You only have to glance around at a local parkrun, race or the gym to realise that, contrary to popular belief, running is not a free sport. Specialist shoes, technical kit, race entry fees and the technology to enhance training all require you to spend money. In some cases, that appears to be a vast amount of money. In the world of trail running, where keeping yourself safe in an often harsh environment is key, the costs can mount up even more. With a little forethought and planning, however, running off-road on a tight budget is quite possible. Prioritising is key, so here are some ideas to help you decide where to spend the limited money you have.
Running shoes need to be top of your shopping list; if you don’t get these right, your adventures on the trails will be short-lived. Start by deciding what kind of terrain you’ll be running on, and target your shoe search accordingly. If you’ll be running on a wide variety of off-road surfaces, look for an all-round trail shoe. If your running will be entirely on rocky mountains, research which shoes will do the job. Once you have narrowed down exactly what you are looking for, start your bargain hunt. Great places to look are independent running shops or online retailers, who often have last year’s models at knock down prices. If you’re happy to buy hardly-worn shoes, then eBay and the Facebook selling groups (such as Running Gear Buy and Sell) usually have some great bargains to be had.
For running off-road, where your feet will most likely get wet, muddy and cold, socks come after shoes in spending priorities. Look for synthetic, wicking fabrics, or wool when choosing. Again, both running shops and online stores will have great deals, especially as the seasons change. Look for end-of-range bargains, and multipacks.
If you’re a woman, spend money on a well-fitting, supportive sports bra as a priority. As well as running stores, eBay and social media selling groups, department stores can often have some real bargains at sale time.
As you start to enter races, you’ll notice that many will specify a waterproof jacket (and trousers) with taped seams. The top of the range models can cost a fortune, but less breathable waterproofs can be found for less than £20 at stores such as Decathlon and Millets. They'll keep the rain out, although you might still get a little damp and sweaty on the inside.
For t-shirts, shorts, tights, base layers and so on, synthetic fabrics are the way to go, as they wick away sweat. If you own kit from another sport, that can often be useful to run in. If you need to buy, then in addition to online bargains and reduced items in shop sales, some supermarkets have excellent ranges, for example Lidl and Aldi. They stock running kit a couple of times a year as part of their special offers. It’s cheap to buy and great quality, and therefore tends to sell out quickly, so keep an eye open for their offer weeks. If you have the time and some running friends, organising a running clothes-swap can be a great way of topping up your kit.
As you head out further onto the trails, you’ll start to need to carry fluids and food. Everywhere that sells bargain clothing also tends to sell reasonably priced hydration packs, waist packs, bottles and so on. Bargain headtorches can be found in many outdoor stores, including Alpkit, who are well known for their good quality lighting. Do check how powerful a bargain headtorch is, though. A weak beam in the dark can lead to problems.
If you’re happy to train alone, or with friends, then training is free. Some support and guidance can be found for no cost; there’s a wealth of information online for starters. You just need to work out what is good quality advice and what is not. If you’d like some more structured, face-to-face support, seek out some of the many free or low-cost running groups out there. The Run Together website will list some near you. Joining a club can also be great value for money, with both running friends and coaches on tap, and quite often entry to some events included too. You can save money by looking after your body when training as well. Including rest and recovery in your plans, and warming-up and stretching in your routine, will help you avoid injury and thus physio costs too.
There’s a lot to be said for running with your basic stopwatch; it will focus you on running to feel and the terrain around you, rather than pace and distance. If you really want to know how fast you are running and how far, there are plenty of free apps for your phone that do the job, for example Strava. Just download and off you go. You certainly don't need to spend money on an elaborate watch.
It can be tempting to race often, and to enter pretty much every event that you fancy. To save money, and target your training more effectively, plan your race season in advance. Pick a few key events at most and look for those with lower entry fees. Races organised by running clubs tend to cost less than those run by businesses, and fell races are almost always a real bargain. If you can’t afford to race at all, then parkrun is free. If you join a running club, you'll gain free entry to cross-country events.
No matter where you live and run, adventure does not need to be paid for. Keep your eye out for local footpath signs and see where they go; look at a local map online and plan a route over unfamiliar ground.
With a little time, research and creativity, you can set yourself up for trail running with minimal spend. Keep your eyes open for bargains, sales and special offers and you will be rewarded. Enjoy exploring your local trails knowing that it's all cost you very little indeed.