I reckon running is a great way to exercise with limited money and less time. And I say that as a most unlikely runner.
You know those tall, lean Amazonian types? The lithe ones who actually look good in leggings, leaping past with the grace of a gazelle?
Not me. I wobble when I walk. When running, I go so red people ask if I’m OK.
However, on Sunday I ran* my first ever half marathon.
*When I say run, there was definitely some walking involved
It all started back in January, when I struggled to run for a minute at a time and resolved to get fit for less. Full of enthusiasm, I entered a competition for beginner runners, and won a place on the Great East Run. Oops.
True to form, I’ve taken a frugal approach to running. Like any hobby, you could spend a small fortune on the latest clothing, equipment and training. If you’ve got cash to spare and that floats your boat – go for it. But it’s really not necessary.
Here’s a round up of my top tips on how run a half marathon on a budget.
Getting started for free
I am evangelical about the completely free NHS Couch to 5K running programme. You download a series of podcasts (with music) or an app (where you use your own music) onto your smartphone. You’ll need to carve out up to 40 minutes, three times a week, for nine weeks. The joy is that you then do exactly what you’re told. Couch to 5K really can take a complete couch potato like me from zero to running for 30 minutes straight.
You don’t have to bankrupt yourself on running kit before setting foot out of the door. Seriously, when starting Couch to 5K, I just bunged on some elderly trainers, sports socks, any old leggings or tracksuit bottoms and a cotton T shirt. I do however recommend a decent sports bra – gravity is no friend to the well-endowed. Try it for a few runs. That way, if you hate it, you won’t have wasted money on running clothes.
Splash out on shoes and socks
Once I was keen to continue, I did invest in decent socks and decent running shoes. If you want to stay injury-free, it pays to protect your feet.
For the shoes, I went the whole hog and headed to a specialist running shop. I did the gait analysis thing, where the assistant watches you running on a treadmill, and recommends appropriate shoes. They knew which shoes had wider width fittings for the same size, checked the fit, and even gave me top tips on lacing them up. If you explain you have a limited budget, they may be able to produce less popular colours, or sell last season’s models for less. It’s also worth checking if they offer any money off if you sign up for their mailing list, or are a member of a local running club.
Even after a combination of discounts and sale prices, I still forked out well over £100 for my running shoes. However, I figured that as I only had one pair of feet, I only needed one pair of running shoes rather than buying several! Apparently runners should budget for replacing shoes roughly every 500 miles, or earlier if they’re showing signs of wear or experiencing discomfort.
I do know runners who’ve bought running shoes online at half the price, but I really wanted the expert advice on fit, and felt uncomfortable getting help in store only to order over the internet.
In contrast, I was happy to buy running socks online. Personally, I went for 1000 Mile socks, with their double layer to help avoid blisters. I googled to find a good deal including delivery and picked up a couple of pairs in a sale. I also saved some extra cash by clicking through from cashback website TopCashback, and paying with a cashback credit card.
Running kit for less
For ages, I just ran in the tracksuit bottoms with a drawstring, a cotton T shirt and a fleece if it was really cold.
Once I started running beyond 5K, I did actually buy some official running kit. The lighter, quick drying fabrics with limited seams definitely helped.
As with any clothing, you don’t have to splash out on full-price top brands unless you want to. Try supermarkets and discount sports shops. I spent a grand total of £24.04 in sale at Sainsburys, on a Tu range running top and leggings. I was also lucky enough to be sent a free top and leggings as part of the Great East Run competition. One set to wear, one set in the wash – sorted. My favourite pair of running leggings had a deep waistband (so they definitely stayed up!) and a small pocket in the waistband for essentials like a key, contact lens case or headphones.
After running a half marathon, you may well get a finishers T shirt in the goody bag – another free bit of running kit!
Fitness trackers for less
Lusting after a fancy Fitbit or gorgeous Garmin running watch? If you’re not fussed about the latest running bling, you might well find the previous model on sale for less. I waited a few months after the frenzy of New Year’s Resolutions, compared prices online and then picked up a half price new-in-box Fitbit on eBay.
