Why Are Marathons So Expensive?

Marathons are great fun and an excellent way to get in shape. Running just over 26 miles will test anyone’s willpower and ability to commit to something. Many marathons are organized in order to raise money for charity and/or organizations that help others.

 But, why are marathons so expensive?

Marathons tend to be expensive based on marathon popularity, size, location, rental expenses, labor expenses, and whether or not the race is an official Boston Qualifier race. 

So, when looking at that high price of the marathon, think about how much it would cost to organize such a large event, and still have enough left to give to charities.

Let’s look at the question in some more detail, as well as how you can save some money.

Why Do Big City Races Cost More?

You know what I mean, those famous races that everyone thinks about when you mention the word ‘marathon’. The ones that go past Big Ben or Central Park. They cost so much just to enter, why is that?

Supply and Demand

Lesson 1 of economics class should teach you that if demand is high enough, then whoever is supplying that demand can raise prices. Basically, when things are in short supply, they tend to cost more.

A sought after marathon in a city full of people can charge high prices because demand is there. We all know that people living in big cities can be insanely rich. Marathon organizers know this too. Therefore, if enough rich people want to run the marathon, the organizers can charge as much as they want.

Marathons organized in big cities can cost as much as $300 just for entry – or even more if you live outside of the US. Once you factor in that nice pair of running shoes, all the clothes, and transport and accommodation, you might be looking at around $1000 realistically.

Cheaper marathons tend to be held in smaller cities and towns, and will inevitably have less organizational needs. This is why people choose big city races because they can offer better security, better organization, and the addition of landmarks all lead to a better race day.

Small or big race – which is better?


The nicer the location and eye candy along the running route the more the race is sought after – again supply and demand.

Gear check attendants

Storing your valuables during a marathon race requires someone to check in your items, store your items, guard your items, and then return your items to you after the race. The use of a gear check bag is most common among all big race events.


Keeping you safe during the course of a marathon event is the racecourse’s primary responsibility. The help of off-duty policers officers doesn’t come cheap.

Racecourse attendants

There are usually multiple hundreds of help along your route in the marathon. Some of these are volunteer jobs that help lower the overall cost of the marathon. However, some are paid a small amount of money.

Medical staff

The medical staff for a marathon is of utmost importance. People have all kinds of running injuries during a marathon. Some of which are severe cramping, runners passing out, runners pulling muscles, and minor cuts and abrasions. Some medical staff is volunteer while some medical staff will take their pay and give it back to the charity.

Realistically, you can’t just have one doctor on the scene at a marathon. Medical staff at large events could easily be 75 people or more.

Traffic police

The traffic police that assures your safety during the marathon are also vital for a safe race. Most of these police officers are on-duty paid officers that the race has to pay for.

City Permits

Don’t forget about the city in which the marathon race is held. Most cities require you to apply for an event permit that does cost money depending on the actual event.

What Are The World’s Most Expensive Marathons?

If you’re feeling a weight in your wallet, then you may want to take on a bit more of a challenge. These marathons are just a little bit more adventurous. If city races just don’t cut it for you, you can think about marathons in extreme locations. For example

The North Pole Marathon

That’s right, you can pay to run a marathon around the north pole. The all-inclusive 5-day package costs around $20,500, covering travel and accommodation. If polar bears and snow are preferable to city streets, this marathon could be the one for you.

The marathon claims to be the only marathon entirely run across a body of water, frozen of course. You will need to wrap up in cold weather gear like snow boots, thermal overcoats, and UV goggles. Rather than a thin shirt and breathable shorts, you’ll look more like an astronaut than a runner.

The Antarctic Ice Marathon

Imagine the North Pole Marathon but on the opposite side of the globe. Organized by the same people as the North Pole Marathon, this one is a 5-day package that sets off from the Southern tip of Chile, letting you get acclimatized before you run the actual race.

This marathon will set you back about $19,000. A little bit more than a city marathon! If you prefer penguins to pedestrians then have a look into this marathon. Just like the North Pole Marathon, you’ll need to wrap up in warm expensive gear.

