Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Running...a cost/benefit analysis..

A big part of why many take up running as a sport is tied to the low 'cost' of entry. Put bluntly, running is perceived as a 'cheap' sport. While this is generally true, there are 'hidden' costs and benefits that are well worth delving into...particularly given the current economic climate.

If you're thinking about getting into running or questioning whether or not you should continue to run, consider the 'rough' cost/benefit analysis below. I would never claim the below is exhaustive/comprehensive, but I think this captures the highlights.

Start Up & Annual Costs


Unquestionably, running 'can' be a cheap sport. A decent pair of shoes, a technical training shirt, a pair of shorts, and a digital watch can be purchased for about $200.

With the exception of the shoes, these items will likely last at least a couple years. Assume 3 pairs of shoes per year if you're running on a regular basis and you're looking at roughly $400/year for shoes/apparel/gear.


Getting some quality shoes and equipment is a solid start, but without any knowledge of 'how' to run, you likely won't be running too far. Tack on a 10-12 week training program and you're looking at about an extra $120 every quarter. So, assume an extra $480/year.

-Net Annual Cost

What you're ultimately looking at is somewhere in the area of $900/year to run throughout the year. Bear in mind that a quality training program will likely include a technical shirt, a discount at a running specialty store, and other perks that may bring down the overall annual cost. Let's assume roughly $75/month.

This isn't too bad if you consider many outdoor fitness programs will run you anywhere from $200-$400 for 6-8 weeks of training. Assume an eight week program at $200 and you're looking at $1300/year just for training. That's just over $100/month. This is also sans shoes, equipment, apparel, etc.

A decent gym membership in the SF/Bay Area will likely run you $100/month. Again, this annual cost is sans shoes, equipment, apparel, etc.

In short, running is undoubtedly one of the cheapest options out there for staying fit. But, there are some 'hidden costs' associated with running that are worth taking a closer look at.

Hidden Costs

-The Cost of Injury

Running is a high impact sport given that running can subject your body to 3-10 times your body weight in impact force per footstrike. Even with the best shoes, equipment, and apparel you can find yourself with an aggravation or injury.

If you're lucky your aggravation and/or injury is minor and can be addressed with R.I.C.E.(Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). But, if your injury is more serious (and you want to run again), you'll likely need physical therapy, massage, etc. Assume roughly $100 for an average session with a physical therapist or massage therapist. Further assume 4-6 sessions for a single injury. You're looking at an extra $400-$600/year.

This underscores the importance of knowing what you're doing when you lace up your running shoes as 'most' running related aggravations/injuries are related to poor biomechanics/form and/or the flaws in training.

A quality training program can help with both of these items and hopefully significantly reduce the risk of serious injury risk and reduce the risk of potentially expensive treatment.

-Emotional/Psychological Cost

This item dovetails with 'the cost of injury', but can't be easily quantified. In some respects this could be the biggest hidden cost associated with running. Simply put, if you're a runner and sustain a significant injury that sidelines you for weeks or months, there's an emotional/psychological cost that can be non-trivial.

Significant injuries can hit your wallet hard, but can hit your heart even harder if you love the sport.

Every passionate runner I've worked with who has sustained an aggravation or injury has communicated the marked stress, anxiety, and fear that can accompany a physical setback. Questions such as 'Will I be able to run again? Will I be able to run the same way again? Should I continue to run?' are common...and stressful to confront.

There are all kinds of wonderful endorphins and natural anti-depressants being released when you run and as a runner you get hooked on this. Having it abruptly removed can absolutely take a very real toll emotionally and psychologically.

The Benefits..


Running has a clear advantage over just about every other sport/activity out there in terms of start up cost. But, consider the convenience of the sport. You can literally throw your shoes on and head out the door pretty much anytime you want. San Francisco weather typically never poses a real challenge to knocking out a few miles.

You don't need a gym and you're not dependent upon a glut of equipment to get a run in. This convenience makes running perhaps the most democratic sport out there. Anyone can (and does) do it.


Running is one of the most taxing physical activities out there demanding a reasonable amount from all of your key physiological systems. Not surprisingly, running is one of the quickest/ most efficient ways to burn calories.

A single mile burns about 100 calories. Assume 30 mins. for 3 miles 3 times/week and you're looking at 900 calories/week burned which gives you roughly 46,800 calories burned annually with 1.5 hours of running invested per week. That's close to 13.5 pounds burned per year.


Virtually every week I stumble across new research revealing yet another way running improves mental, physical, and emotional health.

Running slows the aging process. Running makes your heart stronger. Running makes you smarter. Running can help stave off depression. Running can make you a better lover. Running reduces the chances of heart disease, cancer, and generally boosts your immune system.

Running can make you the best possible version of 'you'.

Hidden Benefits


I am fortunate to run group training programs that typically see 150-200 people. I know so many people who feel a bit disconnected. They work long hours, struggle to maintain balance, and lack a real 'community' they connect with on a regular basis.

While some runners choose to strike out on their own, many more opt to join a club, team, or program. I have seen friendships form and develop. I have been witness to numerous couplings. At least one marriage was catalyzed via one of my programs.

In short, running 'can' provide an incredible opportunity to connect with others whether you're just looking for people to run with, friends, potential mates, or just about anything in between.


For the uninitiated, the idea of running as a vehicle for transcendent experiences may seem bizarre and laughable. But, as we reflect on our lives, there are certain experiences and memories that shine brighter than all the rest.

Running has brought me perilously close to the very limits of what my body can support. While this may sound scary to those who haven't been there, hovering near the brink can be an intensely life affirming experience and has opened my eyes to the possibility that there's more out there I can take on and endure than I thought.

Additionally, I've had moments while out on the road where I lose myself completely in the act of running. In a world filled with stressors, challenges, and distractions, there is a solace and peace I've found in certain moments on the road that truly transcend anything else.

If you consider yourself an adventurer or explorer, there are few journeys more compelling and enlightening than exploring the limits of what your body can do on the road. It's a journey that has engaged me for over 20 years and likely will for at least another 20, if not more.


Amber said...

Great article. I suggest adding in the cost of running bras though - around $50 per bra, need at least 3 and if you are training for a marathon they only last 4-6 months of your training program and need to be replaced. Trying to be cheap and not replace your bras? It will lead to painful chafing. It's expensive being a girl!

Marathon Matt said...

Hey Amber, indeed it is more expensive being a girl. Thanks for pointing this out! I've got it pretty easy :)