Running apps for less
Why pay a monthly subscription for running apps, when you can get some great versions for free?
I really enjoyed using the free version of the Runkeeper app. As mentioned in last week’s five frugal things post, it pipes up every five minutes while running to tell me how far I’ve run and what pace. Afterwards, you can save the data, and check maps to show where you’ve run, tables of running splits and graphs of how high you’ve run and how slowly. It also means you can look back to compare distances, times and pace.
I also used the free version of MapMyRun for route suggestions when I was away from home, and to check distances when mapping out routes nearby. MapMyRun also shows elevation aka hills. This meant I could map out the route for the Great East Run, see where the hideous hills would pop up on a mostly flat course, then practice on similar slopes closer to home.
Food and drink for less
Running on a budget? Sod the protein powders, nutrition bars and sports drinks. Maybe it might be relevant for elite athletes and ultra long distance runners – but I’m hardly going to trouble the Olympic selection committee. Hydration is vital, but water is fine. I ran with an ordinary 500ml plastic bottle refilled with tap water, and stuck a bunch more in the fridge to drink before and afterwards.
For food, think porridge beforehand, bananas for an energy boost afterwards and home-made flapjack if you’re really pushing the boat out. One of the cheapest forms of protein is eggs – boiled, poached, scrambled or as omelettes loaded with veg.
During the race itself, rather than expensive energy gels, consider jelly babies or Haribo. Even better, you might get offered some for free along the half marathon route, by spectators or at water stops.
Run entries for less
The cheapest place to run is just on nearby streets, paths or parks – no need to shell out for gym membership or treadmills. With my preference for flat runs, I’ve run along disused railway lines, beside canals and along seafronts.
However, if you’re aiming for a half marathon, it helps to try some timed runs beforehand.
It’s a different experience getting to the right place at the right time, warming up for a set start time, and running in a crowd on an unfamiliar course. (More tips for running your first 10K in this post) While training, I took advantage of completely free timed 5K runs via Park Run and Great Run Local.
For longer timed runs, you’ll probably have to pay. I was lucky enough to win a free place on the Great East Run, saving the £30 odd entry fee. Some charities offer free places on high profile runs, if you’re willing to do some fundraising. Might even get a free running top thrown in!
Otherwise, you can often save a few pounds on organised runs if you book in advance, rather than showing up on the day. Check the charges when booking ahead – I entered the Clacton 10K via RunBritain, as it didn’t load on extra processing fees.
If you pay to join a local running club with UK Athletics Affiliation, you will also get a couple of quid off entry prices for most UK runs as an “affiliated” runner.
Running programmes for free
If you have a particular date and distance in mind, there are loads of different running programmes available online. I’m incredibly grateful to Hannah from Ipswich Jaffa Running Club, who put together a half marathon training programme for me based on my constraints of getting out three times a week. My husband used this free Cancer Research training plan for beginners.
Once you’re capable of running for 30 minutes or more several times a week, most of the half marathon programmes seem to be structured over 12 weeks. As a first time runner, I reckon that will get you round, even if you’re not super speedy! However, it doesn’t have any allowance for injury or skipping runs for any other reason.
Support for less
Support from other runners definitely helped me stick to my running programme.
My husband signed up for the same race, so even though juggling childcare meant we couldn’t run together, we could still chat about it afterwards. I could also got encouragement from the other Great East Run competition winners (waves to Sara, Tony, Jeff and Paula) via a free WhatsApp group.
If you prefer running in company, or the chance for structured training, see if you can pay to join a local running club. The Good Run Guide has a club finder here.
The other factor that kept me pounding the pavements was knowing that my husband and I were raising money for St Elizabeth Hospice. I’m so grateful to everyone who has donated – and if you can spare anything, here’s a link to our JustGiving page.
Hope my round up of how to run a half marathon on a budget has been helpful. I never thought I’d run that far, and have been beaming ever since I survived. Now over to you – what are your top tips for frugal running? I’d love to hear!