By the time I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states I had already run several half marathons in different states. I didn’t officially begin my journey way back in 2000 when I ran my first half marathon on the coast of North Carolina thinking I would run a half marathon in all 50 states. Only after running in Hawaii, a couple more half marathons in North Carolina, and in a handful of other states did my goal begin to form.
Never once did money or specifically how much money it would take to run a half marathon in all 50 states cross my mind. I have always placed a high priority on travel in my life and I looked at this goal as part of my travel plans. It was always my plan to spend as much time as I could or felt like was warranted for each state I ran a race in. For example, I didn’t spend as much time in Indiana as I did in South Dakota. My race for Indiana was in the small town of Evansville and while I could have driven to Louisville, Kentucky and spent a few days there after my race, I chose not to. However, when I ran in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, I spent a week in the area going to some of the state and national parks in the Black Hills National Forest.
Obviously I spent more money in some states than others, largely based on how much time I spent in each state. My two biggest expenses for running a half marathon in all 50 states have been airfare and lodging. Of the 50 half marathons in 48 states I’ve run, I’ve driven to about 10 half marathons in less than 10 states. The majority of races have been ones I’ve flown to.
The airfare I’ve spent has varied wildly from less than $200/ticket to upwards of $800/ticket. Until recently, my husband and daughter also accompanied me to every race so that means three airline tickets had to be purchased. I’ve gotten more travel savvy over the years so when possible I’ve used airline miles for some of these flights. For example, for my half marathon in Boise, Idaho, I used 20,000 miles per person and only spent $11.20 each, for a grand total of $33.60 for airfare to Idaho; not bad considering we flew from North Carolina.
Likewise, the money I’ve spent on accommodations for races has varied hugely. Obviously I spent considerably less for places where I only spent a long weekend versus a week or more. Never have I spent thousands of dollars for a place to sleep, whether it’s been for races or just a “regular” vacation, however. This isn’t to say I’ll stay at a Motel 6 in a seedy neighborhood but by this point in my life I’m able to find a place that’s moderately-priced just by doing a little homework and comparison shopping.
As I’ve mentioned before, I really like the website https://www.hotels.com/. While they’re owned by Expedia (as I see on my credit card statements but otherwise probably wouldn’t know this), Hotels has a loyalty program. If you stay 10 nights in a calendar year you get a free reward night. This includes multi-night stays at the same hotel. I know for some other hotel rewards programs, they count each hotel stay individually, regardless of the number of nights you stay each time. With Hotels if you stay 5 nights at one of their hotels, 3 nights at another, and 2 nights at another in the same year, you’ll receive a reward night valued at the average of how much you spent over the course of that year per night.
Expedia also has a loyalty program that ranges from blue to silver to gold. Blue members receive 10% off stays (this is the same for Hotels members), Silver members (7 nights or more in a year) receive blue rewards plus perks like spa access and free breakfast (same with Hotels Silver members), and Gold members (15 or more nights) receive silver and blue rewards plus free room upgrades and 30% more points (similar with Hotels Gold members). The difference with Expedia is you don’t receive a free hotel night like you do with Hotels, hence Hotels is the clear winner in my opinion.
I don’t just search for hotel rooms, though, I also comparison shop at Airbnb and similar sites like Vrbo. Sometimes having a full kitchen and the ability to cook your own meals and of course the willingness to do so can save hundreds of dollars versus eating out at restaurants for every meal. Even though the price for a home or apartment rental may be slightly more than a hotel room, if you factor in the savings of not eating out as much, the difference can be worth it. If you’re staying in a big city where parking is a premium and have a rental car or your own car, not having to pay for parking at the hotel can also add up. Bottom line- look at various sites for accommodations and factor in food and parking if relevant before you make those reservations.
