The Hidden Costs of Running
It turns out we need a lot more than shoes to stay in the sport
Runners love to say their sport is minimalistic. They’ve been saying it ever since jogging became popular in the 1970s. “There just isn’t a more basic, down-toearth, inexpensive way for the average person to achieve fitness than by jogging,” wrote Rory Donaldson, who worked for the National Jogging Association and wrote the bestselling Guidelines for Successful Jogging in 1977. Another running evangelist, George Sheehan, wrote in his 1975 book, On Running, “shoes are the runner’s only significant expense.” Three years later, in Running & Being, he claimed runners need not shower after a workout, nor buy deodorant because “honest sweat has no odour.” My family members beg to differ.
The myth persists today. “All you need is a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts,” wrote Ray Charbonneau in the 2010 book, Chasing the Runner’s High: My Sixty MillionStep Program. Female readers know running demands at least one other garment, but Charbonneau went a step further: “Some people choose to get by without the shoes, and fearlessly stride barefoot through the debris of modern life.”
Truthfully, it’s all a lie – perpetuated by the smuggest among us who believe in our sport’s purity – because running has many hidden costs. At 12, I was content to run in department-store running shoes, a cotton t-shirt and shorts, but now I can’t leave the house for an easy run without technical clothing, blister-resistant socks, sunglasses, a gps watch and phone.
Every week, I receive press releases from public relations professionals hyping their clients’ latest products: running vests, smartwatches, pocketed belts, personal safety wrist wearables, running bells, ref lective compression socks, protein pasta, seamless underwear, mineral oil gel pads, electrolyte capsules…I could go on.
Running may have lower barriers to entry than ice hockey or alpine skiing, but it’s almost impossible to stick with it and not get sucked into a vortex of products and fees. Some of these innovations, like the gps watch, have made our running lives easier (I don’t miss the days of tracing my routes on gmap-pedometer.com). Others are completely unnecessary and the more we depend on them, the less accessible the sport becomes.
Out of curiosity, I logged my running expenses for a year, tallying up every race entry fee and pair of socks I paid for. It’s worth noting that while I’m guilty of spending unwise amounts on injury recovery aids (like that bone stimulator I bought out of desperation in 2013), I also benefit from an unusually generous coach and – once every full moon – a modest pot of prize money.
Let’s start with shoes. I buy about two pairs a year, which works out to $300 or more.
Races make up another large chunk of my running budget, responsible for about $500 for a dozen events that ranged between the mile and 15k. Most of my races in 2017 were within driving distance of where I lived, but in my case, there were some splurges, requiring a hotel bed, multiple tanks of gas and two airline tickets.
Marat honers have it worse. According t o Running usa, t he average race entr y fee for t he top 25 U. S. marathons rose 35 per cent since 2007 – more than three times faster than inf lation. The New York City Marathon costs about $460 for Canadians, and that’s not including t ravel costs.
Surprisingly, I spend just as much on injury treatment and prevention tools as I do on running itself. In 2017, I spent hundreds of dollars on physiotherapy, massages, cross-training, blister bandages, iron supplements and epsom salts.
In total, I spent at least $1,500 on running last year. That’s more than a month’s rent and about three times as much as a yearly gym membership. There are many ways I could slash this total, of course. Registering early, running races close to home, carpooling with teammates and organizing more informal competitions (beer mile, anyone?) are a few ways to save on bib costs.
When higher race fees translate into organized events with well-marked, certified courses and lots of competition, I don’t have a problem with that. Races can also generate thousands of dollars for worthy charities. But what about reduced entry fees for students or more opportunities to earn entry by volunteering?
The companies that profit from our need for shoes and gels often give back to the sport, helping fund amateur and Olympic athletes, races and, yes, magazines. And it’s true that almost any competitive sport has costs. But it’s also true that not everyone can afford to pay them.
As marathons swell and our gear becomes ever more sophisticated, I hope we find ways to ensure the sport is as inclusive as it can be.