Marathon Racing Costs & How to Save 70%

One of the statements that I hear from coaching clients regularly is that they are surprised at the cost of destination races and marathon racing costs.  This shouldn’t come as a huge shock, as travel and vacations are generally not considered cheap.  And while I love to race in fun places, as I’ve shared in the past, I do NOT enjoy spending money.  Especially money that I don’t have to spend. Now I will say, this post is fairly long, but I want to give the full details on what we spent and how we saved about 70% of the costs of this particular destination race.

I think a lot of people look at racing or travel or vacations and just say, “oh well, this is what they cost.”  But not only am I cheap, I am also stubborn.  So simply accepting the “fact” that destination races are something that is going to cost me a lot of money if I want to participate is not something I am willing to do.

I shared how I have creatively funded race registration fees on this post.  What I want to do today, is look at just how much one race weekend could cost.  And then look at some of the ways I have reduced that cost by about 70% during my last race.  I’m going to break down the costs by category and share some of my cost saving hacks.  I will also include a table with cost breakdowns by day and category, along with what I actually paid.

While some of these tips and tricks may not be applicable for everyone, I do hope that it might encourage those who are interested in racing and running on a budget to think about how they might reduce expenses creatively.

Marathon Racing Costs

So what did I include in my analysis of marathon racing costs?  For the BMW Dallas Marathon, we spent two days and two nights in Dallas (half day Saturday, full day Sunday, half day Monday).  I included the cost of gas getting to Dallas and back, the cost of meals for all travel days and days in Dallas, the cost of parking since we stayed downtown, and my marathon race registration costs.

I didn’t include the cost of any gear, since I didn’t purchase any that was specific to this marathon.  I could have grabbed a couple of things at the expo, but I planned ahead and had everything I needed.  So I didn’t include this as a possible cost or a savings, though I think it’s important to consider that training for marathons has its own set of associated costs.  The cost of shoes, clothes, gear, chiropractic adjustments/PT, more food (because you will eat more), etc. 

All of these things can certainly add up.  But I think if you love the sport and you use your brain, you can find some ways to reduce those costs as well.  That is for another post, though, so stay tuned 🙂 .

So, what could we have spent on one weekend of racing?  The sum total I got was $985.12.  Not too exorbitant for a weekend of travel, in my opinion. Certainly less than what some close family and friends have paid spent traveling to marathon destination races.  But still not a sum of money that I am willing to part with easily.  What did we actually spend on one weekend of racing?  $298.80.  That means we essentially avoided spending, or saved depending on how you look at it, $686.32. 

And before we get started, I think it’s important to note that my husband and I spent some money that we could have avoided spending.  For example, we covered the cost of gelato for the three of us, my girlfriend, and her son.  We could have avoided this all together, but I had just run a damn marathon and I wanted some fancy ice cream.  Plus, the girlfriend had graciously watched our child Saturday evening and most of Sunday, so taking her and her kiddo out for burgers and ice cream was not an issue for me.

Cost of Destination Races Gelato
Full Price Gelato For Everyone

How did we reduce the overall costs by 70%?  I’ll give you some of my tried and true methods

Book a Hotel With a Good Complimentary Breakfast.
We stayed at a very nice Residence Inn in downtown Dallas, because I wanted to be close to the start and finish of the race, as well as the expo.  I share our experience and why I would recommend this on my race recap.  The hotel offered a very nice complimentary breakfast buffet that included individual greek yogurts, bagels, oatmeal, waffles, baked goods, scrambled eggs & egg whites, and toppings for the bigger items, as well as fruit.  Not too bad.

The complimentary breakfast allowed us to save around $20 a day for two days on breakfast alone.  Additionally, because I am cheap, I snagged an extra yogurt both days, took a fruit cup, and made myself egg sandwiches to go. On Sunday, I kept the sandwich in the fridge until I was ready to reheat for lunch, and Monday I kept it in an insulated bag and ate for lunch the day we traveled home.

Cost of Destination Races Breakfast
Complimentary carbs – bagels & waffles

Use Travel Hacking to Get Free Hotel Rooms
Travel hacking is a fairly hot topic right now. Especially in the financial independence community. It allows the budget conscious to still enjoy vacations without sacrificing their hard earned savings. A quick Google search of “how to travel for free” will yield plenty of results that may sound too good to be true. Despite conventional wisdom, travel hacking is something I would encourage anyone interested in traveling on a budget to research.

