A Frugal Way to Train For Your First Half or Full Marathon

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There is a small percentage of the population that is missing a few “rational-thinking” genes.

This group of people are typically referred to as marathon runners.  There is no real logical reason to run a marathon.  It is more exercise than is necessary.  It consumes more time than is reasonable.  And it’s a lot of work.  Nevertheless, each year a new group of people decide they want to enter the marathon club.

So if you’ve decided you want to join the club, then – congratulations.  It will be an awesome experience.  However, there is a financial danger involved – you will think you need to buy every product, item, and resource known to man.  That’s why I want to help you achieve your running goal without breaking the bank.

The Cheapest Way To Train For A Marathon

I’ve broken the categories into free, cheap, and worth the cost.

Free Marathon Training Resources

Find a free training plan regardless of your experience – novice, intermediate, or expert.  Visit Hal Higdon’s website.

You can also download this Free Exercise Training Worksheet.

Find marathon locations, dates, and expenses.  By choosing a marathon close to home you will save a lot on hotels, meals, and travel cost.

Keep up with current happenings at Runners World.

Map My Run – this AMAZING program is the absolute best way to chart out your running.  It will give you the mile markers along the way.

Don’t get a gym membership.  Running outside is the best place to train.  First of all, you help get your body acclimated to all kinds of conditions.  Even if you plan on running a summer marathon, your body will be stronger by training in the cold.  As the temperature changes your body will gradually adjust to new temperatures.  If you don’t map your run, then you should consider a set route that you’ve checked the distance in your car, or even visit a local park.

Minimize The Cost Of Marathon Training Purchases

Discount Running Shoes

Running shoes are the bread and butter of running.  However, it is not necessary to go to a professional running store and spend $150 plus on a pair of shoes.  Instead, watch for sales, visit outlets, or stores like Ross or TJ Max.  Look for shoes that are light weight, have good breathability, and have extra cushioning.  Someone could measure your feet and your stride style, but when you put on the right pair of shoes, you know it.  I’ve been most impressed with my Saucony running shoes.

When you buy running shoes, write the date on your exercise calendar.  This way you can track your miles to know when it is time for a new pair of shoes.  Typically, you can run between 400-500 miles with one pair of shoes.

Gatorade Powder Mix

Most marathoners say Gatorade is a must.  I’ve always trained with water, but rehydrated at the end with Gatorade.  You can save money by mixing your own Gatorade.  Most Wal-Marts, Target, or Sam’s will have powder Gatorade you can mix.  I always mix my drink before I run so when I get home everything is all set.

Early Marathon Registration

By registering early, most marathons will give you a substantial discount and even some extra goodies.  The St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, for example, gives free Nike Dri-Fit hats to a set number of early registrants.

Cheap Fitness Apparel

Notice that this is called fitness, not fashion, apparel.  Most people want to look like runners instead of be runners.  If you shop second hand, online, or on clearance racks at your local sports store you can get some decent dry fit clothing.  Remember, you might only need 2-3 shorts and shirts as long as you’re willing to do laundry a couple of times a week.

Marathon Training Products That Are Worth the Cost

Timex Ironman Triathlon Watch

You cannot train without a decent watch.  I am a huge fan of Timex watches.  Currently, I have an Ironman Triathlon watch.  Get something with the following features – chrono, timer, intermittent timer, 100 lap storage.  When you’re running you don’t want to record your miles every day – you need a watch to store your information.  I am now trying out the Garmin WatchesGarmin watch that automatically syncs your workout.

I’m a fan of Timex products because they last and have an outstanding guarantee.  I recently had a band break and couldn’t find a replacement.  I paid $5 to send the watch to Timex repairs and got a brand new watch back.  No receipt, no proof of purchase required.

