Post written by Susan Lacke.“Running is becoming so … elitist.” sighed a friend recently. “It used to be so cheap to just put on a pair of shoes and do a 5K, but now it’s ridiculously expensive. And triathlon, ha! Don’t even get me started on triathlon.”
The statement gave me pause. Is it really that expensive? In my head, I did the math:
A marathon entry fee can be pricey, sure. According to FindMyMarathon.com, at least 41 marathons in the United States charge more than $100 to enter. The New York City Marathon, for example, has a $255 entry fee.
Of course, you’d need the proper running shoes, socks, shorts, shirts … let’s throw in a hat, too. We’ll say, ballpark … $200. And a watch, for $35 — unless you want GPS, then we’re looking at a couple hundred dollars. You eat more, too, so there’s an increase in your everyday food budget. Speaking of food, I need to go buy a box of gels ($34).
That’s just for running. My friend was right – don’t even get me started on triathlon.
But is it elitist? I’m not quite buying what she’s selling. It really doesn’t have to be that expensive. Over the past few years, I’ve found a few tricks for saving cash as a runner and triathlete. Here are 28 tips that will have you paying like a pauper, but running like a prince.
1. Shop around. Though name-brand races have a lot of bells and whistles, they’re also very expensive. Look for small but well-organized races where registration fees are a fraction of the price of the big races. To find the best, ask local running shops or inquire on forums like LetsRun.com or TriFuel.com.
2. Register early. Committing to a race months or even a year in advance not only helps you plan your training schedule – it can save you some serious dough. The HITS triathlon series, for example, offers 75 percent off registration fees if you register more than four months before race day!
3. Volunteer. A few months before the race, e-mail the race director and ask if he or she needs volunteers to stuff swag bags, write newsletters, or deliver race flyers to local running stores and gyms. Race directors often comp entries in exchange for labor.
4. Join a team. When you join a club, chances are you’ll pay a small membership fee. This is one of those rare circumstances where you get much more than what you pay for. Teams and clubs will not only connect you with new training partners, free group workouts, and social events, you’ll also receive discounts from local shops and races.
5. Sign up for e-mail lists and Facebook groups. If you don’t want to sign up for a team, at least sign up for their electronic notices. Many running clubs and triathlon teams post their discount codes in team newsletters or Facebook groups. Some races do the same, and may also share special one-day-only discount codes on Twitter.
6. Work out at home. Don’t get suckered into the notion that you must join a gym. Your workout can be free – do lunges, crunches, and pushups, and run outside … yes, even when the weather is hot/cold/windy/rainy/snowy. Hey, if the weather sucks on race day, nobody will be able to say you didn’t train in it.
7. Check out deal sites. Like Groupon and LivingSocial, which often have deals on gym memberships, spin studio workouts, or yoga sessions.
8. Explore your ‘hood. Search for websites of the gyms and workout studios close by – many have new member deals. For example, there are seven yoga studios within walking distance of my home. All of them offer two free weeks of unlimited yoga for new members. Theoretically, that’s three and a half months of free yoga, all without using a single dollar or gallon of gas.
9. Streamline. If you only need a place to swim, there’s no need to pay a ton of money for membership for the giant gym across town that has weights, cardio equipment, fitness classes, massage, juice bar … things you’ll never use. Instead, inquire about open swim at your local high schools, colleges, and rec centers.
10. Don’t delude yourself. I’ve seen far too many people purchase expensive exercise equipment under the facade of “I don’t have time to go to the gym, but I’ll exercise at home!” If you make excuses for not going to the gym, you’ll make excuses to get out of exercising at home, too.
11. Buy from the deluded. Eventually, the aforementioned excuse-makers will be sick of seeing the spin bike in their basement, tripping over dumbbells in the garage, and watching workout videos collecting dust on the shelf. Inquire on Facebook, search on Craigslist and Freecycle, and visit secondhand stores for free and cheap workout gear.
12. Join the community. You’d be surprised how many groups offer free workouts. Ask your local running store about free track workouts. Your bike shop may organize a weekly group ride for free. Triathlon teams may host open-water swims – if you’re not a member, shoot them an e-mail and ask if you can tag along. Most will say yes!
