Everyone says running is the cheapest sport -- but it still costs me over $500 a year

Running is the cheapest sport out there, right? All you need is a pair of sneakers and a healthy dose of self-discipline.

That’s what I thought when I finished college tennis and headed into the real world in search of a new sport to pick up — something competitive, lifelong, and most importantly, affordable.

Running may be the cheapest option, but it still costs me about $520 a year — and that’s a conservative estimate.

Read on to see how the cost of running adds up, and why I’ll continue to invest in such a gruelling sport:

Let's start with the free aspects of running. Half the reason I'm hooked on this sport is for moments like this one pictured. A night run across New York City's Brooklyn Bridge rewarded me with this lower Manhattan skyline too gorgeous not to have a price tag on it.

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My reward for running to Brooklyn.

Typically, we pay for experiences -- we pay to be entertained at the ballpark, surprised at the movie theatre, and satisfied at the new restaurant. With running, you're guaranteed a unique experience every time you head out the front door. You never know what your two feet might stumble upon. Here's a mid-run shot from Loop Beach in Cotuit, Cape Cod, where my family spends time in the summer.

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Each outdoor run is like a mini-adventure.

For me, running is also a cheap stress reliever. This post-run sunset on Kiawah Island made all of my worries seem insignificant.

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Running is the most effective stress reliever I've found to date.

The views, stress relief, and surprise element of each run is half the reason I love the sport. Racing is the other half -- and the pricier of the two.

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The views may be free, but the competition is not.

Races have a wide range of entry fees, depending on the distance, where you're racing, and when you register. I aim to run in four half marathons a year and pay an average of $70 per half, which adds up to $280 a year. The cheapest entry fee I ever paid was $54.90, when I registered four months in advance. Of course, there's a risk that comes with such advanced planning: Running is a notoriously unforgiving sport, and it's hard to know if your body will be injury-free and healthy months down the road.

Half-marathons cost me about $70 a pop, and that doesn't include travel.

It seems ridiculous to spend $70 to simply run 13.1 miles, but it's some of the best money I've ever spent. Sure, the actual 100-plus minutes of pain never quite makes me happy, but the entire process -- of setting a time goal, devising a training plan, and tackling that plan to achieve the goal -- is incredibly satisfying. Plus, the value increases when you run with good company.

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Running with good company makes all the difference.

Marathons are even more expensive, ranging from $100 for smaller scale events to $300 for big city marathons. The New York City marathon, a goal of mine, is the most expensive in the world -- the entry fee will set you back $216 ($255 if you're not a NYRR member). And that doesn't even take into account the nine qualifying races you must register for and complete to guarantee your entry.

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Perk: The steep entry fee oftentimes comes with finish line snacks. Here's the loot I took home from a half in Boston last year.

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I always take advantage of the free post-race snacks.

You're also guaranteed a slick new tee shirt and finisher's medal, which often doubles as a bottle opener. And if you're really fast, you could bring home a prize, although I can't shed any light on what that entails -- they're typically awarded while I'm struggling through mile eight.

Kathleen Elkins
Me, happy upon finishing my first half.

In addition to the $280 worth of entry fees I pay a year, the next major expense is my gym membership, something that only became a necessity after moving from North Carolina to New York. I'm sure outdoor winter running is doable with proper gear and thick skin -- it's simply not for me. Perhaps equally cringe-worthy as a snow run is a tedious treadmill workout, but I shell out $35 a month (for four months) during the winter to keep my running game up to par. In total, that's $140 a year.

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For four months out of the year, I have to trade in the West Side Highway -- my favourite running path -- for the treadmills of New York Sports Club.

Let's talk shoes, the one absolute necessity for a runner. My favourites -- Nike Free's -- cost me $100 and I manage to stretch a pair to last at least a year. That's another $100 we'll tack onto the grand total.

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I get every last thread out of my running shoes before retiring them.

Race entry fees, my gym membership, and running shoes tally up to $520 a year, and that doesn't even factor in the cost of clothing, gear, or replacement calories. As I start to register for marathons (and buy shoes at a more realistic frequency), that yearly cost could easily shoot up to $1,000. For now, I'm OK with the expense -- look at all of the places running has taken me.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
From left to right: the sand of Cotuit, Cape Cod; the water of the Atlantic, from Kiawah Island; the trails in my hometown of Davidson, North Carolina; the treadmill in New York Sports Club (and a new pair of shoes!).

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