While maintenance is indeed minimal, here are a few expenses that I was surprised to discover were necessary to maintain comfort and increase performance in my "free" sport:
- Shoes: You can buy a pair of $40 running shoes off the rack, but your hips, knees and ankles will feel it in very short order. So you really have to hit up a running specialty store and get your feet and gait examined and have people who know what they're doing bring out shoes that work for your feet. You owe it to your body to get good shoes, but they will run between $90-120. You can always get your feet checked out, try on shoes, find the right pair and search for them elsewhere cheaper, but it's my belief that if you rely on someone to help you and they spend the time and effort to find what's perfect for you, you kind of owe it to your sales person to give him or her your sale. To make matters worse, if you plan to run 4-5 days a week you really need two pairs of shoes so you're always running in a fresh pair (did you know it takes the soles of your shoes a full 24 hours to decompress after a run?), and that'll double your shoe expense.
- Apparel: Like cheap shoes, you can buy cheap clothes to run in, but nothing is worse than soaking a cotton shirt with sweat and having it get all clingy and heavy on your body. And you don't want shorts that rub between your legs and chafe. So you might want a moisture-wicking type shirt to run in. There are plenty brands out there for that, such as Under Armour, Nike, adidas, etc. The problem is that they're all ridiculously overpriced. C9 clothes at Target are pretty good, and you can get them pretty cheap on clearance, but they'll still cost you more than cotton. Then there are compression shorts and socks that are equally important, and equally expensive.
- Nutrition: If you're going to be an hour or less runner you're fine with water, but if you want to start running more than 6 or 7 miles and/or run half marathons (13.1 miles) and beyond, you have to be able to get nutrition and hydration on the run. There are gels and jelly beans and shot bloks and drinks and everything else to help you out. None of them are cheap. I use Powerbar gels from Wal-Mart that cost about $5 for 6, but if you buy somewhere else or choose some other gel or nutritional supplement, they'll run you around $1.35 per serving. For a half marathon I consume 3-4 gels. That's a few bucks just during the race, not to mention training. For hydration, I choose nuun added to water, which is pretty economical for how much it makes, but it's still $20. Additionally, there are vitamins and other supplements. I take a multi-vitamin supplement that's formulated especially for runners in training. That's $30 a month. Plus I take a glucosamine and condroitin supplement that costs about $15 a month. And the truth is, I can't even tell you if they work. But since I feel good and have no pain when I run or after, I can't say they don't. Oh, and let's not forget the fuel belts you'll have to buy to hold all the supplements and liquids you'll need while out on your longer runs.
- Race fees: It's very hard to run just to run all the time. That's what called logging junk miles. You have to work toward a goal. For me, those goals are races. During the spring and fall you can run a race pretty much every weekend if you want. And it's a great motivator to know that you're committed to running, say, a 5K race and that you'd like to either finish, or finish without walking, or finish with a personal record time. There's something you can push for in every race you run, no matter how many you've run. But most 5K races alone will cost $20-30 each. True, you normally get a t-shirt and post-race refreshments, and a good portion of your race fee usually goes to some worthy cause, but if you wish to run races regularly, you're going to be out hundreds of dollars a year. And the further the distance, the higher the cost. I was looking into running a half marathon in New York City and they want $85 for admission. To make matters worse, the closer you get to race day the higher the entrance fee is. I'm not sure what the point of that is.
- Other: While not really necessary, if you get a little more serious about running you're going to want to analyze what you're doing in order to try and improve. That's where electronics come in to play. If you want to make sure you're burning calories most efficiently in order to lose weight you'll want a heart rate monitor. If you want to listen to something other than your own breathing when you run there's the iPod/mp3 players, and what it costs to put music on them. If you want to find like-minded people to hang around and train with you can join a running club, and they're not free (although probably worth the cost). Then there are hats to keep sunburn away, cold weather gear, wet weather gear, night time running gear, etc.
All tolled, running can be very expensive. For me, it's been worth it. But to think running is a cheap and easy way to get or stay in shape is one way to make sure you won't stick with it for long. In my opinion, at least.