The Frugal Runner

I like to think of running as a simple sport.  I laugh when people talk about how soccer is popular around the world because it is so cheap to play, all you need is a ball and a few some things to mark a goal.  Well if that is the case running should be even more popular, you don’t even need the ball or a few some things to mark a goal.  Social norms aside you don’t need anything at all to run.  But even if you aren’t up for doing your Sunday long run down the Erie Canal Trail with your various bits swinging in the breeze, you can still run on the cheap especially in the summer.  Dealing with Rochester winters can complicate things a bit, and add expense, but being a runner shouldn’t break the bank and I’m here to give you some tips on how to get the most out of your running dollar.

A Simple Sport?
A Simple Sport?


Two words, Marshalls Marshalls.  I wanted to say it twice so it would stick.  If you aren’t buying your running clothes at Marshalls you might as well be using your money as coffee filters or bedding for your hamster cage.  The prices in the picture above may be a bit on the high-end, but go into any running/athletic store and that is pretty close to what you will pay and it certainly doesn’t represent the highest end of the cost spectrum.  Even looking on the discount rack during the summer close out sale in October I doubt you’ll find many shorts below $20 at your local running shop and if you do they will probably be turquoise and only available in XS and XXL.  I have drawers full of Nike, Asics, New Balance and Adidas shorts and shirts all of which I bought for under $15 at Marshalls and many of which I bought for under $10.  Socks?  Forget about it, 3 packs of Adidas Climacool for $4.99.

Think you need to spend $60-$100 on a base layer shirt to stay warm during the Rochester Winter?  Don’t be stupid!  Go to Marshalls and buy Layer 8 clothing.  I’d link to their website but they don’t appear to have one.  I have no idea where the hell this stuff comes from but it is cheap and awesome.  It is every bit as warm and comfortable as the name brand stuff but at a 1/4 the price.  Trust me, this isn’t like the Wegman’s brand Lucky Charms knockoff cereal, this is the good stuff.  And even if you can’t bring yourself to wear no name running gear you can still buy all the trendy brand base layer clothing for cheap at Marshalls (even though no one will see it because you know, it’s a base layer.)

Not my pile, but it could be.
Not my pile, but it could be.


I love buying running shoes.  My wife also loves for me to buy running shoes (because then I can’t complain when she buys clothes.)  I like to pretend I buy so many pairs of running shoes because I run so much and I need to replace them every few hundred miles so I don’t get hurt.  This is a lie.  I have no idea if you need to purchase shoes every 300-500 miles, but I do know that after about 2 months I hate my stupid boring old shoes and NEED to get new ones.  What was I even thinking running in those old pieces of crap for so long anyway?  I have track racing shoes, road racing shoes, cross country racing shoes, long distance road racing shoes, shoes I only wear for warming up and cooling down, and of course I have my everyday trainers.  My racing shoes I keep for a while, usually about a year, sometimes in the case of track or xc spikes I keep the same pair for years, but not my trainers.  Not the shoes I strap on every day, they need to be regularly replaced like changing the oil in your car.  And just like changing the oil in your car most of us probably do it way more than we really need to (3000 mile oil change myth check your owner’s manual.)

But having a running shoe fetish doesn’t have to leave you begging for change at intersections.  I’m sure there are many good online running shoe stores, but my favorite is yes link to them, and yes they give Roadkill Racing a 15% discount off most items, but they really are a great deal even without the 15% team discount (which by the way any team or club can apply for.)  What makes Running Warehouse so great besides the pricing (which we will get into shortly)?

  • Free 2 day shipping
  • Free return shipping
  • You can return worn shoes within 90 days for store credit (although if you do it too much they will cut you off)
  • No sales tax
  • Great Shoe fitter app Shoefitr (I believe started by a local runner)
  • Video reviews of new models
  • Fast and helpful customer service
  • They weigh and measure all shoes themselves instead of going off of sometimes inaccurate manufacture specs
  • Huge selection of the latest models

OK all that is great, but lets talk about the most important thing.  Cost.  One of my favorite training shoes right now is the New Balance 890 with version 3 just being released.

  • MSRP $110
  • Road Runner Sports $109.95 or $98.96 if you join thier VIP club for $1.99 the first year $24.99 after that.
  • $99.95
  • 99.95
  • Finishline $109.95
  • Footlocker $109.99
  • Running Warehouse $98.95 ($84.11 with club discount)

But wait!  Those are all online or national chains, what about my local running store?  I don’t know about the 890 v3’s, but as of 2 weeks ago the only local running store I go into was still selling the 890 v2’s for $100+ tax.

Fall 5k water stop?
Fall 5k water stop?

Food and Drink:

I’m not going to give you a big pricing break down as it relates to running specific food and drink.  I’m going to save you a lot of time and money by saying simply STOP IT.  You don’t need fluids on a 6 mile run.  You don’t need GU’s on ever run over an hour.  You don’t need to eat a precise blend of proteins carbs and fats after your 30 minute recovery day.  The devastating effects of dehydration have been exaggerated to the point of absurdity by sports drink manufactures. You can safely lose up to 4%  of your body weight in fluid loss during a race (that’s 6 lbs for a 150 lbs person.) All those scary reports of losing 10% performance for every 1% of fluid loss, take a guess who did the studies?  I’m sure there is no bias there.  Did you know you get as much performance benefit from spitting out your sports drink as you do from drinking it?  Now I’m not saying you never need to take in fluids, but your better off skipping that water during your 5k, and we all get enough corn syrup without pounding liters of it before and after every run.

Drink to satisfy thirst, eat to satisfy hunger and remember it is a race not a meal.

