Savings Alert: 6 Ways to Lower the Cost of Races

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The other day, I mailed in my registration form for the See Jane Run women’s half marathon in Alameda, CA. It was one of my favorite races this year, so yes, I registered for 2013. (Counting fingers; October, November….. May, June) Yup, that’s eight months in advance.

Not the first time I do this, either. Last year, at the Rock’n’Roll half marathon San Jose expo, I registered for this year’s race. This year, I registered for 2013.

The only reason I’m putting things on my race calendar that early is money. The savings these races offer if you register in advance are hard to ignore, and the earlier you register, the more you save.

Consider this: if you register for the See Jane Run Half Marathon before October 31, you’ll pay just $59. After that, the price slowly creeps up to $75, $85, $95 and, finally, $105 on race day.

Registration for SJRnR was $65 at the expo… $150 on race day a year later!

Can you tell how excited I was about saving money (to spend them, instead, on new running shoes)?

Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, cat, go.
But don’t you step on my Tiffany blue NWM limited edition shoes. You can do anything but lay off of my Tiffany blue NWM limited edition shoes. Ha. Fun!

Clearly, waiting until race day to register is like flushing your cash down the drain. (Unless, of course, you are flush with cash… in which case, what are you doing right, and what am I doing wrong??)

Race organizers have good reason to ladder pricing this way: the earlier people sign up, the easier it is to plan the event.

“It benefits us because we can use those numbers for ordering purposes — and we know what to expect,” says Melissa Decker, the event coordinator at See Jane Run.

Both upfront costs (for things like ordering medals, T-shirts and other swag) and race logistics are easier to plan when you have a good idea of how many people show up.

As a mother who plans a kid’s birthday party every year, I completely understand. What if 17 people RSVPed and then 35 kids showed up? What if I didn’t have enough goodie bags? (True story, happened to a friend. She handled it perfectly, mind you, emergency party favors were procured, along with more food and cake and everyone was well fed and happy.)

Now, back to racing, imagine if race prices stayed flat all the way through race morning. Wouldn’t everyone just register then? Of course we would! How would the organizers know how many medals they’d need? What if they plan a race for 3,000 people and 5,000 show up? Sure, they could turn people back. But depriving runners of their well-deserved endorphins is hardly a pleasant way to spend a weekend morning.

That said, race fees have gone up over the past decade or so, and quite significantly. When I first started racing, $100 would buy me entry in nine races, at $11 each. There are several reasons for this race fee inflation, but that’s a story for another time.

Meanwhile, keep your race costs down by following some (or all!) of these tips:

1. Register early

See all that I said above. The earlier you register, the lower the fee. And yes, you’ll have to commit months in advance. But what better way to give yourself plenty of time to train and stay motivated, year-round?

2. Hit the expos

Even if you’re not running a particular race, if you know they have a big expo (usually the case with marathons or bigger road races) – stop by. Those places are packed with race organizers offering special discounts. SJRnR 2013 prices start at $85 online; at the expo you would have saved $20.

3. Volunteer

If you volunteer at a See Jane Run event, you get a $20 gift card to use at the store. That doesn’t technically help you save on your race registration fee, but hey – it’s $20 off your next pair of shoes or running skirt!

4. Skip the shirt

Why yes, those technical T-shirts are awesome and free. Not. Your race fee paid for it, remember? And if you run more than 10 races a year, that’s just too many T-shirts. Luckily, some race organizers let you opt out of getting a T-shirt. You may cut down your fee by as little as $5, but hey – you’re also keeping your closet Feng Shui.

5. Mail in your registration form

I’d much rather pay $0.42 to USPS than $5+ to a third-party website that charges a 5%-10% registration fee. I recently registered for a half-marathon organized by a local YMCA, thrilled that I get $5 off as a (very young, hip and trendy) YMCA member. Only to then be charged a $4.29 registration fee. Gah.

6. Watch for deals

Sometimes, if races are selling slower than expected, organizers will partner up with a daily deal website like Living Social, Groupon or Zozi (a local one for San Francisco) and offer a sweet discount. Great idea for those who tend to make up their minds last minute… or just like entering races on a whim.

Just be sure to have properly trained.

 
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