, Gatorade by the case and more bananas than we’ve ever thought was possible to consume!

The reality is that running requires a lot fueling up, refueling and recovering. The average person may skip breakfast – and maybe their only “fuel” is a cup of coffee in the morning. As a runner, buying nutrient and protein-rich foods that give us the energy to cover several miles is imperative to our health and our performance.

If you’ve just started running and know that you have to eat more (and will spend more money) to improve your fitness regimen, make sure you know how much you’ll be spending each week on protein bars/shakes etc.

Making a ‘food budget’ is the first and most important monetary consideration you’ll make to have a healthy running life. Runners need to fuel up before and after a run – even if it’s a small energy booster that satiates us for an hour. This is like paying for breakfast and brunch or if you run in the evening, you’ll need a snack about an hour before you go out the door and then your actual dinner when you return. That’s two meals!

One way to make it easier is to calculate how much a box or case of energy bars/Gatorades cost and how much you will be spending on your recovery meal and possibly expensive supplements. Just be aware of the added finances you’ll require for nutritional purposes each week or month.

Non-runners don’t typically burn calories as fast as we do, so if someone says “Wow, you eat a lot!” it should be taken as a compliment! Many studies show you shouldn’t carelessly eat fat-laden and sugary foods even though your metabolism is speeding up as you hit the pavement more frequently.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on energy bars – but you may find yourself hungry more often – and you need to keep that energy harnessed for your next run! Long distance trail runners and triathlon competitors are among athletes who wind up spending a fortune on dried fruit, granola bars and energy gels that can be portable enough to survive challenging courses.

Making a nutritional budget will allow you to stay fit and keep your body energized for the road ahead.

Your Wardrobe: Functionality And Affordability

Your favorite athletic store has probably made a fortune off of runners. With pro-athletes advertising their sneakers or tracksuit of choice, followers want the hottest and best performing gear they can get their hands on. That doesn’t mean you’re actually getting the most bang for your buck.

Let’s consider the fact that plenty of people who don’t even run purchase sports and athletic gear just to look and feel comfortable or be with the “in style” crowd. However, runners truly need performance-friendly threads that match up to our movements! That doesn’t mean you have to spend over $100 on new Nike running pants that are “motion/sweat activated” or claim to make you a better runner with their unique designs.

Unless you’ve tried on and ran in dozens of pairs of pants/shirts and then find that the expensive brands actually help you run for a longer time – or those brands are truly more comfortable – saving your money for casual sportswear is the best idea.

You will also need to spend more money if you’re a cold weather runner. Protecting your extremities from frigid conditions could cost you more – and layering up could mean opening up your wallet! From thermals to running gloves specifically made for sports and movement, outerwear requires a little more than everyday accessories.

At first, you may think a simple pair of running sneakers with thick soles are the key – or that spandex running pants costing over $100 is the way to go. Yes, better running shoes obviously cost more and if you’re running in harsh weather, you’ll probably want to save up money for a pair of kicks that are waterproof/snowproof. Soon, you may need to invest in better socks and maybe even compression gear for your knees, calves, and forearms.

Don’t open that wallet just yet!

When you actually start running in different clothes and shoes, you learn what works and what causes you to lag as you’re on your long run. Of course, you want gear that’s affordable and makes you a better runner. However, you do have to spend a bit more on footwear if you run long distances more often and different weather calls for thicker running pants.

Racing To The Bank

Competing in races are fun – but they’re not free!

Your average 5K, 10K or half marathon race can cost between $25 and $100. Marathon runners spend literally hundreds of dollars to compete along a 26.2-mile course. Unless you’re lucky enough to be a pro-athlete who is sponsored or receives a plethora of endorsements, saving up for races may be next on your detailed athletic budget.

Races that provide more amenities, like medals, ample post-race fueling spreads, and photo opportunities, could cost a bit more. The cost of traveling to a race is also part of the financial “fun”. Do you have to take a plane/train/bus to get to the racing grounds? Do you have to stay in a hotel close where the race is being held?