Sounds legit.
Sounds legit.

Race Fees:

Every spring I put on the Wa Wa Wally Waddle 5k in Poughkeepsie, NY.  It is a fundraiser for a YMCA camp that is very special to me.  We get about 150 people participating between the 5k and the free kids races.  We charge $15 to preregister up until the night before the race (Mid Hudson Road Runners Club members pay $12) and race day registration is $20.  Between registrations, personal donations and our business sponsors we raise about $4000 each year to send kids to summer camp.  I don’t really like charging $20 for a 5k, but hey it is for the kids, and all the money we raise over our costs goes to kids.  It is a pretty cheap race to put on, $600 for the facilities and security $1000 in t-shirts and that’s about it.  I feel like the people who do my race (more so the ones who preregister) get a good deal.  The course is on nice dirt roads, it is accurately marked and measured, and if you run fast enough you can win a pie.  Even if you don’t run fast enough you still have a shot at winning a pie in our post race raffle (free).  It is a small local race, that has embraced the new trend of races as fundraisers.  And then you have races like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

There has been an explosion of for profit races, race series, and race directing companies.  Most of these big races are $30-$40 for a 5k and $150 or more for a marathon.  Races with 1000’s and sometimes 10’s of 1000’s of runners charging insane amounts of money and for what?  The privilege to be squeezed into a corral with 8000 other runners for 40 minutes on a Saturday morning?  A giant chunk of metal that will be buried in a junk drawer in a few days?  The fun of shoving someone out of the way to grab a cup of water?  No thanks.  If you want to save money on running races look for a series put on by your local running club.  It will be cheap, it will be fun, and best of all you’ll get to know a lot of really cool people like these guys.

Cool Guys
Cool Guys



Running Groups and Form Clinics

Running form is one of those things, like religion and politics that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company.  People invariably fall into 1 of 2 camps.  Either they believe there is one proper running form including foot strike or they believe whatever you body naturally decides to do is the best way for you to run.  While I strongly lean toward the latter, I do think there are some basic fundamentals of a good stride.  Anyone who follows golf knows that every professional golfer has a different swing, but if you really breakdown what they are doing the basic mechanics don’t differ much and the same is true of good runners.  You can either buy books, videos and attend running clinics (some of which are free some of which are not) or you can read this and talk to the people you run with about any obvious flaws in your running form.


While we are on the subject of people you run with I want to say a bit about running groups.  I think they are great.  I think every runner can benefit from doing at least some of their running with other runners.  I am lucky enough to run with a bunch of guys younger and faster than me, I think it keeps me young and pushes me to be a better runner.  But it also has other less performance related benefits, like friendship and other mushy stuff guys don’t really talk about.  There are lots of running clubs and groups in Rochester area (and also in your area whoever you nonRochester readers are).  In addition to informal running groups which tend to be free like the Oven Door Runners, there are running clubs like Greater Rochester Track Club or even Roadkill Racing that have a lot to offer at very little cost.  You don’t need to pay someone to tell you how or when to run, lots of us are willing to do that for free if you just reach out and ask.

Buying Local:

I know what some of you are thinking.  But Josh, what about my LRS (Local Running Store), don’t I have an obligation as a local runner and a good leftwingprogressivetreehugginghippy to support them?  To that I would say only if they support you.  Look I get it.  Once a week from early spring to late fall my wife walks down to the Fairport Farmers Market to buy locally grown food.  I try to eat at locally owned restaurants not the big chains.  But those places give me a locally made high quality product at a good price.  Those Nike’s are coming from China whether you buy them from an online store based in California or your LRS.  I just can’t see spending an extra $10-$20 for the same pair of shoes because of liberal guilt.  Now I’m not saying LRS don’t have their place, and I’m not one of those people that uses them as a showroom.  I do go in to one fairly often to test out new models and if I like them I will buy that first pair in the store.  They provided me with a service I can’t get online, instant access to multiple shoes and sizes to test out, and it is worth it to pay the premium for that first pair of shoes.  400 miles later though I’m buying them online from Runner’s Warehouse.

Do I need motion control?
Do I need motion control?

Beware also the faux local running shoe store.  Just because it isn’t in the Eastview Mall doesn’t mean it isn’t a chain store just pretending to be a LRS.  Don’t let some 22 year old kid who ran for a DIII college team and majored in Literature do a “gait analysis” on you.  A few seconds of blurry VHS taped footage can’t tell you what kind of shoes to buy if examined by someone with a PhD in Biomechanics let alone by Aston the Lit major.  I was once told by an “Aston” that Superfeet inserts would make me run up to 15% faster, I even asked him to repeat it, and he did, saying they helped him run 15% faster and I should really think about getting them.  Another “Aston” once sold me a pair of Asics Landreth 4’s for $115.  I’d never heard of them but he highly recommend them and I really needed a new pair of shoes so I bought them.  When I got home and looked them up online I found out Asics had moved on to the Landreth 6’s already and the only place I could only find selling the 4’s were selling them on clearance for $45.  When I brought them back to be returned another guy gave me a hard time and told me he didn’t know what I was talking about he runs in them all the time and why do I care if they aren’t the latest model.  Thanks for supporting me “local” running store guy.  You work hard for your money spend it wisely.  If sometime tries to sell you something by saying it will make you a better runner… run away.  And keep running because that is the only thing that will make you a better runner.

Socks  Shoes  Shorts
Socks $2 Shoes $60 Shorts $10

Running like most everything else can be as complex or simple as you want it to be.  Give me nothing but a nice cheap of racing flats and some short shorts and send me on my way… I’ll be happy every step of the way.