Money behind the marathon: What’s the real cost?

Marathons offer the opportunity to get in better shape and compete in great events. They require considerable training to succeed. (Tessa Taylor)

It’s no secret that Utahns love running. There are countless “26.2” stickers on car windows, and everyone always seems to be talking about their running schedules. Marathon running is gaining popularity as races become more organized and more inclusive.

Most marathons offer races for all ages and skill levels. As they become more accessible and more desirable, many people are factoring marathon costs into their budgets. College students in particular need to be aware of the costs of running, what the benefits are and if it’s worth the money. 

Regardless of the race, there is a registration fee included in the cost of a marathon. Some might wonder why they would pay to run alongside hundreds of other people when they can run for free. However, students are often surprised by how much they can gain from running in an organized race.

The Utah Valley Marathon, which runs through Provo Canyon, costs $70–130 to register, depending on how far in advance participants sign up. This isn’t too different from the registration fees of the famous Boston Marathon, which rings in at $180 for U.S. citizens and $250 for international participants.  

The registration fee might seem steep to some, considering they are paying to run on public land, which is already free. However, runners need to take into account the administrative costs of putting on a huge event like a marathon.

With the registration fee, runners have access to day-of medical attention, fuel and hydration stations, toilets and a distraction-free course. Many overlook costs like shuttle systems, trash bags, sound systems and city permits. Not to mention that most races provide t-shirts, medals for finishing and monetary prizes for the winners.

Race organizations not only have to provide for the safety of the runners by providing aid stations but are responsible for working with local police and security to keep traffic from interfering with the race route.

Besides the race registration fee, marathon running isn’t necessarily a cheap hobby. Marathon running requires the right gear and nutrition to make sure the runner is prepared for 26.2 miles of continuous effort. Runners wear clothing intended to help them perform at their highest levels, and many take vitamin supplements or fuel shots to keep their energy up.

It’s also common for runners to own special watches to track their time and pace. After the marathon, it can be costly to recover. Many seasoned marathoners suggest foam rolling or booking appointments with a massage therapist to aid in the recovery process.

“The shoes are a huge deal, and I had no idea before I started running,” said avid runner Ashton Wise.

“The type of shoes you have make or break your experience, and it is mostly true that the more expensive shoes are better ones,” Wise said. Popular marathon running shoe brands like Asics, Saucony and Brooks can cost runners $150 or more.

Gear aside, training for a marathon is a serious time commitment. Runners have to put a “price” on their time and are forced to prioritize running over social appointments, sleep, work or family commitments. That price varies from athlete to athlete, and it is that price of time that determines how often one might train for marathons.

With all of this information, why would a struggling college student pay money to run a marathon?

“The dedication and self-mastery distance running has taught me is something I really don’t feel like I can put a price on. Also, the sense of accomplishment is incredibly beneficial to my overall confidence and effects my academic, social, mental and even spiritual efforts,” Wise said.

Tessa Taylor and a friend at the finish line. (Tessa Taylor)

BYU student Tessa Taylor agrees. “Although I would prefer to not pay so much, I like the organized races because they provide a motivating and fun environment that encourages me to run faster and to keep me going even when I get tired. It’s very motivating and inspiring to be surrounded by other people who are trying hard and pushing themselves.”

People of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds have taken to marathon running and have paid the price for that t-shirt or car decal. Runners and non-runners alike may decide to add “run a marathon” to their bucket list and see if it’s worth it.

Upcoming marathons include the Top of Utah Marathon in September and the St. George Marathon in October.


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