Running on a Shoestring Budget

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Humans are born to run. What was once a survival skill has morphed into a multimillion dollar industry. For the modern runner, this is great. There are hundreds of products to help us improve our comfort, performance, and our “cool” factor. With costs from race fees to running shoes and everything in between, it is easy to splurge. But while some products can be godsends for training regimen, it is always good to remember that running is, at root, a minimalist sport.

Why is this important? If you have the money, why not just bite the bullet and invest heavily into running gear that will last a long time?

To me, it comes down to motivation. Buying sexy products is a great way of encourage yourself, but it is a short-term solution. If you rely on products to inspire you, instead of the sport itself, you will struggle to find the internal motivation necessary to work through plateaus, injuries, and bad weather. So, start with the bare necessities, and build from there.

There are some things that every runner needs. Shoes, for example. And clothes. But is a $50 t-shirt that much better than a five dollar one? Well, to some, yes. The purpose of this post is to pose some questions that will help you decide for yourself.

In order to decide what you absolutely need to be a successful runner, it is helpful to consider the following:

Why am I running?

Is it to stay fit? To participate in a community? To race? The benefit of a product will fluctuate depending on your goals. For example, if you want to take training seriously, the advantages of spending a few bucks each run on GU or NUUN tablets are well worth it. For a Saturday morning jaunt around the neighborhood, probably not so much. Some water will be sufficient.

Why do I want gear?

Is it to boost confidence? Increase motivation? Safety? Recover more quickly? To reward myself for good performance? All of these are valid concerns that new products can achieve. It is important to distinguish them from another, more insidious, reason: do you consider fancy gear to be a silver bullet? New gear can enhance the chances of success, but cannot create a runner from scratch.

Can I get this item secondhand?

In many outdoorsy towns and cities, there are some great stores that sell cast-off gear. And stores like Goodwill have plenty of shirts, shorts, and even shoes. Additionally, if you belong to a running community, there are always runners who have some hand-me-down hydrations packs, GPS watches, etc., as they upgrade their old gear.

Is this product’s benefit short- or long-term?

After several months of running in cheap, uncomfortable shoes, I developed a bad case of plantar fasciitis that prevented me from running for several months. Now, the vast majority of my running cost goes to Brooks Beasts. They are double the price of the shoes in which I previously ran, but they helped me avoid further pain and are therefore worth the investment.

Can I make this myself?

For years, I spent a lot of money on nutritional supplements to eat before, after, and during runs. I still invest in the nutritional bars I trust for long runs, but I rely on my own concoctions, which usually spotlight some superfoods, to help me prepare and recover. In the case of your run-of-the-mill granola bar, you are paying for convenience. Invest some time into learning to make healthy food. It will take longer, but the savings will be dramatic.

What inspires me to run?

Does your motivation to run come from someone or something? Or do you run because the act of running is in itself inspiring? That may be the goal — the love of the run — but it is not always the case. Explore new ways of inspiring yourself. Think about investing your time to find inspiration, not your money. Read books about running. Watch films that show the glory of the sport. Inspiration is free for the taking (or at least is available for checkout at your local library).

How many races should I be entering?

For most runners, racing is what drives our training regimens and shapes our daily lives. But racing is expensive. There is just no way around paying, unless you want to create a GoFundMe campaign. However, some race fees are better spent than others. I justify the expense of racing by registering for those that support a cause. I feel better when my race fee goes towards cancer research, domestic abuse prevention, or a struggling family, than if its main purpose is to bestow upon me a whole bunch of SWAG that I don’t need.

If you are training for a marathon and your ballooning grocery bill alone is making you rethink this whole running thing, never fear. Always keep this in your back pocket: the health benefits of running, and the happiness that comes from good health, are incalculable. Should you run in a ratty pair of sneakers and jean shorts or antibacterial undergarments? Whatever it takes to keep on running.

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