Running: Taking its Toll on Your Wallet and Knees

Somewhere along the line, we’ve collectively consented to accept a series of seemingly harmless lies as fact.

Swallow gum and it will stay in your digestive track for seven years. Daddy longlegs are the world’s most poisonous spiders but their mouths are too small to bite humans. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

One more myth to add to the list: Running is the cheapest sport around.

We’ve all heard it before. “All you need is a pair of sneakers!” Unlike any number of athletic pastimes that demand the purchase of rackets or bats or sticks or balls, running is said to be an activity that you can add to your collection of hobbies with little more investment than a quick raid of your existing shoe rack.

Oh, sweet, simple world. It’s time we stop disseminating these lies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fairly certain running is a cheaper sport than, say, equestrianism. But to contend that all you need is a pair of shoes is a bit of false advertising. Although there do exist minimalist runners, I certainly am not one, as evidenced by the piles of spillover spandex lining my window sills. From satellite watches to high-tech shirts to anti-chaffing body glide (stay sexy, runners), the sheer accumulation of gear quickly takes its toll on any runner’s (wicking) wallet.

And that’s in addition to the shoes. But just one pair won’t do. According to Runner’s World contributing editor David Kuehls, when it comes to pairs of $100+ footwear, an aspiring marathon runner needs – count ’em – three.

“To train for a 4-hour marathon, I recommend three pairs,” he writes in 4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon. “You need two pairs to rotate during training. … Then, three weeks before the marathon, put (a) third pair of shoes into the rotation.”

I hadn’t been heeding Ol’ Dave’s advice, but with my ASICS Gel-Neo33s starting to lose their bounce after carrying me 485.8 miles since February (costing me 22/cents a mile, my nerdy running log calculates), I decided it was time to add a few new pairs into the rotation. My ASICS have served me well, so rather than gambling on a new model altogether, I opted for two new pairs of Gel-Neo33s in the most obnoxiously bright colors possible. Because we all know wearing neon makes you run faster. It’s science.


I’ve also recently stocked up on 100-calorie energy gels to carry with me on long runs and throw back after every 45 minutes of exercise. At $1.25 a pop, they’re not prohibitively expensive, but with 10 weeks of double-digit Saturday long runs in my immediate future, these sugar-filled bad boys are going to start costing a pretty penny.  Luckily, they taste like cake icing, making the all-around experience a positive one.

Fortunately, although marathon training has started to become a rather expensive hobby, I’ve been able to largely counteract the added spend by doing awesome New York activities for free. Like going to city museums at no cost during the first weekend of the month as a Bank of America card holder (note: Visiting the New York Hall of Science without a small child makes you feel super creepy). Or making our own chocolate-covered frozen bananas instead of buying the Trader Joe’s ones for an exorbitant $1.29 a box (note: If you put me in charge of this process, very few actual bananas will make it onto the serving platter instead of my mouth). Or going to free outdoor Williamsburg block parties (note: Real hipsters wear Indian headdresses.)

Runners: Any tips for keeping the costs associated with our sport to a minimum? Non-runners: Start running! All you need is a pair of sneakers!


6 thoughts on “Running: Taking its Toll on Your Wallet and Knees

  1. I buy Gu in balk from Amazon. It comes out to less than $1 a packet! Also Nuun is way cheaper (and more eco-friendly) than buying bottles of gatorade.

  2. It’s running, not a fashion show! There have been studies that actually suggest more expensive footwear leads to a greater risk of injury. And one doesn’t even need sneakers. According to the more hardcore advocates, barefoot running is the way to go. The premise is that our feet evolved without arch support and heel pads, and that these advances fix problems that don’t exist. This promotes an unnatural running technique, weakens the feet, lessens efficiency, and can lead to injury. And as for running accessories, these are superfluous. Try goodwill stores for cotton shorts and t shirts. The power gels and bars are also unnecessary. Whole foods are just as light, portable, less expensive, and more nourishing besides. Publications such as Runner’s World rely on advertising and subsidies from the major shoe companies, so what they say should be taken with a grain of salt. People ran for two hundred thousand years before running shoes came along, and they certainly didn’t have tights and calorie gels. Running is cheap. That is why the greatest runners in the world are often from the poorest countries. While runners from developed nations are worrying about rotating sneakers or hydration systems or whatever, the greats from Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Copper Canyons are just running. As much as possible. However possible. In whatever possible.

    Okay, that is my rant.

    It’s hard to argue with the fact that neon makes you run faster. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good when you run. If it makes you feel good, it probably leads to more running. And that’s definitely positive. But as you mentioned, all you need is a pair of sneakers. Or rather, all you need is to start moving your feet.

    P.S. – Apologies if I come across a little snotty. This is a topic that I have been coming to grips with in the past months. I really enjoyed reading your post, it had me chuckling out loud a few times. I like your style. Peace and Love and Running 😀

    1. No offense taken. This is a major point of contention in the running community and a good discussion to have. I would never – NEVER! – shell out $80 for a Lululemon running skirt, but some of these other associated costs seem worthwhile to me. It’s true you can forgo wicking gear and heart monitors and pre-packaged GUs in favor of a more natural running program, but with the price of many of the world’s biggest races, like the NYC Marathon, now pushing $250 a pop, it’s hard to say running (or at least racing) won’t put a dent in your wallet. Luckily, I get a “free” shirt at each of these races, so at least that helps average out the costs, ha.

      I agree with you 100% that whole foods beat out energy gels when it comes to nutrition and cost, but I’m a little stumped on the portability factor. How do I carry an apple in the strap of my sports bra? If you can convince me there’s an easy way to transport whole foods on a 20-mile long run, you have made a willing convert.

      Thank you for reading, and good luck with your own training!

      1. Those are good points. I suppose there’s no way around the entrance fees. It sounds like you found some cheap activities in the meantime.

        For food, I like to carry a banana and some dulse (seaweed) in a fanny pack that I sling over my shoulder on the longer runs. But I also have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of body fat to see me through. Heck, if my knees were up to it I could probably go for days just running on blubber. In my younger days, when it seemed like I could run forever, I used to stop at the supermarket midway through. But then, I was never concerned about finishing times. If the power gels are working for you, stick with them. It’s important to be comfortable out there.

        I’m only now getting back up to half marathon distance, so its not like I actually know what I’m talking about. You could probably run circles around me.

        Happy Trails!

  3. I loved reading this in my hotel room with an ice pack on my knee and running paraphanelia strewn about the room. We certainly know how to take things to the exgtreme, don’t we? But, good shoes, tech gear, heart monitors, etc. do perform a function for us.

    The best thing I do to save money is buy last years gear. Whether it’s shirts on clearance online or the local running store trying to get rid of their last few pair of shoes, it’s an easy way to get perfectly good gear for well below full price. I also make sure to grab a gel or two when races provide free samples.

  4. Check out and go for the VIP program. It’s $1.99 a year and will save you at bare minimum 10%, gets you free shipping, and most the time you’ll get even more discounts to get around 20% off. Also, if you have a Chase Sapphire or Citicards Platinum, you can get an extra 8-9% of bonus points/cash by shopping there.

    Also, don’t always buy into the big name brands for clothing. My favorite run gear for cold right now, surprise surprise, Old Navy! They have amazing compression gear that I got at $9.99 a piece. They fit better than any compression gear I’ve had and look great. The deals are out there, you just have to scour the net a little more to find it sometimes.

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