The Washington Post’s Bonnie Berkowitz recently wrote a fascinating article analyzing the cost per mile of a sampling of races, ranging from the Color Run to the Marine Corps Marathon.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the races organized by for-profit company charged among the highest per-mile rates.  Read the full article below to learn more.  This may change your choices for next season’s racing schedule.

How many dollars in a marathon?

By Bonnie Berkowitz, Published: Oct. 25, 2013

Most of the 30,000 or so runners in Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon paid $99 to be there. That works out to $3.78 per mile — a bargain compared with other big-city marathons such as Boston and Chicago at $6.68 per mile ($175) and New York, a whopping $9.73 per mile ($255). But it’s also much less than many shorter races in this area. 

When broken down to cost per mile, the larger and more popular races — not necessarily the longer ones — tend to charge the biggest bucks. And why not? Hordes of people are willing to pay for the mega-race experience, plus a little on top for profit or charity. “If you’re closing out, you can charge more and more until you find that level where people say, ‘I’m not signing up for your race any more,’” said Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon, which was the third-largest marathon in the country last year. The Marine Corps race is the exception because, despite its gargantuan size and perpetually sold-out field, the entry fee covers only expenses. Nealis said his mandate is to break even rather than make a profit. 

In contrast to the massive events, many small races are staged dirt-cheap with no frills and appeal to bargain-hunters and runners who don’t need or want crowds and hoopla. Plenty of area races charge less than $10, but the cheapest we found is a five-kilometer series put on by the Annapolis Striders that charges nothing. Race director John Curley said the club just wants to fulfill part of its mission: to encourage participation in distance running. Read related article.

marathon costs

Notes: Entry fees are as of the first day of registration for the 2013 race and do not include discounts or optional add-ons. Field size is number of entrants, not finishers.

SOURCE: Individual race directors and Web sites; Marine Corps Marathon; Road Race Management;


About horowitzrun

Jeff is a certified running, cycling, and triathlon coach, and is the author of "My First 100 Marathons" (Skyhorse Press 2008) and "Smart Marathon Training" (Velo Press 2011). An obviously addicted runner, Jeff has run at least one marathon in every state and on 6 continents, including marathons in South Africa, China, Bangkok, and Antarctica. Jeff is available for group, one-on-one, and virtual coaching. Options include: 1. Basic Training Plan. This includes a customized training schedule geared towards a goal race, with a detailed running schedule that would include all distances and target times for each workout, including speedwork, tempo, and endurance sessions. 2. Complete Fitness and Race Plan. This includes the plan listed above, plus the non-running workouts and drills that runners need for better overall fitness and performance. You would get strength & core workouts, as well as run-specific training drills and stretches. 3. Virtual Coaching. This includes all of the above, implemented on a week-by-week basis. We review each week's progress at week's end so that adjustments can be made. The program is tailored to suit you right up to race day. It involves more contact, on a weekly or even daily basis. 4. Full Coaching for athletes in the Washington DC area. All of the above, plus a weekly workout together including speedwork, drills, and strength training. 5. Individual track sessions. One-on-one track-based workouts. Contact Jeff for pricing.
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  1. Franzi says:

    Interesting but one-sided article. It is good for a runner to see how entry fees vary among the different races. It would be a bit more complete article if it also touched on the race quality and compared not only the entry fee but also what the runner receives for the entry fee.
    As mentioned by the writer, there are many factors that influence the price for a race entry apart from the demand for specific races. The article mentions big races such as the Boston and the NYC Marathon and their higher entry fees. Yes, these races are highly sought after, sell out and can thus charge a higher fee as the demand is very high. What the article does not mention is that many races of that size and in such large cities deal with a very different cost structure than the local 5k. The cost for budget items such as equipment, road closures, security staff, police staff etc. vary greatly among different cities and tend to be on the higher side in larger cities. Security concerns are much more prominent at bigger races than smaller ones requiring different security measures (see the $1 million security budget of the Marine Corps Marathon mentioned above). Customer service is another component that differentiates many races. There is a hard cost against emails being answered promptly and having one’s personal runners issues dealt with right away. And there are many other budget items like the ones mentioned that influence the cost per mile at a race.

    • horowitzrun says:

      Thanks for your comment, Franzi – you raise many valid points. I think generally that runners as consumers are largely unaware of the true costs of putting on an event – both the obvious costs, such as medals and shirts, as well as the less-known costs, such as insurance and police fees. Still, I welcome this kind of discussion; I think it would help runners be better consumers.

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