First-Time Finisher: “Running a Marathon Is @#^%*! Expensive.”

Annie takes stock of her marathon-training budget—and isn't happy with the bottom line.

Annie learns that a good pair of kicks—plus other running gear—can really set you back

This past weekend, after perusing training plans and calculating routes, I decided there was another, equally important step I needed to take in order psychologically prepare myself for the rigorous months ahead: shopping.

Runners love to buy running stuff. There’s an inspiring thrill that comes with circling racks of anti-blister socks, SPF shirts, reflective hats, and shorts that promise to “wick sweat” (never been sure what that means, but it sounds helpful). With just a $40 tank top, you can channel the chiseled badassedness (industry term) of Nike models. A new pair of shoes, and your legs are bionic.

I know, I know: I’ve blindly leapt into an over-commercialized culture of fitness, I shouldn’t undermine running’s history as a pure, Anyman’s sport, and that Geoffrey Mutai didn’t take is first jaunts through Kenya in Asics Gel 1150s, and blah blah blah. But I know I’m not the only one out there who just can’t wait to hit the pavement in a bouncy new pair of Brooks.

In any event, I justified the spree, and after a couple of high-knee hops on Dick’s mini-track (and a few distinct eye rolls from the staff), I gathered my goods and went to the register. Shoes, a pair of shorts, two new shirts, and….

“I’m sorry, HOW much?”

When I got home, I did a little data analysis. My finding? Running a marathon is @#^%*! expensive.

While there are a million reasons you don’t need to make all of the following purchases, here’s a quick estimate of what your average first-time marathoner might reasonably invest in:

• Registration fee: about $100.
• A training plan from, say, Runner’s World: about $25.
• A good pair of shoes: likely at least $65. With high mileage, you’ll go through two pairs during training, so let’s call that a $130 investment.
• A gym membership: $50 a month for three months of training equals $150.
• Running clothes: let’s say at least two-to-three items. With high-tech shirts and shorts costing upward of $25 a pop, that’s around $75.
• Registration fee for a 10K or other event to prepare for race day: around $40.

That brings the grand marathon training total to $520. Factored out across the race, that’s almost $20 per mile. Tough to feel bionic when you’re broke.

While everyone will need different things for their training (some folks just can’t live without their GPS-powered, pulse-monitoring wristwatch), I’ve found a few ways to trim costs and prioritize expenditures over the years. Here’s a few things to bear in mind.

Shoes. Whatever you need to spend, make sure they fit—and fit right. Go someplace where the staff can do a gait analysis and steer you in the right direction. The wrong pair of shoes, a worn pair, or even a mis-tied pair can ruin an entire season of training. Don’t skimp on this one.

Cheap socks. If you think you need one pair of anti-blister socks for long run days, fine. But let’s be honest—expensive ones get as grimy as cheap ones. And let’s be real: $5…for socks?

A water bottle. Runners get thirsty. It’s all too easy to grab a $1.50 Vitamin Water or Gatorade at the check-out of every store you go into, but with water being, you know, free, there’s no excuse to let hydration cost a fortune.

Skip the “training” 5K, and join a running group. While it’s fun to be in the carnival-like environment of a race, registrations for 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons add up fast. While running groups don’t necessarily hand out free T-shirts, the proximity of people with whom to chit-chat and push yourself offers the same community vibe and cardio workout of a race.

A good sports bra. At least one, for your long runs. The cheap cotton variety, while fine for a jog through the park, will, after 18 miles, leave you looking and feeling like you’ve had open heart surgery. Plus, wearing one of these makes old, non-wicking T-shirts much more doable.

Got more cost-cutting tips? Let me know in the comments. I know I’m not the only one out there who wants to run and pay rent this fall.