What your race entry actually buys you

Races are super fun, super motivating and if you do enough can be super expensive! When runners weight the cost benefit of doing a race it usually comes down to a weighing of distance and how cool the shirt or medal is against the cost. We might realize that there are more costs involved for race directors than just the extras we get to take home with us after the fact but we are actually getting a lot more on the day than just some cool gear. Many of those ‘other’ things we’re paying for are pretty cool and super helpful too. So let’s look into all that other stuff you’re getting that you might not be aware of. We’ll start with the most obvious and move on to the most obscure.

Aid stations

This one is actually pretty obvious but did you think about all the steps that go into getting a table, trash can, snacks and maybe a porta-potty out to all those places along the route? Plus all those stations have to be kept stocked. Even if those aid stations are staffed by volunteers the coolers, tables, toilets and trucks might have to be rented for the day. Rental feels (especially drop offs and pick ups for the toilets) can really add up. 

Timing and bibs

Timing these days means you probably have a chip in your bib. In some cases you might wear a chip on an ankle or wrist strap. Those chips are something you are paying for and so are the services of the timing companies. All those mats cost money and that’s rolled into your race fee. Interestingly race bibs actually are a really multifaceted in their uses and if you want to learn more I wrote all about why we wear race bibs here. Short answer it’s accountability and they make you easily identifiable. Should the worst happen it also links you to your medical information and your emergency contacts.

Web presence and branding

Every race needs to have a way to register, a place for you to get your questions answered and is part of a wider brand. In some cases that ‘brand’ can be a lot of what you like about a given race. Think about those races that make you seem really tough once you’ve completed them like Spartan or Mud Hero. In those cases the branding is something you are buying into. Indexing sites like race roster may charge you a fee or a fee to the organizer for every entrant. Races also usually need a website too to post things like routes, elevations and it’s a great place to provide updates and tips. That connivence, domain and maybe even design for the site is something you’re paying for too.

Safety (security)

For most of us we think about the people that help us cross the street. At least that’s all we see. You might not realize though that certain municipalities this has to be done by on duty police which is a HUGE cost for the race director which is often overtime hours. Bigger races now often have a race day security plan post Boston. Much of this happens before the race and you might be oblivious to what’s going on the day of. Which is how it should be. You’ll often have paramedics or medical personal on the course. That’s all also paid for by the race director and keeps you safe in the event of an emergency which does happen.


Have you ever noticed that you almost always get those PR’s on race day? That because the ambiance of race day is pretty magical. It might be your nerves, the music on the course, competing with other runners or the cheers but it all adds up to some race day magic. Even those volunteers with all those offers of high fives gives you an extra push. Personally I really like those mile markers along the way I find seeing them much more motivating than just the80’s themed GPS lady in my ear. We might not be able to exactly say what is is about the ambiance of race day but it sure is next level great!

80’s themed ladies race with an on course dancer!


Have you ever noticed that for certain races you get a little discount if you are already a paid member of a certain club? That’s usually because your club membership already covers you as an individual for the season. This is common in triathlons, some running events and cycling races. Your race director has one hell of an insurance policy that covers you and everyone else if not. It might also cover costs if a race has to be canceled or other bad stuff. I am in no way a race day insurance expert but based on my personal experience I bet it’s not cheap.

Official standings

This really doesn’t apply to me or most racers but… If running is your passion and you’re pretty great at it you might collect dough based on your results or points getting you to a championship (like Kona). If that’s something that applies to you then your race entry fee can be a big part of that. It takes time an money to get a marathon course certified as Boston qualifier for example. Some of the money you pay goes into making your results ‘official’.

All that time…

My feelings on some of this are mixed but not very strong in either direction so I do feel that I see both sides. Some races really are small community events all organized by a very dedicated volunteer. Others are getting on to a full year’s income for their director. While I wish every races no matter how big or small was giving all of leftover cash to a worthy charity I don’t wish that level of stress on anyone! Organizing a great race with lots of runners, aid stations, cool bling and all those extras we all love is a whole $hit-ton of work! So if someone takes that all on year after year then if they want to get compensated for that, I get it. I love a good down home little community race where they might run out of water and the medals are homemade those great big shiny ones are a different but magical experience too!

Sure, I’m mostly excited for the bling and the time on race day but now that I know just a little bit more about how complex races are the fees hurt just a little less. I also love the emerging trend of no bling races if costs are a barrier and many races have spots for those experiencing financial hardship now too. Don’t be afraid to email a race director and ask if you truly need the break. Did you realize that all these costs go into determining your race fee? Have I left any out? Leave it in the comments below.

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