8 Easy Ways to Save Money on Road Races

1) Define your race goals- "Why do you do this?"  
When I ask this question, I don't mean the sometimes sarcastic and judging question we occasionally get from non-athletes.  What I want you to think about is: what you want to get out of doing road races and endurance sports?

What do you enjoy about races the most?  What do you want to achieve?  Is your goal to BQ, to visit all 50 states, or do as many Disney races as you can?  Do you want to travel to places you'd never go otherwise?

Time and money are the two most-common factors involved in deciding what events to do.  Thinking about your goals and what is most important to you will help you decide between conflicting events on the same day or weekend.  If an event doesn't contribute to your "big picture" race goals, then save your money and time for the races that do.

2) Understand your limits.
I mean physical, financial and day-off limits here.

Your weekend travels may be limited by the days and time you can take off from work or family needs.  Your work may not allow you to take vacation during the week or the month of a great race. 

Set a financial limit for your race spending.  At the end of the day, road races are a hobby.  Do not go into debit for this.  Many athletes set aside a special savings account for race funds, and when that's depleted or accounted for, they consider their schedule full.

Knowing your limits also includes knowing your expected finish times for races.  Do not sign up for events that have a cutoff time before your expected finish time.  Some races let people finish on their own and still give them a time; others don't. 

Over training and over racing are two other things to avoid.  If you get into doing too much too fast, you risk an increased chance of injury. As many races do not offer refunds if you can't attend, reduce that risk by building proper rest and recovery into your race schedule.

3) Resist the urge to sign up for every race.
Once you catch the racing bug, it's easier to register for event after event.  Instead, see if the races being offered line up with your personal goals.  Then, compare races to see which is giving you the most for your money.  Shop around for the races being offered in your area, and factor in all costs before you sign up. For example, if you're driving further from home for a cheaper race, are you losing the savings in the race registration fee by spending it on gas instead?

Also, consider every race to be "buyer beware."  With the rapid growth in road races and events, some new companies (specially obstacle course/mud run organizers) have folded.  Research any event you don't know before you register.

4) Start thinking of next year's races now.
Most races open registration for the following year within the week that the event is held. Make a race wish list, and plot the dates on a calendar.  The cheapest prices for races are generally when registration opens.  The earlier you sign up, the less you pay.

5) Make a list of all the people you can stay with across the United States for free.  
Whether you're traveling in across the state or across the country for races, I bet you know family members or friends that have a spare bedroom, a comfy couch, or a place for an air mattress for you to stay overnight for a race instead of paying for a hotel room.  Develop your network of regional and nation racing friends, and take turns hosting each other for races.  Remember that cousin in Oregon that said you were welcome to visit any time?  Check in and see if you can stay with their family for marathon weekend.

6) Volunteer for free entries (or discounts).
Check with local race organizers to see if they will offer you either a discount or a free entry for a future race if you volunteer (or bring a volunteer).

7) Ignore the expo merchandise, or restrict your buying. 
Big races have big expos- with big areas of commemorative branded merchandise.   I understand wanting to purchase a special finisher's shirt from their first half or full marathon, or from races like Boston, Chicago, Marine Corps, Disney, or New York.

However, all those commemorative items can add up fast.  Ask yourself if you really need the commemorative shirt, hat, jacket, gloves, cup, beer mug, arm warmers, wallet, key chain, and so on.  For most races, the shirt that comes with your registration fee and the race medal make perfect keepsakes.  The more races you do, the more you'll find you don't even get to wearing most of the shirts or hats anyway. 

If you can wait on the commemorative items, some races put their remaining merchandise on sale on their race website or company store, often at a discount, or sell prior year shirts for cheap at their expo.

8) Instead of buying throwaway layer items, check your closets first.
Odds are you may already have an old sweatshirt, sweatpants, a flannel shirt, or even a pajama top you don't use anymore that would make a great throwaway layer.  I've even worn an old bathrobe to a race with a long pre-start corral wait.  If you have a pile of old race shirts you never wear (like white shirts), use those to keep warm before a race, and then toss them.

Do you only need gloves on your hands before the race starts or for the first mile or so?  Check your socks for older, worn out, or "missing it's other half" ones.  Socks are great for hand warmers before a race start.  Need something on your arms to keep them warm temporarily?  Cut the sleeves off an old shirt, or cut the bottoms off a pair of old tube socks.