My running career is in maintenance mode lately. I run five days per week, about three to five miles per day, but I haven’t run in an organized race in a couple years and I haven’t felt compelled to do so. Training for a marathon or half marathon is a lot of work and it cuts into my TV time, which has become a much higher priority (The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, anyone?). Occasionally, I think wistfully about heading out on a Saturday morning for a long run, spending a couple hours listening to the sound of my shoes on the pavement and watching my breath in the cool morning air. Those thoughts fade quickly when I am reminded of the financial burden of long-distance running and I’m not talking about the price of shoes.
A friend at work told me she is planning to run in our local half-marathon later in the spring. She said it costs $70 if you register early, but she missed the deadline and will have to pay $85. Holy crap. The full marathon costs $80 for early registration and $90 if you procrastinate. Holy crappier. The cost of a marathon has climbed significantly in the last few years.
I’m not surprised by the high cost. Participants aren’t just paying for the t-shirt they get for finishing the race. They’re really paying for the 26 miles of sports drinks, water, snacks, traffic control cones, local law enforcement, race-timing equipment and volunteers who, while they don’t get paid, get their own t-shirts. It’s not unlike a Red Cross operation to feed refugees after a disaster and it takes a lot of money to pull it all together.
I do my best to encourage anyone who has decided to run in a long-distance event. I’ve run four full marathons and a dozen half marathons and I treasure those experiences. Training for and finishing a marathon taught me a lot about myself. I learned about all the cliché stuff like the depths of my inner strength, my drive to achieve a goal, and all that crap. More importantly, though, I learned about chafing, losing a toenail, touching the edge of insanity, and how good a powdered sugar donut can taste. A person can grow a lot by deciding to do something as ludicrous as running for 26 miles in a row and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.
In my first book, I came up with a list of 22 rules to help guide the aspiring long-distance runner. Based on the economics of marathons, perhaps the most important rule is number five: “Never pay a registration fee as motivation to train.” Doing so can end in disaster as there are any number of things that can keep you from getting to the starting line. It takes months to train for a marathon and, whether from injury or a growing affection for sleeping in, life has a way of throwing you off course if you give it enough time.
I recommend waiting as long as possible to actually register for the event to minimize the risk you will not make it to the start. $90 is a lot of money to spend on a t-shirt and Dixie cups full of sports drink. But, after 26 miles, the powder-sugar donut is totally worth it.