Are marathons dangerous?

The New York City Marathon

Although it’s not quite as expensive, the New York City Marathon will set you back a few hundred dollars. Not only is it expensive but it is also hard to get into. Potential racers put their name into a ballot and get picked at random.

Once you get picked you will then have to pay around $300 for American citizens and as much as $358 for foreign nationals.

And that’s just the start… you will then need to sort out travel costs, accommodation, and why not even a few sightseeing trips around New York while you’re there.

The New York marathon is one of the most famous in the world, as you run from the outer borough of Brooklyn into the heart of Manhattan, finishing in Central Park. You’ll have beautiful views of the skyline as you puff and pant your way through the marathon.

Not only is the scenery good, but crowds of people and celebrities will be running alongside you. Crowds gather at the finish line to applaud your effort as you cross the finishing line.

What Are The Worlds Cheapest Marathons?

So, on the other side of the spectrum, here are some of the cheapest ways to run a marathon.

Your Own Marathon

Of course, any 26.25 miles ran anywhere can be considered a marathon. Why not plot your own marathon route and just go for it. The location may not be as great but you will have still managed a whole marathon. Even better, you can do it whenever you fancy. As of last year, the rise of virtual half marathons and marathons has forced people to create their own marathons.

Save hundreds and hundreds of dollars by doing a marathon this way. If you want evidence of your feat of endurance, record it on an app like Strava, and show people that way. Rather than a medal, you will have proof in other ways.

Charity Marathons

Often, marathons can be held as a charity event. By sponsoring your run, people donate money on completion of your marathon. If you factor in the price of admittance from the charity donations, you can still have a large chunk of money to donate to charity.

Likewise, some charities will organize your sponsorship for you. The London Marathon for example favors runners who have a charity sponsorship over those that are just paying as customers.

Raising money for those in need, whilst also getting fit, is a great motivator when you get down to those last painful few miles. Why not save some money, and save some people at the same time.

Expenses Before The Race

Before the race even begins, you will need to dish out some money. Running kit, shoes, and nutrition can become quite expensive. Check out this detailed half marathon and marathon checklist for items you should pack for before and after the race.

A good pair of running shoes will set you back around $50, but your feet will thank you. Likewise, some good running clothes will mean you can sweat and cool down appropriately as the race picks up.

Save money by researching what running equipment is the best value for money. Many running magazines and websites will lead you in the right direction.

Expenses During The Race

During the race, you might need a few things to keep you going. These can get quite expensive. Things like energy supplements designed for long runs can cost a lot more than regular candy. However, they are basically the same thing.

Instead of paying a premium for a chewable race supplement, you can replace it with candy from any store. The main ingredient is sugar and some electrolyte salt, the same as a bag of candy and a bottle of coconut water. Save money this way by buying cheaper food and drink.

Another thing to remember is that food at the marathon itself may be much more expensive than you would find normally. Because they know you need it, sellers will charge much more for food inside the marathon area. Why not make sure you are full up the night before and the morning of.

Why Organize A Marathon?

Some people may be tempted to organize their own marathon for many different reasons. Helping others achieve their goals is a great way to connect with others. A community that interacts through organized events is sure to be one that interacts well with one another.

Likewise, organizing a marathon is a great way to raise money and awareness for charities. Talk to charities in your local area about organizing a race. Even if you make a small amount of money for them, just advertising the name is sure to boost their traction.

Lastly, of course, organizing a marathon can be a good way to make money for yourself. The marathons that charge the most are ones that have a unique aspect to them, such as one’s ran in extreme locations, or one’s with obstacles or unique aspects.

If you have a good idea for an extreme marathon, you will be able to charge a premium for it.

The Takeaway

Overall, it is important to remember that the money you pay for a marathon will be worth it. The joy of finishing the 26.2 miles will feel great for your self-esteem. Don’t let the steep price of a marathon put you off it though.

Paying a premium typically means the event is better organized and will include some famous landmarks and locations. Marathons such as the New York Marathon are world-famous and will give you bragging rights. Whether that is worth the price is up to you.

Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

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