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Out There: The Price We Pay

Running may be free, but it sure ain’t cheap.

I returned home from a run a few weeks ago to find my neighbor, Matt, unloading bags of soil from the trunk of his car.

“Whatcha up to, man?” I queried, pointing to the dirt. Matt handed me a bag of soil and gestured for me to follow him to his backyard.

“You like?” he smiled as he gestured to the tidy rows of raised garden beds populating his backyard. On his back porch, hundreds of seedlings sat in cardboard flats, awaiting their new home in the fresh soil. It was an impressive setup. As I surveyed the tiny plants that would eventually bear tomatoes and peppers, I remarked how much money his garden must save him on groceries each summer.

“Ha!” Matt scoffed. “Hardly! I kept all my receipts last summer for this—equipment, water, weekly trips to the garden shop—and compared it to my harvest. All told, I’m growing $15 tomatoes.”

“Well, that hardly seems worth the investment,” I blurted out. Matt glared at me before responding:

“How much did you spend on running last year?”

Every April, I dig through the box of receipts in my office, and every April, I become a little nauseated at how much I spend on endurance sports. Filing my taxes is a yearly reminder of just how much of my financial pie is dished out to shoes, race fees, and squishy foods in foil packages. Adding insult to injury, my husband does several Ironman triathlons a year, because we apparently hate having disposable income in our household.

Running may be free, but it sure ain’t cheap. I’m not growing $15 tomatoes, I’m doing something dumber: running $1,000 races.

Well, that hardly seems worth the investment.

While my neighbor is opening a credit line at the organic garden center to treat an aphid infestation, I’m shelling out for a massage therapist to beat my IT Band into submission. We’re each judging the other for failing to play a zero-sum game while neglecting to recognize something vital: we’re both singing the same song, just in different keys.

RELATED: Out There: Moderation? No Thanks

You see, Matt doesn’t garden because it’s profitable. Matt’s garden exists because a 99-cent tomato at the grocery store is just a 99-cent tomato. The ones from his backyard come with a story. Because of those tidy rows of garden beds, he happily spends hours in the sunshine with his hands in the dirt. His young daughter will grow up understanding food doesn’t magically appear in the supermarket, wrapped in cellophane. When he successfully solves a problem in the garden, he stands over his kingdom like a proud conqueror, beer in hand. No one can put a price tag on that feeling.

Likewise, I’m convinced every penny that went to running was money well spent. I’m not good enough to recoup my costs with the prize purse at races (and never will be), but I’ll be damned if I don’t feel like a million bucks every time I cleanse my soul on the trail, finish a tough workout with my training partners, or cross a finish line. I can’t say I’m particularly bothered that my hobby is operating in the red. At the end of the day, the best—and maybe the only—reason for running is the satisfaction I get from doing it.

And that, my friends, is worth the investment.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke