I knew early on that my goal to run a marathon in every state would be as financially challenging as it would be physically challenging. It’s no wonder that people are curious how I do it. If money were no object, I’d run a marathon most every weekend! Since money is a major factor, affordability plays a big role in the races I choose. At the moment I’m only registered for the Publix Georgia Marathon in Atlanta on March 23. Money is tighter than ever now that I’m working on my Empower Races LLC startup. As I begin to consider my next few races, I’ll be using all the tricks up my sleeves to keep them as low cost as possible. Maybe if money is the barrier that blocks your marathoning or travel goals, feel free to pick and choose among my techniques as they may work for you too.
Flights are the most expensive part of travel for me so for starters I drive to races when I can. It was 12 hours and 800 miles round trip to run Dover, Delaware. I choose races in a drivable distance to airports that have low rates; I look for under $300 round trip. I’m on every major airline’s email list for specials and I get alerts from airfarewatchdog.com so I take advantage of deals regularly. Searching on Tuesdays and Wednesdays seems to have lower rates than the same flights would if I searched over the weekend. I ran St. Charles, Illinois because I first found round trip tickets to Chicago for $198 then I searched for races within 3 hours drive. I’m a member of a frequent flyer rewards programs for 3 airlines and for Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program I earn extra points by taking surveys through e-Rewards.com. My flight home from Atlanta was paid entirely by taking surveys!
Hotels are the next biggest expense so for starters I avoid them when I can by staying with family or people I know when possible. The next best thing to that is staying in a hostel. Hostels aren’t nearly as prevalent in The States as in other countries, so this is only a good resource in cities. For about $25 a night on average, I really enjoy these social accommodations where I rent a bunk bed in a dormitory type room and share bathrooms and common spaces. Hostels have full shared kitchens and being able to cook expands my affordable food choices. It’s also a great way to meet other solo travelers and runners. I did this for two races in Canada and Philly, Lake Placid, and Cleveland. Where there aren’t friends, family, or hostels, I go for budget-1-star hotels and I search best rates thoroughly usually using Booking.com or Hotwire.com’s name your price, and either way, I limit hotels to $50 a night including all taxes and fees and I give preference to those with continental breakfasts.
Car rentals from airports are always affordable and this is especially true when using Hotwire. I’ve also gotten good deals from Priceline’s name your price. I always reserve an economy or compact car for the efficient gas price as well as the lowest per day rate. I bring a GPS, never rent theirs and I never get the add-on insurance (my regular insurance covers rentals). I’ve had car rentals for a as little as $15 per day for the Indiana and Missouri double marathon weekend, St. George Utah, and the Mississippi and Alabama double. I got even lower per day for Arkansas and Illinois!
Race registrations are lowest when I register well in advance, so I register as soon as I know I’m doing the race. I’ve also volunteered for a race and got free entry (Melbourne Music Marathon). Membership with Marathon Maniacs has gotten me several entry discounts too (over $100 total to date). And, as you may have already read in my blog post here, simply being from Vermont got me in the Louisiana Marathon.
I keep my costs very low when I travel and this is especially easy to do when I travel alone because I hardly ever eat in restaurants. I go to grocery stores and find all the nutrition I need at no more an expense than I would have if I were home. If I have access to a kitchen, it’s even better because I can cook my food too, but even if I don’t, the produce section never fails to have plenty of healthy selections that don’t require preparation. I pay admission to some attractions along the way, but I choose things that are priced reasonably. I’m not a shopper or souvenir collector, so I don’t lose money in the tourist trap gift stores.
In between travel, I keep my expenses few and low. I don’t have any kids, pets, or even plants or a garden, and these seem to be the biggest time and money drains for most people. I’m a minimalist when it comes to possessions and lifestyle. I do without many things that some people consider essential, like I don’t have a TV (no cable), microwave, smart phone, or designer handbags. I do without many routines that some people consider essential, like beauty regimens with high-end make-up and moisturizers; I don’t get manicures, pedicures, maintenance massages, or expensive hair-cuts. I re-wear clothes a long time before I get new ones and when I do buy new clothes I get them at discount and thrift stores. I buy last season’s running shoes on online outlets. I love coupons and discount codes! I drive a super gas efficient car, rarely eat out, and shop at 4 different grocery stores for the best price on items I regularly buy.
My marathon travels are kept exceptionally low cost because I’m a travel deal hound with relatively low standards on accommodations. It’s worth the effort to look for the best rates and to choose races based on the affordability of getting there and staying there. I also take great care at keeping my regular life affordable too so that I have more extra cash to direct to travel. Where my thriftiness and resourcefulness fall short, admittedly, I whip out the credit card and this honestly is my biggest offence. Since starting a new job 10 months ago with a much better salary than I’ve had in previous years, I haven’t increased my credit card debt, but I haven’t reduced it either. In the coming year, I won’t be traveling as much so that I can whittle that down a bit, as well as focus on Empower Races LLC for a while.
The races that I’m looking at for 2014 are mostly local. I’m going to repeat the Race of Champions Holyoke Marathon in early May, the Mad Marathon in July, and the Clarence Demar in September. I’m going to try the Shires of Vermont in Bennington this May too and if I have energy on Memorial Day weekend after that and Holyoke, they I’ll also repeat the Memorial Day Marathon in Lenox, MA. Also for July, I’m looking at trying out a trail marathon for the first time in Allenstown, New Hampshire. Then in the fall I’m looking at the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, the Maine Marathon in Portland, a new, small race in Goshen, NY called the Hambletonian, and the Myles Standish Marathon in Plymouth, MA. The only distance races that I have plans and ideas in the works for are the E.T. Marathon in Rachel, Nevada in August and the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in April.
With the three marathons I already have completed in 2014, it looks like I’ll have as many as 6 new states, same as last year, and no problem reaching my 12 marathons goal for the year. The big question is which race will be an ultra! This is a big whopper of a goal for 2014. Whatever race that will be, it will be in the fall and probably the only fall race I travel to get to. If I’m going to run greater than a marathon, it will be in a new state… with round trip flights under $300, maybe purchased with rewards points, I’ll be staying in a hostel or cheap hotel, renting an economy car, registering early, and keeping expenses low till then. Like I said, being a traveling marathoner is just as financially challenging as it is physically challenging, but all the best things come with hard work.