MP3 Player or iPod

When I run I listen to a lot of financial programs.  It get in shape and educated at the same time.  Most people, however, prefer the inspiring music.  I trained for my first marathon and two half marathons without an MP3 player, but if I had to go back, I would definitely get one.  You might start out with an entry level MP3 player, or you might just want to get an iPod or even a weather resistant sport MP3 player.

Energy gel

When you start running over 1 – 2 hours,it will be worth getting some energy gel.  The stuff tastes nasty, but really does help replenish your energy.

Marathon Training Book

I recommend Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.

Photo by lululemon athletica.

Any of you thinking about running a half or full marathon this year?  What training tips or money saving tips do you have?


  1. says

    Yep, I’m one of those crazies who’s trying it. Trouble is, I’ve only ever run much during the summer. Here in Kentucky, it’s winter and we have a couple inches of snow all over place. Not a big deal compared to somewhere in New York but still enough to ground me for a bit.

    I’ll remember this for next year: guy winter clothing in the spring when it’s on sale. For those on the other side of the world, you might still be able to take advantage of this advice.

    Those are my thoughts. Here’s to marathoning this year!

    -Marshall Jones Jr.
    .-= bondChristian´s last blog ..The (bond) beginner’s introduction to two crazy-important themes =-.

    • Craig says

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only person in the world who has ever misspelled a word.
      The winter is tough. See my comments @Nicki.
      I wish you all the best. Just run like crazy and try not to kill yourself.

  2. says

    Disclaimer: I’m not a marathon runner for all the reasons spelled out so brilliantly in the 2nd paragraph (well done, Craig!).

    I love this comment, “Most people want to look like runners instead of be runners.” That’s true of so many things in life. How many people have unused or lightly used exercise equipment from one or more New Year’s resolutions to get in shape?

    It makes sense that before you start spending money on anything you do, you should first DO IT and see if you even like it.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Save a Bundle By Repairing Your Eyeglasses =-.

    • Craig says

      Kevin. I should tell you why I decided to run my first marathon. I was visiting with a friend who was “bigger” and he was telling me about how he ran a marathon in Greece. The marathon wasn’t the point of the story, but I fixated on that. I thought if he can run a marathon I can too. I started training the next day.
      Also, I should let you know why I don’t run much anymore. I was on track to run a half-marathon last Spring and I started a blog. A couple of months I had a heart to heart with myself. It’s either the blog or the running. I chose the blog. I do still run 2-3 times a week, but definitely not like I used to.
      I completely agree do it first before you start investing a ton of money.

  3. says

    I’m an UltraEndurance athlete having done multiple Ironman races and Ultramarathons…. and I’m really, really cheap. So I’m no stranger to this topic. :)

    On the Gatorade front, there is no doubt you need it before, during, and after your training sessions for best recovery. However, you don’t need it in its full concentration. I, and other Ironman atheletes, always cut it down. Minimally, cut it 50%. That is, create your solution so that it is 50% recommended concentration with 50% water.

    I love your commentary about those who dress the part versus those who actually do it. If you saw me, with my other training partners, you would be so sure we didn’t know what we were doing. We have baggy sweats, no fancy sweat wicking clothes, nor special sunglasses. However, after an observer took off with us, after the first hour or 2 of running, swimming, or biking, there would be zero doubt about our skill. In fact, when a new person joins us with all the fancy logo gear, we laugh knowing that they are “image” folks, and not true to the endeavor … they all eventually fall off because being the real deal isn’t something you can buy with logos. It’s simple: Just do it.
    .-= SailboatFamily´s last blog ..Composting Marine Toilet Conversion – Step 2 =-.

    • Craig says

      I know some people think I am insane for running. Well I’ll return the favor and say you are insane for running ultra marathons :).
      Great tip on the Gatorade! I skip it during the run because I have a sensitive system and it just doesn’t stay down when I run (would that be considered too much information?).
      I was warming up for a 5k race once and a couple of people told me they thought I was going to win because I “looked like a runner”. Perhaps, you sometimes do just need to look the part – it was the only 5k I’ve ever won.
      Keep up the great work.

