Being awesomely competitive on a budget
Once upon a time in a land not so very far away, I had a full time job with a fat paycheck and 100% free health care (thank you, U.S. Navy). Life now isn’t such a fairy tale… okay, well, it is if you consider that I found my Prince Charming. Still, we aren’t residing in a Disney Castle and we don’t eat off of fine china. My husband is enlisted in the Navy and I currently borrow money from the government to subsidize his income and pay for my education. I work about 5-10 hours a week as a teaching assistant, which brings in a whopping $250 a month before taxes. We certainly aren’t living the high life by any means.
(Me with my Prince Charming, modeling our favorite racing flats on our wedding day)
Unfortunately for many of us, triathlon and even running aren’t inherently inexpensive sports. When you’re just starting out or looking to become competitive, financial limitations can be discouraging but don’t give up hope just yet. While I can’t help you make something out of nothing, I can offer you some tips that may help you get the most out of what you’ve got.
Tip 1: Prioritize
Most of us can’t have it all. That means that we have to make hard choices about what is most important to us. Justin and I prioritize our training above quite a few things, including dining out, going to movies and new (non-athletic) clothing. We’ve decided that paying for personal coaching is more important to us than frequenting movies. Recently, we hired a housekeeper who cleans our home once every few weeks. I used to consider this a luxury that we couldn’t afford but we re-prioritized things to make this more affordable. We were so exhausted from school, work, and training that we were either neglecting to clean our home or we were spending our precious few hours of free-time scrubbing toilets and vacuuming stairs. One of the reasons I took the TA position was so that we could afford this new expense. Sure, I have to spend additional hours completing TA-related work each week but that will look good on a resume or curriculum vitae whereas future employers will probably be less impressed with “expert Dyson wielder”. I’ve also found that I get substantially more physical rest when doing TA work than I would cleaning house. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one that we were able to make with a clear head because we had prioritized.
How you establish priorities is up to YOU. Everybody has different needs, wants and interests and if you would rather eat out ten times a month than pay for personal coaching, I wouldn’t fault you. The point is that, regardless of what your priorities are, it’s important that you recognize and define them.
Tip 2: Strategize
Now that you know what’s most important to you, you have to decide what purchases you need or want immediately and what can wait. If there is a key piece of equipment that you simply MUST have to train or race, try to borrow it. I finished the Sandman Triathlon with the 2nd fastest female time overall and the fastest female bike split on a borrowed bike. I was lucky that the Dai Roberts Group had a bike available in the correct frame size and as a client the loan came at no additional cost. It may not always be this easy but look around and see what you can find! When I first began biking, I also borrowed bike pedals and clips from a friend. I did have to bite the bullet and purchase my own bike shoes but borrowed a fair amount of gear. I also got an excellent deal on a “last season” wet suit from Final Kick Sports. Sure, it doesn’t have all of the coolest new buoyancy technology but it fits well and kept me open water training through chilly weather.
It can also help to think ahead. Make a list, even if it’s just a mental one, of what you will need this season AND next. You can often find out of season items on clearance both in local stores and with online vendors. I frequently purchase winter running tights in July; you won’t get as much variety but you can find quality apparel at reduced prices as stores and online vendors try to clear out last season’s stock.
In some instances, you may actually save money in the long run by spending money in the short term. For example, buying a pair of shoes on clearance with an online vendor may seem like a great bargain but if you’ve not been properly fitted and you purchase the wrong shoe for your gate/foot fall then you may end up spending more money replacing them. I recommend that you visit a local running or triathlon store to be fit for the right shoe. I also highly recommend that, if they help you find the right shoe, you make your purchase with that store. Yes, you will pay more in the store than you will in purchasing from an online vendor BUT you’re paying for the professional service you received when the staff patiently and pleasantly helped you find the right shoe. Once you have had a proper fitting and know what shoes work for you, I think it’s okay to make subsequent purchases of identical shoes online or anywhere else that you might have a discount. No one will be the wiser and you will have shown a great deal of respect for the training and dedication of the local storeowner and staff.
(Trained and attentive staff make for smarter purchases and happier customers)
There are also a number of clubs that provide discounts to their members. Locally, there are at least a few of which I am aware. Final Kick Sports offers a discount to members of their Running and Triathlon Club. Members of the local Tidewater Striders running club receive a discount with Running, Etc. stores and there is an optional club membership that you can sign up for at Performance Bicycle. All of these clubs do require some type of membership fee so you have to weigh the immediate costs against the future gains in order to determine what is right for you.
Tip 3: Compromise
So, I’ve been eyeing this neon pink Brooks winter running jacket for a few weeks now and, though I think I would look fabulous in the Skittle-inspired color, I’ve decided that I can subsist for the time being by layering items underneath a brightly colored, long sleeve, reflective shirt that is already in my closet. No, I won’t look nearly as fashionable as I would in the Brooks jacket but I’ll still be warm and highly visible in the wee hours of the morning and that’s what really counts when you’re pounding the pavement at 6 a.m.
Sometimes, my desire to compete has to battle with my desire to not spend a ridiculously high sum of money on a race entry fee, hotel stay and meals on the road. *Sigh* Last year, I really wanted to run a March race and I wanted to run something longer than a 5k or a 10k. Well, as all Hampton Roads running residents know, March is Shamrock Sportsfest season! The Shamrock Half Marathon would have been perfect if the race entry fee weren’t so astronomically high. I still wanted to race so I searched and searched and found an 8 mile race in Yorktown the week after the Shamrock Sportsfest for 1/3 the price of the Shamrock Half Marathon. Woot! It didn’t have all of the flair that larger events like Shamrock offer but it was a beautiful course with solid competition.
I’m also a big fan of “local” races. By local, I basically mean anything that I can drive do the morning of the race so as to avoid staying overnight in a hotel or purchasing meals on the road. All of those things add up so if I can find a race that doesn’t require an overnight stay or substantial travel, I will choose that over some highly acclaimed race in another state. If I do a destination race, it is planned way in advance so that I can save as much money as possible.
Tip 4: Compromise Continued
I want to emphasize the compromise because balance in life is very important. It’s not easy to tell friends that you can’t go out to dinner because it doesn’t fit into your budget. It can be even harder when you feel their critical eye looking at the training-related expenses for which you are shelling out the dough. My recommendation for handling these difficult situations is to be honest. Real friends will understand your priorities and respect your choices, but you also need to be flexible. If you can’t join your friends for dinner because the posh restaurant they want to visit is way outside of your budget, suggest meeting for a drink afterward. Invite people over to your home and split a bottle of wine for the same price it would cost one of you to order a glass at a restaurant or bar. I would discourage you from making excuses or becoming entirely anti-social just to protect your training and racing budget. In the end, good friends and a solid support system are just as important to your athletic performance as are the right pair of running shoes or regular long runs.
(At the end of the day, success doesn’t mean much if you don’t have people with whom you can share it.)
Tip 5: ?
What kind of tips do you have for thrifty training and racing? I’m always open to new ideas and I’d love to hear your thoughts.