Deciding to run a marathon is a pretty significant decision.
And it’s not just because of having to train to run 26.2 miles. There also can be substantial costs associated with it. If you’ve never run a marathon before and want to know what you’re signing up for, this article is for you.
We’ll cover all the costs of a marathon from entry fee to gear requirements to travel and lodging. Then you’ll know how to start preparing financially in addition to physically for your race.
This is an obvious expense when you’re thinking about running a marathon. Races are not free. However, the price tag might shock you if you’ve been used to running smaller races like 5ks where it’s typically 20 bucks, give or take, to enter.
Marathon entry fees vary widely depending on size and popularity. Generally, it’s between $100 and $300. This fee covers a variety of expenses for the marathon, including race swag, insurance, a police and medical team, post-race food, port-a-potties, and so forth.
Make sure you grab your race swag. It typically includes a tech shirt that you can use for training for other races and won’t have to worry about buying one.
Some larger marathons like Boston and New York City allow you to fundraise to receive an entry. However, it comes with a catch. Typically, they will charge your credit card $3,000 to $4,000, and you’ll have to raise money to pay yourself back.
Race Weekend Expenses
If your marathon is in your hometown or close enough that you can drive, you’ll be able to save on some race weekend expenses. If not, this is going to be a substantial part of your marathon budget.
If you’re traveling to your race, you’ll want to factor in gas, the cost of staying at a hotel or Airbnb, getting food out, and so forth. You may even have to factor in airfare if you’re running a destination race.
This means that this category for a race that you have to travel to get to can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. If you’re able, you might want to split the cost of lodging with anyone who has come to see you run.
It might also be worth paying a little more for convenience. For example, I traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia to run a half marathon, and I picked a hotel that was less than ¼ mile from the start line so that I could walk there on race day and didn’t have to worry about parking.
I definitely could have gotten a cheaper place, especially if I used Airbnb. Still, the hotel was super convenient, being so close to the start of the race. It made me feel much less stressed, and that was worth the higher cost.
While you can definitely recover at home, which wouldn’t cost very much if anything, completing a marathon is also something to celebrate. Budget in a nice dinner out or a massage. It’s like your own personal closing ceremony.
You’ve probably thought about the physical costs of training. You’ll also want to consider some of the financial costs that go into training for a marathon.
While you might be able to wing it when training for a 5k, that’s a very bad idea for a marathon. Get an organized training plan written by a knowledgeable coach. Depending on your needs and goals, a training plan can cost you anywhere from $0 to $100.
Fitness apps like Garmin Connect, MapMyRun, and Strava offer training plans. Most running books also contain detailed plans and plenty of pacing information. Training plans can be purchased from coaching services as well. With just a plan, it’s up to you to follow it. If you are disciplined and dedicated, this might be a good option.
If you want someone else to do the butt-kicking during your training cycle, you might want to hire a running coach. This is the most expensive option. However, you’ll definitely get a big benefit having someone working with you directly.
Qualifying and Tune-Up Races
As part of your marathon training plan, there’s a good chance that you’ll run at least one tune-up race. Factor in the costs for that, too. Doing a 10k or a half marathon ahead of your full is a good way to determine your current fitness level.
Additionally, some big marathons require you to run a full or half marathon before applying. The Boston Marathon is a prime example. In that case, you have to run a tune-up race in order to be eligible to participate in the marathon you really want to run.
Your time isn’t free, either. As they say, time is money, and you’ll have a lot less free time when you’re training for a marathon. Marathon training requires running a lot of miles, so you should expect less free time than you’re used to.
You’ll also want to expect that weekend long runs may wipe out your energy for the rest of the day, leaving you less time to do things you want to do on the weekends.
Running Shoes and Gear
If you’ve purchased any athletic gear, you know how expensive it can be. You’ll need to be prepared for training and race day itself with some of these expenses.
To train for a marathon, you’ll need 2-3 pairs of running shoes. You might want to purchase shoes that have different feels for different days of training. In any case, you’ll go through at least 2 pairs of shoes while training.