This brings me to the expense of food when traveling to half marathons. This will depend on the person and your personal eating likes and dislikes. Some people eat differently when they’re on vacation than when they’re home, too. If you like to go out for steak dinners at expensive restaurants when you’re on vacation that will add up a lot quicker than someone who is happy finding a local grocery store and whipping up dinner in their Airbnb or even picking up a rotisserie chicken and sides from the deli at a grocery store, with no cooking involved. If you’re spending a week at a place after a race and are eating out for three meals a day you’ll spend considerably more than someone who is eating a light breakfast in their room, going out for lunch at local cafes, and only eating at restaurants some of the time for dinner.
The final expense for running a race in all 50 states is the race entry fee. Although I haven’t tracked it, I don’t believe I’ve spent more than $80 or $90 for a half marathon entry fee. The average entry fee that I’ve personally spent per race has probably been around $65. This has gone up in the last decade, I believe largely due to the swag that’s offered at races. Those hoodies, mugs, sunglasses, and other goodies you get at races aren’t free and the cost for these things are included in the race fee. When I ran my first several half marathons, the only thing I received was a race shirt, not even a medal and of course my entry fees were also much lower than now.
Disney races are also notoriously expensive, with a runner easily spending over $100 just for the entry fee, not even including other extras like a pre-race pasta dinner and commemorative pins. Likewise, races in big cities like New York and Chicago typically cost more than races in smaller cities. Finally, races that are put on by groups like Rock ‘n Roll cost more than races put on by local race directors in smaller towns.
So just how much have I spent on all of the half marathons I’ve run? I haven’t added it all up because I couldn’t even if I wanted to since I don’t have any idea how much I spent on my airfare or any other expenses for my half marathons 20 years ago in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Arizona and all of the others. Only recently did I start keeping track of how much I spend on travel, which coincided when I started paying attention to things like airline miles and hotel rewards.
Still, it doesn’t really matter how much I’ve spent because the memories I’ve gained have been priceless and I don’t regret a single penny I’ve spent. Not even for the crappy race just outside of Atlanta, Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state because I had fun in Atlanta after the race and that made it worth it.
This brings me to the point of only spending time in a place for the sole purpose of running a race there, with no real time spent either before or after a race in the area. I realize some people choose to do this, whether for financial reasons or for lack of adequate vacation time, but for me, I never wanted to do that. A huge part of this whole journey for me has been to get to see places in the United States I probably wouldn’t have otherwise traveled to. I don’t feel like you can do that in a day or two.
I realize even spending a week or ten days in a state almost never is enough to really see all that they have to offer. I’ve often felt like I barely scratched the surface when I’ve traveled to a state for a half marathon. When I ran the half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska (Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state) and spent some time there after the race, I still felt like I could have spent a month there and only see a tiny part of Alaska simply because it’s such an enormous state and on top of that there aren’t roads to some areas. I’ve done what I could, though, given my amount of time off and money I was willing and able to spend.
With only two states left to go on my journey (Iowa and New Mexico), I’ve spent some time recently looking back on all of the states I’ve been to so far. There were some half marathons that flat out sucked and I would never recommend but there have also been half marathons that I was in sheer awe of the beauty of the area (Running a Half Marathon or Marathon in All 50 United States? Here are the Races in States that I Recommend). Some of the races I ran have been discontinued and no longer exist and some are still going strong.
I feel like every person’s journey to run a race in all 50 states whether it’s a half marathon, marathon, 5k, or anything else will be unique to each person. Some people prefer races in big cities over small towns, others prefer races with lots of swag while some have no interest in another race shirt or anything else other than running that race, and finally some people choose a race because the timing of it fits in with their personal schedule.
Ultimately each person who has the goal to run a race in all 50 states has to decide for themselves how much money but also how much time they’re willing and able to spend. If someone has the means to drive to more states than I have, that will cut costs considerably, especially if they have a camper or something they can not only drive to the race but also sleep in. I believe anyone can achieve their goal of running a race in all 50 states as long as you make it a priority and have at least a rough idea of when and where you’re going to run, taking into account races sometimes get cancelled so you need to have several back-up plans for each state and be flexible.
Do you have a goal to run a race in all 50 states? If so, tell me about your journey so far. Any questions about my journey or anything I failed to mention here?