When choosing a race that’s in your budget, consider how far it is and if it’s worth paying for carfare/transportation/tolls to get to the destination. Also, is the mileage you’re running truly worth what you’re paying? Some races are hosted for a good cause or are sponsored by a reputable a charity could cost a little more if they have high proceeds.  

So how can you pick a budget-friendly race?

Consider the distance, the time it takes you to get to the race location and your personal satisfaction from completing that race. If it’s a fun competition you’re participating in where proceeds go to fighting cancer or the race is being held for someone who passed on carrying out an extraordinary act, your training and financial contribution will be beneficial in so many ways!

Another way to budget your “race spending” is to only invest in races where you feel that you will challenge yourself to do better than your last race. Running on your own time is completely different than running in a public competition where your timing and pace is recorded. Are you spending money to prove to yourself that you can do better? Are you spending money on a race because it covers territory that you know will be an amazing challenge you have to overcome?

Decide how many races you want to compete in over the coming months and make sure the cost is reasonable. Many of us spend roughly $40 for a race that hopefully lasts less than an hour or two – but no one can put a price tag on the feeling of victory, satisfaction, and accomplishment we get from conquering those fitness goals.  

You Gotta Train – Don’t Complain!

Whether you’re investing in a monthly gym membership or buying at-home equipment to strength train, spending money on getting your physique up to par may be another expense to take into account. Hardcore runners who need the extra discipline – and could possibly afford it – may pay for a personal trainer or take various training courses.

While gym memberships are pretty affordable these days, ask yourself if those type of training investments are necessary and if they will honestly make you a better athlete!

Trying to budget your training routine? There are hundreds of calisthenics that you can do with only your body and furniture you already have in your home! Those who don’t have space at home or find that they’re more motivated in a gym setting can add this self-investment to their budget.

Another investment we can’t forget to mention is smartwatches! No matter what brand you purchase, chances are you’ll start with one style and continue to purchase model upgrades. Whether you’re an Apple Watch lover, a Garmin athlete or Fitbit is your fave, runners spend hundreds – sometimes thousands on gadgets that will improve and break down their training time. While these watches have other functions, making it worth any amount of money you spend, these marvels become a financial priority for runners to wear and spend their next paycheck on.

Your Time Budgeting Is Just As Valuable!

When you think about it, spending time on something is just like spending money – once it’s spent, it’s gone!

Spending time can be parallel to spending money. With the free time you have – and many of us can’t spare too much – you’re choosing to dedicate it to your physical health. Budgeting your time each day should be on the list too! Long runs can take 2 to 3 hours unless you’re a fast runner and can breeze through those miles.

When you take into account how much time you spend at your job, with your family/friends, time budgeting is imperative! Will you spend less than an hour on improving your pace/time/endurance? The best time budgeting tool is determining whether you’re dedicating your free time to the love of running itself, or if that time is spent training for a competition?  Can you spare that time you could have been sleeping, being with your family or doing a project for work?

Spending time and “wasting time” are also tricky seesaws we find ourselves balancing on – and justifying – as athletes. When you’ve spent – or wasted – a Friday night partying even though you have to intensely train the next day, your energy not only suffers but your endurance can lag as a result of your choices.

How important is your running and how much time are you willing to commit to yourself? The more serious you are about getting up and crushing your goals, the more likely you will be to evaluate – and reevaluate – budgeting your time.

Some of us may be invited to a party or social function at the last minute – the night before a race!

Don’t do it! You’ve spent too much physical time – a feat that has no monetary value – preparing and charging yourself up for the competition. Don’t sabotage the energy you’ve harnessed and worked so hard for. Gladly accept an invite after your competitions. Chances are, your family and friends will be more than understanding and respectful in how responsibly you budget your free time.

What it comes down to is that the cost of being addicted to bettering yourself is definitely priceless! Runners like myself have spent enough hard-earned money over the past few years to know that financing one’s dedication to a growing passion can’t be measured in dollars – and that makes sense!


  1. Runner’s World: The Proper Way to Fuel Before a Long Run
  2. Health: How Much Does it Really Cost to Run a Marathon
  3. Business Insider: The Cost of Running Competitively
  4. Planting Pennies: The Costs of Running