This means that you’re looking at least $250 for two pairs, since good running shoes tend to run around $120-$130/pair. You might be able to get them cheaper. I’ve always been able to find my running shoes on sale for under $100 a pair, but it’s going to cost at least $100.
Several Sets of Running Outfits
You’ll also want to make sure that you have several running outfits so that you don’t have to always be doing laundry and so that you have clothing that can work no matter what the weather is.
A word to the wise for women. Don’t be stingy when buying a sports bra. It will be super uncomfortable and wear out quicker. I can’t tell you how much of a difference a good sports bra makes, and it’s worth however much more it costs.
You’ll probably want to estimate roughly $50-$75 per outfit, although this can vary greatly depending on what brands you like and what items you need to purchase. Don’t forget about good socks too. My new favorites are made by Swiftwick.
This is definitely going to be one of the smaller expense categories, but it does amount to how much you’d make from a couple hours of work. You can expect to spend around $50 for your total training duration on GUs, chews, or other types of running fuel that will be needed for long runs. Sports drink mix also add to the cost. Basic products like Gatorade are economical and work well. Higher-end products like Maurten and Skratch labs offer additional benefits, but are much more expensive – sometimes up to $5 per serving.
If you’ve decided that you’ve spent enough, you can ignore this category as everything here is nice to have, but not necessary. That being said, I have many of the items on this list, and they are worth every penny.
Of all of the accessories listed, a GPS watch is one of the best tools to help you succeed as a runner. I decided to purchase one because I wanted to communicate to myself that I was a runner.
A GPS watch gives you so much data on your runs, from pace to heart rate to estimated recovery time. It tracks daily, weekly, and monthly mileage. Purchasing a Garmin watch was something that has helped me to succeed as a runner.
Depending on how fancy you want your GPS watch to be, you’re looking at around $100 to $300. If you want your watch to be something you can use for non-running activities, you can always purchase the versatile Apple watch.
When you’re running in the sun or if you’re trying to avoid getting rain in your eyes, a running hat is a must. My friend had a running hat and I didn’t when we ran a 10k. She had way fewer issues seeing the road ahead of us than I did.
This will cost you around $25, but it will make your run so much more comfortable if it’s super sunny or really rainy.
You typically don’t have to worry about carrying water for shorter distances. But a hydration belt is a game changer for marathon runners. You can make sure that your performance stays at its peak because you’re properly hydrated.
A good hydration belt will cost you around $30-$50, but it is definitely worth it when you’re training for a marathon. You can even bring it with you on race day if you know that it’s going to be a hot day and you might need some extra hydration.
If you live some place where it’s often sunny like I do, running sunglasses are a must. Regular sunglasses might work okay, but running sunglasses are designed to not slide off as your head bobs up and down.
These will cost you between $25-$75, but it’s totally worth the cost. I got mine for around $25, and I’ve used them way more than 25 times, so the actual cost has been pennies per use.
Never chafed before? Never say never. As your mileage goes up, the likelihood of chafing goes up. For that reason, you might want to get some Body Glide for around $10 to avoid the pain and irritation. (Yes, chafed skin hurts while you’re running. And then you take shower. Just saying.). Staying comfortable and avoiding raw skin is totally worth it for $10.
Foam Roller or Massage Stick
Finally, you’ll likely want to spend some money on recovery tools like a foam roller or massage stick. When I first got back into running, one of my friends highly encouraged me to get a foam roller.
Let me tell you: it makes all the difference. When I’m tight or experiencing stress points after a run, I love using it. Plus, it’s great if you just want to rub your back out after a long day at the computer. This will cost you around $30, but again, well worth the expense.
As you’ve been able to tell, running a marathon isn’t exactly cheap, so it’s important to prepare financially. Even so, there are definitely ways to make it less expensive, from getting shoes on sale to picking a marathon that’s close to home.
As you train for your marathon and figure out all the costs included, remember to be grateful to run and that you have a healthy body. No money in the world can buy that!