13. Buy quality gear. I used to spend 19 dollars for the “cheap” goggles at a local triathlon shop. After realizing how much money I was spending every three months for replacing goggles with leaks, scratches, or cloudy lenses, I splurged on a pair of fifty-dollar goggles suggested by a friend who swims daily. I haven’t needed to replace them in over a year.
14. Shop end-of-season sales. Just as parkas are their cheapest in April, running and triathlon gear goes on sale depending on the season. Fall is a great time to buy a bike, since cycling season is winding down and retailers want to get last year’s models out the door. Likewise, stock up on running tights and jackets in the spring and swimsuits at the end of summer.
15. Buy items that multitask. Running shirts with built-in sports bras, cycling jackets with removable sleeves, a cell phone with downloadable fitness apps for tracking pace and distance are all examples of cutting down on the amount of “stuff” you need to buy.
16. Increase the longevity of your clothes & shoes. Wash your workout clothes in a good detergent and air-dry instead of using your dryer. Use your running shoes only for running. Never, ever, ever put your running shoes in the washing machine.
17. Do your own work. Have someone teach you how to perform maintenance on your bike. There’s no reason to pay a shop 65 bucks a pop for someone to clean your bike, put new tape on the handlebars, and oil your chain.
18. Negotiate. It’s unlikely you’ll get a giant discount on a big-ticket item like a bike. However, you might be able to sweet-talk your way into other perks, like a better seat, sharply-discounted accessories, or a year of free maintenance.
19. Track sales. The manufacturers for some of your more expensive items, like protein powders, may offer sales on their website, Twitter, or Facebook page. However, if you contact the manufacturer just to say “hey, thanks for such a great product, it’s my favorite” they’ll often reply with a coupon to show their gratitude.
20. Join a CSA or co-op. Fresh vegetables from local farmers? What’s not to love? And the price! The price is definitely something to love. Shop around, and do the math – some CSAs deliver a week’s worth of produce to you for as little as 20 dollars a week.
21. Stop going to the smoothie bar. Make your own, at home, with fresh ingredients.
22. Make your own nutrition drinks/gels/bars. No Meat Athlete has a great collection of recipes for this. However, depending on the workout you’re doing, dried dates, honey, or even Swedish Fish can be a fine (and cheap!) substitution to gels and “Chomps.”
23. Eat right. You can eat a lot of cheap crap, be hungry all the time, and waste money buying more cheap crap. Or you can refuel correctly and choose foods high in protein and fiber, which will typically satisfy your post-run belly. Also, you can learn a few tricks to save money on healthy, vegetarian food.
24. Bandit. Participating in a race without paying not only makes you a giant dick, it’s also illegal. Thanks to a sharp increase in the number of people banditing races, some race directors have started asking police to arrest anyone they see who is running the race without a bib number or timing chip. Your legal fees are guaranteed to be more than a 70-dollar race registration.
25. Sell your bib number or swap bibs without permission. If a 40 year-old man wears a 20 year-old woman’s chip and bib, he will skew the results for the women in the 20-24 age group. Also, if that man has a medical emergency and is wearing his 20 year old female friend’s bib, there will be much trouble identifying him, getting the help he needs, and notifying his family.
26. Overlook your local mom-and-pop stores. I don’t visit big-box stores for my gear. I recently wrote a column on why I always shop local (you can read it here). The short version: there’s more to life than saving 39 cents on a pair of running shorts.
27. Buy it just because it’s on sale. It’s easy to fall victim to sales racks (“It’s HALF OFF!”) but a 50 percent savings isn’t a very good deal if you only wear it 1 percent of the time.
28. Be hasty. To save money, you may need to spend your time – time doing research, shopping around, and being patient until the price drops. It also may require you to do some prioritizing – for example, do you absolutely have to run the big-box $135 half marathon, or will you still have a great time doing the smaller, locally organized $50 race the following weekend?
Let’s hear it from you – what tips do you use to save money on race fees, clothing, gear, or food?
Photo credit: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)