Still, the challenge of training for a distance race and crossing the finish line is worth pursuing and can even be more affordable by following a few guidelines:
Raise money for a charity
One of the most common ways to save on an entry fee is to run for a charity. Many major non-profit organizations will even cover the entry fee associated with the race. One of the largest fund-raisers is Team in Training, a group that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Participants pay a sign-up fee of $100 and then agree to raise a minimum amount of money of their choice in the months leading up to their race. Caution: about five to six weeks into the Team in Training program, participants are asked to "recommit" to their goal or to opt out. After this point participants who continue in the program are held responsible for the money they agreed to raise (in other words, if you don't raise the money you'll have to pay it yourself).
It's hard to plan nearly one year in advance to participate in a half or full marathon. There are many unknown factors: can you get the time off work? Will an unexpected injury prevent you from running? There's no way to predict what will happen that far in advance, but for a premier race like one of the Rock 'N Roll events, it pays off to take a chance and register as early as possible to enjoy deep discounts several months before the event date. For example, the 2014 P.F. Chang's Rock 'N Roll Arizona half and full marathon is held on Jan. 19, and folks who wait until race weekend to register will pay $145 for the half or full marathon (and risk the event sells out completely). Register before June 15, 2013 and pay $90 for the half and $105 for the full.
Follow your target races on Facebook and Twitter and watch their websites for announcements on when registration will open. Often there are special discounts for early birds.
Search for discount codes
Many races post occasional registration specials through their websites, Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Keep watching your target race and be ready to jump on any special offers. In addition, try the following:
- Use RetailMeNot. Search for codes by race number or by Active.com, a race registration company used by many major races.
- Join Active Advantage. This discount program offered by Active.com gives members discounts on race entries (typically $10 off or higher), running gear and travel-related expenses (rental cars and hotels) and also offers free training programs. Pay $1.99 for a one-month trial membership. Join for one year by paying $64.95.
Maybe the prestige of a popular race isn't worth the cost. If the destination is as appealing as the event itself, consider a compromise. Most major cities have multiple races throughout the year. Some races are managed by big corporations (like the Rock 'N Roll's Competitor Group), while others are small locally-produced events that can be just as fun and are more affordable. For example: Instead of running Rock 'N Roll Las Vegas ($120 for the marathon and $95 for the half), choose the Hoover Dam Marathon or Half-Marathon instead. Both events are held in December, but the Hoover Dam race is about $20 cheaper for either distance. The Hoover Dam doesn't feature a run down the Las Vegas strip, but it does have beautiful views of Lake Mead.
Know about refund policies
Sometimes training gets sidelined. Maybe you struggled to get over a cold for a few weeks, or your work schedule got in the way. Most races have a no-refunds policy, so if you register for a race and can't participate, don't expect to get your money back. Some races do offer a deferment option (you can enter the race in the following year) but there is often an additional fee and you might need to have a doctor verify your injury.
Hate to run in the rain? Learn to push through it, because races are rarely cancelled because of bad weather.
Go in prepared and know what to expect.