    • Craig says

      I don’t envy you. It was raining here yesterday morning so I went for my run in the afternoon. In 95+ degrees I thought I was going to die. I also remember, however, being in Canada last April and running in the cold feeling like I was going to die.
      Of course there is the paid gym membership, but that would certainly be expensive. I know some folks who run stairs at a local office building. When I used to live in Memphis they had a free community center where people could run. Get in touch with a local running club and ask where they train in the winter. Either that or you could be one of those crazies who run outside in their shorts in the middle of winter.

  4. Lynn says

    I find Gatorade a little too sugary for running, and a frugal substitute is a very small amount of salt in your water. 1/4tsp per quart or so, for the same results.
    A inexpensive source of shoes is Sierratradingpost.com where you can get last season’s styles at about 40% off. It is important to get the right fit, and buying off the web can be tricky since you’re not trying anything on. Many running shoes manufacturers feature a shoe fit feature on their sites, and I personally like Brooks running fit guide. This way you can find out if you pronate, or underpronate and get the right kind of support for your feet. For free music sorted by beats per minute, I love Podrunner. It is greatly motivating, and keeps you going a little further and faster than you thought you were capable of at times.

  5. FFB says

    Yeah, I’m one of those crazies. Did the NYC full and half marathons.

    I’m a member of the NYRR and they have lots of great info on marathons, both 1/2 and full. I think the info is open to everyone so it’s worth checking out their site.

    I used a map site that was similar to what you listed. Every weekend I would map out another run to make sure I was going a long enough distance. Use your town to its fullest extent!

    For running shoes, look up reviews of the best that’s out there then check out stores like DSW (not sure if you have that). I was able to get my Asics for less. Also be on the lookout for last year’s model which will be cheaper.

    I definitely buy Gatorade mix. Love it! I get my energy gel at a store that offers a discount to NYRR members. Not everyone can do this but it’s worth looking into local running clubs and seeing if they provide discounts.

    I’ve found good running apparel at discount stores as well. Sometimes though it’s worth paying for a good set of shorts or socks, especially if you are doing a long distance like a marathon. Chaffing is not fun and neither are blisters. I have a great pair of SmartWool socks that have lasted many a run!

    If you are doing long distance runs I’d suggest some kind of pack that allows you to carry extra water bottles and gels. You don’t necessarily need it but I personally hate running with my hands full.

  6. Kate says

    Growing up I was never “a runner.” When I started dating my current boyfriend (who ran track in high school and stayed very active through college) I bought a pair of running shoes so that we could “go running together.” Well, as luck would have it I’ve actually realized I like running. I ran my first 5k at the beginning of the last summer.

    The problem is that I’m not living in the US right now – I’m off teaching through the end of this summer in a place where, as a woman, I can’t really “go running” in my city. My boyfriend and I had looked at a marathon that takes place at the end of October, but if I can’t start training until August when I go back to the States, there’s absolutely no way I’d ever be able to do it.

    As a gift my boyfriend sent me the P90X workout program, which is relatively intense, so I’m not a complete couch potato. My question is then, is there any way to start training for a marathon without being able to run out on the open road? (That sounds suspiciously like can I train for running a marathon without running – but that’s not what I mean.) I live in a building with six floors and have read a number of articles talking about the endurance benefits of running stairs. Is there any kind of stair regimen that I could do in addition to the at home workouts (cardio/weight/yoga/pilates, about an hour per day) I already do that would be the equivalent to what one could do outside?

    This may be a ridiculous question, but if there are things I can be doing I want to do them rather than simply saying that I won’t have any shot at being able to run the marathon in October (which incidentally is the same marathon my dad ran back in the 70s – he still has his shoes from it).

    Thanks for the input!

  7. Kate says

    There is also a stadium where I know people run. I’m trying to find out if/when it’s appropriate for girls to go there…

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