10 smart moves to run cheap

Feet on a treadmill

At first blush, running looks like a cheap sport.

Put on some shoes and head for the hills.

Then the bills start piling up.

Race fees. Specialty shoes and clothing. Treadmills and tech gear from heart rate monitors to GPS-enabled watches. And that’s just the start.

That's why we decided to come up with 10 smart moves to run cheap. Or at least run affordably.

Smart move 1. Shop for tops and shorts at discount retailers like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.

They have last season’s styles, but the changes Nike or Adidas or Asics make from one year to the next are minimal when it comes to these items.

Smart move 2. Buy good running shoes from a running store.

It may sound counter intuitive to pay up to $120 or more for shoes when you’re trying to save, but if you buy the cheapo pairs from a big box store, you could pay in the long run with injuries.

Plus, the sales staff at running stores will look at your gait, check the arches in your feet, maybe even put you on a treadmill to see how you run to help you find the right pair for your feet, not just your size.

You have a better chance of getting the right pair the first time rather than pulling a Goldilocks to get the right sneakers.

Runner’s World magazine has a searchable directory of specialty stores.

Smart move 3. Take advantage of the running store's biggest annual sales.

While you're trying on shoes, ask when the store offers its biggest discounts, often at preseason or postseason clearance events.

I buy all of my winter running clothes at the Haddonfield Running Co.’s summer sidewalk sale. I might look odd buying tights when it’s 100 degrees outside, but I sure don’t care when I’m running in January.

Smart move 4. Buy your socks in bulk.

Cotton socks can cause blisters, which is why pricey running socks that wick away sweat, are a must for most of us.

Cut the cost of saving your feet by buying those socks in bulk, which you can do from Zappos.com.

If you lose one to the dryer monster, you’ll also have plenty of mates left over.

Smart move 5. Treadmill cheaply.

A good, new treadmill will cost you $700 or more.

It might be cheaper to join a gym, which would have the added benefit of access to cross-training machines and weights for when you don’t want to run.

Or pick up a lightly used one on Craigslist or at a resale store such as Play it Again Sports.

You'd be surprised at how many people buy very nice treadmills with the best of intentions they never follow through on.

Smart move 6. Look for new races.

The entry fees are usually less than for established races that have a big following and can charge accordingly.

You can also look for races run on looped courses. They typically require organizers to hire fewer police -- and police costs are a big factor in race prices.

The Asbury Park (N.J.) Marathon, for example, is held on a looped course and costs $50. The same group puts on the non-looped New Jersey Marathon. It costs $150.

Smart move 7. Stay away from branded races.

Some of the most costly races are organized by event companies that have created runs under a single name in dozens of cities around the world.

A good example is the Competitor Group of San Diego, which operates the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series.

These are often elaborately staged events with swag bags, gear check, live bands along the route and a post-race party.

But registration fees for each "tour stop" often exceed $100, and you can incur additional costs if you want to pick up your number the day of the race or upgrade your official race cotton T-shirt to a technical shirt.

Smart move 8. Sign up for races early.

Plan what races you're going to run well in advance. Most offer early-bird discounts of up to $30 off.

Smart move 9. Don't think you have to get every single piece of gear on the market.

Sure, GPS watches and the latest innovation in water bottles are great, but you don't necessarily need them, especially if you’re just starting or you aren’t running long distances.

A cheap alternative to a GPS watch, for example, is gmap-pedometer.com.

This website allows you to map your route before you go. As long as you don’t stray, you’ll have an accurate, and absolutely free, measure of your distance.

Want a little more flexibility?

Try an Omron GoSmart Tri-Axis Pocket Pedometer. It does an amazing job counting your steps and calculating your mileage for less than $30 at Amazon.com.

Smart move 10. Apply to be a shoe tester.

Someone has to evaluate new shoes before they come off the production line. Why not you?

Brooks, New Balance and Nike are among the companies that will give you free shoes in exchange for your opinion.

Being picked for this perk isn’t easy, but it’s worth a try.

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