We booked our hotel using Chase rewards points.  We used an introductory deal on the Chase Sapphire card that gave us 60,000 bonus points after we spent $4,000 in the first 3 months.  I’ve talked a little about how we’ve used credit card hacking on my post, 7 Creative Ways to Pay For Races, but essentially we put all of our regular spending on a credit card, pay it off at the end of the month to avoid interest, and then use the introductory reward points.  Most of the best deals you can find with credit card hacking is related to introductory offers and spends, and if you’d like to do some additional research I can recommend this site and this post.

So far we have used the reward points to book two extra nights during Thanksgiving (one at a very nice resort) and one of the nights we stayed in Dallas.  We currently have about 38,000 points left from the original 60,000!  We also utilized Marriott reward points that we had left over from an introductory offer on a Chase Marriott card for the first night.

When I looked up the cost of the hotel during the race weekend, it was running $155 before taxes, for a total of $358.82 for two nights after taxes and fees.  This was the Marriott member rate, as an FYI.  $155 a night for a downtown hotel less than a quarter mile from the race start is EXTREMELY reasonable, but we paid nothing.  Which is even better!

Save Restaurant Rewards & Giftcards
Now I travel quite a bit for work.  While I could expense some pricey meals, I generally eat at good places that I like that also offer some sort of reward program.  Some of my favorite places are Chick-Fil-A, Panera Bread, Zoe’s, Einstein’s Bagels, and StarBucks.  I also save any restaurant giftcards I get as gifts and use them during travel.

My husband and I do enjoy going out for one or two nice meals while we’re traveling, and we normally try to pick places that we can’t get at home.  But I refuse to spend $20-$50 eating out every meal for multiple days.  I just can’t do it.  Mama has running shoes and candy to buy.

On this particular trip, I didn’t have any giftcards for places near our hotel.  Despite this, on the travel day to Dallas, I used rewards to get myself a free StarBucks sandwich for lunch.  My husband used a BOGO deal on hamburgers he had through his Whataburger rewards.  The two boys used this deal for lunch the same day.  So we paid a total of $7.50 for lunch for the three of us on the drive up.

On the bottom of the Whataburger receipt, there’s a number to call and complete a survey for a free burger.  That’s exactly what my husband did and got a free burger on the drive home for lunch.  Since I ate hotel food that I squirreled away for lunch, we only paid $7 for my kids meal that day.

We actually still have some rewards from Chick-Fil-A and Einstein’s that we’ll save for later travels.  Now I will add the caveat that this is food we actually LIKE.  I don’t eat places just because they are cheap or have a rewards program; I eat at places that I enjoy and who reward loyalty.  I save those rewards for trips, and on this particular trip, I estimate that it saved me about  $30.

Now these aren’t the most nutrient dense food choices in the world, but for two days of travel, we will all survive. 

Bring Food From Home
A day or two before our trips, I usually do a Target/HEB run where I grab bottled water and snacks.  I’m a big snacker.  My boys are also big snackers.  If we relied on gas station snacks, I don’t think we could ever afford to travel.  I generally grab the following: Lara bars, single serve oatmeal, fruit, cheese sticks, deli turkey, apple sauce, chips, trail mix, and popcorn.

These snacks will hold us over while on the road, and also between meals in the hotel room.  I’ve found that take out food isn’t quite as filling as cooked from home food, so it’s always nice to have something small, like a packet of oatmeal, to keep me from buying random food in the hotel lobby.

We still spend money on snacks, there’s no getting around it.  But we don’t pay gas store prices, and we generally get back home with a few leftover snacks.  In the past, when I’ve dropped the ball, I’ve easily thrown down $15-$20 in Cliff bars, water, chips, and Questbars at gas stations.  On this trip, we spent $20 on snacks, and I estimate that we saved about $20 round trip.

I also think it’s important to note that on travel days, we eat breakfast at home.  This may not seem like a big deal, but breakfast for the three of us generally runs around $7 each after tax.  Even if we leave early, I will make pancakes the night before and take them on the road with us.  I’m just not interested in parting with money if it’s already sitting in my fridge.  On this trip, I estimate that prepping breakfast saved us $20 and a 20 minute stop.

Travel Hacking Breakfast
Breakfast at Home

Book A Hotel that Has A Full Size Fridge
For all of the snacks and leftovers you are bringing and keeping.  Now, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but in all honesty I’ve never met a mini-fridge that I was on good terms with.  Having a full size fridge lets me keep my perishables fresh and not freezer burnt, which prevents waste.

Don’t Buy Random Stuff At the Marathon Expo
I tend to be on the minimalist side of things, so I’m not really interested in purchasing a commemorative anything.  I have all the gear I need, and I’d bet some good money that most of the items at the expo are marked up somewhat.  Now there is one exception here.  If you happen to find that a pair of shoes you love are on sale for 60% off, take that deal.  But don’t rely on the expo to clothe you for or after the race.

