I'm certain I've blogged about this before, and possibly recently, but here's a reminder in any case: Thirty years ago, distance running wasn't glamorous, it wasn't popular, it wasn't pretty, it couldn't get you social media followers, and it was only something that a relatively small number of people did.
The origins of the sport are in somewhat eccentric people who, for whatever reason, like to move as far and as fast and as much as possible. The old guys who created the sport of modern distance running started out in the 1960s and early 70s with nothing in the way of real "running gear." They wore whatever shirts and shoes they could find. When it got cold outside, they put on a sweatsuit. Not "joggers," not "tights," not spandex or dry-wicking material. Plain old grey cotton sweatsuits like you get at Walmart for ten bucks. Interestingly enough, this was one of the fastest periods in American distance running. Over time, more people have flocked to the sport, but those people have not really been faster, there have simply been more of them.
With increasing popular interest in distance running, there has been a corresponding increase in the supply of peripheral running merchandise. Some of this has been great: specially designed running-specific shoes have been an incalculable benefit. Dry-wicking materials and clothing tailored to a runner's specific needs have been less beneficial, but still important, especially if you live in a place that experiences climactic extremes. I can't imagine that running in Hawaii is very much fun in plain cotton clothing; nor would it be possible to run in the Canadian winter without special cold-weather running gear.
Still, there is a big difference between what is available and what is necessary. When I lived in Canada, I had to laugh at all the expensive crap people wore while running. The simple fact of the matter is that when it is cold and dry outside, a plain cotton Walmart sweatsuit is perfectly adequate for winter running. Even in the Texas summer heat, a cotton tank top and a loose-fitting pair of shorts will get you through your workout. And while I'm a fan of my $120 running shoes, I also discovered that I can be happy in a $20 pair of Payless running shoes, too.
It's fun to spend money on fancy running luxuries, but you don't need them to enjoy running. Running is a simple sport that is financially accessible to everyone. Let's compare me, a middle-class running enthusiast, to someone looking to get into running at the lowest possible expense.
Ryan's Running Gear:
- Nike Air Zoom Pegasus running shoes: $110
- Puma athletic socks for running: $15 per 8-pack, or $1.88/pair
- Nike running shorts: $25
- Dry-wicking athletic shirt: free with $35 10K entry fee
- Adidas running hat: $10 on clearance at Costco
- Garmin Forerunner 645 running watch: $350
- Garmin chest strap heart rate monitor: $60
- Nike running jacket for cold weather conditions: $80
My total expense for running: $685. This is cheap, compared to skiing, golfing, or cycling, but it's easy to see how a low-income kid would have a hard time affording this stuff. So let's take a look and see how cheaply such a kid could get into running.
Running on a Budget:
- Champion power-knit runner: $35
- Puma athletic socks for running: $15 per 8-pack or $1.88/pair (same socks!)
- Athletic shorts: Real Essentials athletic shorts: $33 per 5-pack, or $6.60/pair
- Athletic shirts: 5-pack dry-wicking athletic shirts from Amazon: $30, or $6/shirt
- Marathon by Timex digital watch with chronograph: $15
- Hanes Ecosmart sweatshirt for cold weather conditions: $10
Total required expense for running: $88. True, a very low-income kid might have to save up in order to afford $88 worth of running gear, but we're talking about a few weeks of savings, not something completely out-of-reach. An enterprising young person could think of ways to earn $88 in a single day, by taking on a little extra work one weekend.
Here's the important part: There is no diminished "running experience" if you go the budget route versus the fancy luxury gear route. It's not as if rich people have more fun running in their $80 jackets as compared to people running in $10 sweatshirts. You can be just as fast and have just as much fun while spending $600 less on running gear.
True, GPS running watches bring a lot of fun to the table. I won't deny it. But I say that after having run for twenty years without any such contraption. A chronograph is the only absolutely necessary thing, and a repeating countdown timer is a little better - but both of those things are available in the $15 watch and the $350 watch alike. If you run with a group of friends, you'll get your "social media fix" without having to get involved with Strava or Garmin Connect or any other GPS-based social medium.
I think it's important for people to understand that running does not have to be -- nor really should it be -- a rich person's status sport. Running is as fundamental, as accessible-to-anyone, as virtually any other sport. Anyone can do it. Anyone should do it. It's incredibly fun. Please don't let the supposed high cost frighten you away.