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The Cost Of Running

Posted by: on July, 24 2013

Found on RunnersWorld and written by Jim Warrenfeltz

Running is the cheapest of sports. Right? Put on some shorts, tie on a pair of shoes, and you’re out the door. In a pinch, you can even do without shoes. But like any other activity, little expenses can sneak in around the edges, suddenly the costs mount, and you’re left wondering where all the money went. With that in mind, I wondered: Just how much money will a lifetime of running cost me?

The first question to answer is: How long is a lifetime of running? Assuming a runner starts running in college (maybe as a way to burn off the freshmen 15), you can expect 57 years or so of active life. Of course, this is a statistical average — don’t write us an angry letter if you’re an 101-year-old age-group champion.

Assuming a healthy 30 miles per week, you get 1,564 miles per year. Over 57 years, that adds up to 89,164 miles. That’s 3.6 times around the Earth but only 37% of the way to the Moon.

Assuming a calorie burn rate of about 100/calories per mile, you’ll burn 8.9 million calories. That equates to 2,548 pounds worth of fat you’ll keep from accumulating around your midsection. In additon to burning calories, you’ll also produce 11,889 liters of sweat — enough to fill 23.7 kiddie pools.

But how much did it cost?

Assuming you replaced your shoes every 500 miles and bought two running outfits a year, you could spend anywhere from $11,196.43 ($50 shoes and $10 shorts and tops) to $50,485.71 ($200 shoes and $65 shorts and tops).

You would probably also want to enter a few races to show off those fancy new duds and legs sculpted by the millions of calories burnt. Say one marathon, two half-marathons or 10ks, and four 5ks per year. Some people will look at these numbers as crazy — but I think about half will say they’re crazily low, and half will say they’re crazily high.

Now, races have a wide range of entry fees, from the free and donation-based to entry fees that are several hundred dollars. We’ll figure the most frugal runner enters the freebies, and the average runner pays $25 for a 5K, $50 for a 10K or a half, and $100 for a marathon. The most extreme numbers below would come from entering the NYCM ($266), the Walt Disney Princess Half Marathon ($160), and any of your color/electric/zombie/mud run 5Ks ($80).

Over the 57 years of running, you may also want some gear extras like headlamps, GPS watches, regular watches, hydration packs, and the like. Our cheapest runner will skip these, our average will buy one every couple of years, and our extreme enthusiast will buy one a year, at $100 average.

So that’s the lifetime cost of running, right? Well, not quite. Remember when I calculated how many calories the lifetime runner would burn, and how much he or she would sweat? Well, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The cheapest thing in the supermarket, dollar for calorie-wise, is pure white sugar. Five pounds of white sugar runs around $3 and will net you 8,505 calories. To make up the 8.9 million calories you burned, you would need to spend $3,145.13 on sugar (assuming you don’t snag any of the free bananas and bagels at the end of races).

Assuming you don’t want to eat 428 calories worth of pure sugar daily for 57 years, you might want to try bananas instead. At around $0.50 a pound and 400 calories to the pound, you could replace all the calories you burnt in 57 years with $11,145.54 worth of bananas.

Perhaps bananas aren’t high-tech enough for you (though they do come in single-serving, ready-to-rip convenience packaging). If you tried to replace all your burnt calories with an energy gel (which I’ve seen people try to do during marathons, shiny metallic packages slung bandolier-style), you would spend $100,124.10.

Lastly, you need to replace the two dozen kiddie pools worth of sweat. The cheapest option is tap water, which averages about half a penny per gallon. Over 57 years, this adds up to $15.70. Of course, tap water is not scientifically formulated to quench thirst and replace vital electrolytes and unlock the competitor within (nor does tap water have fancy tv ads). If one were to drink sports drinks instead of tap water, you would only have to spend $16,205.63 — merely $16,189.93 more than plain, boring tap water. Plus, you could cut your calorie budget by 11.3%, as those sports drinks would contain 1,005,000 calories.


Cheapest Average Most Expensive
Clothing $11,196.43 $22,392.86 $50,485.71
Races $0.00 $17,670.00 $51,642.00
Food $3,145.12 $11,145.54 $88,838.75
Fluid $15.70 $3,834.06 $16,205.63
Total $14,357.26 $56,942.46 $212,872.09


So there you have it. Running for 57 years can cost you anywhere from a nice used car to the average cost of a house. Of course, if you look at that as cost per day, it seems much more manageable — between $0.69 and $10.22.

Expensive? Maybe. But as millions of runners know, the benefits of running far outweigh the costs.