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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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.

Kathleen Elkins/Business Insider
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!).

NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.