Monday, 30 January 2012

Running free?

I have been amazed by the number of friends who tell me that they want to take up running. It is a veritable craze at the moment. I of all people understand the attraction. It is a flexible form of exercise that gets you fit out in the fresh air, but one thing about running that I have found to be rather a false promise is that it is free.

Running, in my experience, can be a very expensive pursuit. For starters you must have the right shoes. Be they trainers or barefoot they will cost you, in fact the more minimalist the shoe often the higher the price. Even a basic pair of running shoes costs around £50, but you can easily find the price tag rising to over £100, particularly if you have any special requirements.

Oh and that is always assuming you stick with just one pair of shoes. If you run off-road then a pair of trail shoes is a good investment, so that's another £50-60 gone just on your feet. Though silly me, I had forgotten socks. It is no good just pulling on a manky pair of tennis socks, you need special anti-blister, cushioned supportive socks for around a tenner a pair.

You can even buy special laces for your shoes that mean you will never have to stop and tie them again. The only hitch is that these cost around £10 too. So just cladding out your feet can easily see you shelling out over £200.

Next there is the kit. Admittedly when I first started running I just went in shorts and a T-shirt. But as you start to run more often and in varying conditions your running wardrobe expands exponentially. I now have a wide array of clothes from long tights, capris, shorts, vests, jackets, a fleece, T-shirts with sleeves both long and short, gloves, hats and hair bands plus a high-viz vest for night runs.

Even though I am a bargain shopper when it comes to running kit, I blush to think how much that little lot cost, but I would guess that we are once again in the £200-300 region, and I am probably being pretty conservative in that estimate.

Next up is the more esoteric kit. The special water belts for long runs, GPS watch to track your pace and milage, gels, supplements and sports drinks so you can reach peak potential. Another £150 gone here and rising as I experiment with all those potions to make me run faster and longer ahead of the marathon.

What can really rack up the cost is injury though. So far physio sessions for my strained calf have cost me and my insurance company over £200 and if I had opted for the orthotics the clinic was understandably keen to push on me I could easily have doubled that. Not to mention Biofreeze gel, calf sleeve and foam roller all purchased to help ease the pain. Or the generosity of my chiropractor friend who donated her expert services in return for a bottle of red wine.

Then there are all the race entries. At £15-25 for a 10K race this is quite manageable, but once you get into longer more prestigious races the costs rise up and up. I was idly browsing a brochure that promised you entry to the New York Marathon at a mere £2,500 per person.

Of course this is without all the peripheral training you need to enhance your running. A jog around the park is all very well, but to get the best from running you need to do strength and core training. At the very least this requires buying equipment, but really you need a gym membership and ideally a personal trainer and a few Pilates sessions thrown in for good measure.

I am lucky I can cadge equipment from the other half who runs Gorilla Sports, my trainer is very generous with his time in support of a good cause, ditto my Pilates teacher. But if I were to tot up all their services I would be looking at hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

So is running free? Don't make me laugh, it's one of the most expensive sports I've ever indulged it. But from the highs of a sunny cross country run to the body it has honed from the fat lump I started out as, from the incredible experiences and people it has introduced me to, to the unbeatable exhilaration of crossing a race finish line, so far it's been worth every penny.


  1. Excellent point, Ursula! Am excited to have just discovered the Parkrun, which actually is completely free (apart from getting there, but mine is quite close).

  2. I have heard they are great, but there isn't one that near me and anyway I am rather inundated with running at the moment. In some ways I can't wait for the marathon to be over so I can relax and simply run again, rather than train like a dog to build strength for the big one!