Ready to run your first marathon? Get set to open your wallet

Not long ago, running a marathon was a fairly niche pursuit. But now, it’s incredibly common. It’s also incredibly expensive.


November 22, 2019

These days, everyone and your boss is training for a marathon. Especially your boss. Turns out, long-distance running is a pursuit for the wealthy and white.

But… baby, we were born to run?

There’s a theory that humans evolved from apes due to a need to run long distances to hunt on the African savannah. But now it’s hardly about survival. It’s a status activity.

50k+ people ran the New York City Marathon earlier this month — up from 55 finishers in 1970. 

In the early years, the sport appealed to immigrants and blue-collar workers — all of them men and in it to win it.

Since then, marathon running has been embraced by the recreational runner chasing personal validation and a commemorative T-shirt. Although more women are running and many races have divisions for wheelchair athletes, American runners are overwhelmingly white — 88% — and wealthy. 73% have a household income of at least $75k.

How did we get from chasing antelope to chasing bragging rights?

Running has become a gearhead’s game. Even amateurs drop hella dollars on carbon-plated running shoes, performance-fabric clothing, high-tech watches, gym memberships, and physical therapy sessions.

Then there’s the cost of racing. The price to register for the New York City Marathon rose from $70 in 1998 to $255 in 2019 — 2.5x inflation price. 

But change could be… err… afoot. The upcoming Philadelphia Marathon has put real effort into partnering with groups like Black Men Run, Black Girls Run, Philly Achilles (an organization for athletes with disabilities), and Back On My Feet (a group that introduces running to people experiencing homelessness as a means of regaining control of their lives). The goal is to make the race as diverse as the neighborhoods it passes through.

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