Cost of Destination Races Expo
The Amazing Expo – $0.00

Get Creative With Race Registration Fees
I’ve already covered that I used a Visa giftcard from a health rewards program at work to pick up $160 of my marathon registration for this particular race.  There are six other ways I’ve found to pay for my race registration fees, and if you’d like you can check out out my post, 7 Creative Ways to Pay For Races.  For this particular race registration, I paid $26.94, and saved myself $160.

Research Parking
Staying in downtown Dallas was great for my family.  It meant that I didn’t have to worry about getting to the expo or race, and it built in some extra walking that kept me from getting stiff and lazy.  Staying downtown usually means one expensive inconvenience, though: parking. 

At our hotel, the cost for valet parking was $34 a night.  We stayed two nights.  That would have been $68 just to keep our car in a garage.  No thank you.  I used the app SpotHero, and was able to locate parking that cost us $5 one night, $8 the following night, and then because the “week” started Monday morning at 7am, another $8 for Monday.  We spent a total of $21.

The lot was three blocks from our hotel.  So we pulled in to the hotel, unloaded all our stuff, and I checked in while my husband parked the car three blocks away.  NBD.  Now, we didn’t have in and out privileges, but we were downtown.  We were walking distance from EVERYTHING.  And we saved $47 by walking three blocks.  I run marathons.  For free.  I will gladly walk three blocks to save damn near $50.

Marathon Racing Costs
Travel Expenses Break Down

Now all of these things taken individual may seem piddly.  Saving $20 here, $50 there.  But in the end, all of these things combined allowed us to save a whopping total of  $686.32.  To me, that’s a good amount of money.  That’s a couple weeks of groceries, and I eat a whole lot.  I also think it just goes to show that thinking critically and creatively can allow you to find ways to travel fairly cheaply.

A note on food spending: we had three rather costly meals.  Saturday night, my husband and I went out to a nice dinner.  We don’t go out for nice dinners very often.   I probably could have done something like find a Groupon, or eaten at my girlfriend Jacqui’s house for dinner.  But we had a kid-free night, and we were on a mini-vacation, and we wanted to have a nice dinner.  So we did.  My husband also had a couple of pricey beers at the hotel bar, because he likes to feel fancy sometimes.  I also mentioned that we took my girlfriend and her son out for burgers, beer, and gelato after the race as a thank you for watching our kid.

Cost of Destination Races Burger
Burger – Worth Full Price

These are all costs that we likely could have reduced or avoided, but we didn’t want to.  They were within our budget, and just because I like saving money where I can doesn’t mean I’m completely against paying for things.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Also, because we saved so much between the room and parking, I didn’t have any issues spending a little more money than necessary on a couple of nicer meals.  We still avoided a whole lot of spending.

As a final benefit, my husband and I both have small businesses.  I have a small business in the fitness industry where I coach running clients and now blog, and my husband has a business in the real estate industry.  Because of this, after talking with our tax preparer, we will be able to claim both meals and gas as “qualified business expenses.”  For a couple of reasons.  1) My business is in the fitness industry and me running races is related to that industry and is considered marketing.  In truth, it is good for my coaching if I keep running races.  We also did some quick book keeping at the restaurant, and discussed my marketing strategy with my mom. 2) We did some research with my girlfriend on real estate in her area during our second meal, and did a quick cruise through her area to look at a couple of properties for sale.  This is directly related to my husband’s real estate business.

This won’t negate fully what we spent, but it will allow us to save some money on our business taxes, which is always nice.  I include this portion because I always want to encourage my friends to consider starting small businesses to follow their passions.  For a lot of different reasons, too many to add in here, but also because it can sometimes help fund those passions for you.

So, between the travel hacking, finding cheaper parking, finding a way to cover most of my race registration, and being mindful about where we spent our food money, we spent about 30% what we would have spent paying full price for everything on the trip.  Did it take some thinking, planning, problem solving, creativity, and a little extra effort? Yup.  Was all of that worth the nearly $700 we didn’t spend?  Hell.  Yes.

This post was much longer than my typical, but I wanted to give a full picture of what we did and have done to make traveling for races affordable.  We have a couple of races coming up in the future, and if you’d like for me to continue to post about how we fund these trips, leave me a comment or like to let me know. I’m also looking forward to sharing other destination marathon tips in the future, so please subscribe if you found this post helpful.  If you have any other tips or hacks, please share them!

4 thoughts on “Marathon Racing Costs & How to Save 70%

  1. Great tip to research parking! We never do this and always get overwhelmed and then pick the first thing we see. Great tips!

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