Because let’s face it, entry fees are on the rise at the same time everybody seems to be tightening their proverbial belts. Even if you’re not one of the many who hold their breath a little as they click the link to find out what that super sweet looking race/mudrun/obstacle course/triathlon/duathlon is going to set them back, really, who doesn’t love a free (or very inexpensive) race?
Here’s a few ways you can still enjoy all the fun of a race for little to no out of pocket cost:
1) Run for Charity. Team in Training, who raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, are perhaps the most well known, well put together organization for doing this. With TNT, you raise a certain amount of money for a most worthy cause, and they pay your race entry and travel fees. The best part of their program perhaps though, is that you’re not alone in doing this. You’ve got all kinds of support from your team not only with the fundraising, but also with your training for whatever event you’ve selected to run.
2) Run Sponsored. FREEZE! DO NOT BLOW BY THIS ONE. You DO NOT necessarily have to be a running super star to run an event sponsored. Case in point: Renewal by Anderson. This year, in my area, Brandon Coats, came up with this genius idea to have his company, Renewal by Anderson of Detroit, a stellar window and door replacement company, sponsor local runners at various races. You don’t have to qualify in any way. You just have to be willing to run a race with their shirt on. That’s it. Period. (And it’s actually a pretty sweet shirt as you can see. First time I ever had somebody run up next to me in a race JUST to tell me they liked my shirt was at the Solstice Run I ran a couple weeks ago as one of their sponsored runners). Good for the community. Good for the runners. Good PR for them. It’s win win win all the way around!
And Renewal’s not the only ones with an athlete sponsorship program. 3D Racing here in MI sponsors triathletes across the state. Nuun has an ambassador program that sponsors athletes (although stricter criteria for that one, you do either have to be fast or have a following to be a Nuun Ambassador) as well. If these companies do it, surely there are more. Probably one near you. Take a look at what companies in your area are sponsoring races and are involved in the running community. Check out their FB pages, Twitter accounts, give them a call or even stop by their actual brick and mortar location to see if sponsorship is something they do or for that matter, would be something they’d consider. Perhaps you can be the one to light the fire under their sponsorship program!
3) Win an Entry. You might be surprised how often race entries are up for grabs. Not to keep tooting Renewal by Andersen’s horn but yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and do that. Why? They deserve it. Any company that will actually set aside a portion of their budget JUST to sponsor your everyday average runner at some local events is tops in my book. (If I ever need windows or doors, I’ll give you one guess where I’m going!), Since they’ve started getting so many requests by runners to participate on their team, they’ve also decided to run a contest right now on their FB page for some of the most highly coveted race entries in MI. If you submit your favorite picture of you running and are one of the three with the most likes, you get first choice of which race you’d like to run. (For those of you who are on FB and would like to show me a little love, here’s the link to my entry. And if you’d like to show a little support to Brandon for everything he’s doing for the MI running community, here’s his picture. If you decide to enter a picture yourself, be sure to let me know and we’ll send it out to the whole SOARM family to give you a like.)
But again, Renewal’s not the only one running a free race entry contest. Runningshoes.com just had one to the Falmouth Road Race in Cape Code (I’m a finalist. Wanna see my entry? It’s here. Feel free to share it or like it, but I don’t really think that matters anymore. Staff decides who wins on the 6th. You know you’ll hear about it if I win & really you should all cross your fingers that I do because look at this silly elevation chart. HA! Fun times.) Detroit Runner is currently giving away free entry to the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon & 10K in CA. I gave away a couple myself to Rock The World a month or so ago.
Sometimes you have to do something to enter a contest, like my “runspiration” for the Running Shoes giveaway. Sometimes it’s a simple as telling a blogger you want in or just “liking” a fan page on FB, but those entries are out there. Keep an eye out and don’t forget to give your highly sought after race + free entry a Google. You might be surprised with what you find.
4) Work at a Vendor Booth at an Expo. A lot of times vendors get free race entries for buying their booth and they’re quite often willing to share those with the people who do a little work for them at the expos. Now, before you’re turned off by the whole “work” aspect of this one (as if you already don’t have enough work to do with your kiddos right?), you should know that not only is working a vendor booth at an expo very unlike work (socializing with your fellow running peeps while chatting about some sweet running gear and the race at hand), but it’s also often a paying gig.
I worked the Monumental Marathon Expo a couple years back for Chica Bands. My travel expenses to a really cool city (Indy) were covered, I made a few bucks, could have raced if I wanted to, met some amazing mother runners AND I went home with a couple of Chica Bands of my choice. See? Very unlike work. And Chica Bands aren’t the only ones looking for some help at expos. I’ve seen the requests from a whole host of other companies. It’s highly likely if you’ve seen them at an expo, they could use a hand at a future event. And for some of the BIG events, this could save you beaucoup bucks.
5) Volunteer at an Event. Races take A LOT of people to make happen. They simply can’t go on without volunteers (and I thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’ve ever been so kind as to volunteer at a race). Race directors are often times willing to give free or discounted entries to people who volunteer to help before, during or after an event. Sometimes the discount or free entry is for a future race. Sometimes, you get a discount or free entry for the same event you volunteer for. Rock the World, the obstacle 5K I just ran, let volunteers register for just $20. That’s more than $50 off the price of the race. Pretty good deal if you ask me! Running Fit, a chain of running shops across MI, gives a $30 discount that can be applied to ANY of their many races if you spend a little time volunteering. It’s a pretty common strategy to get help to make these events a go. And hey! It’s always good to give a little back to the running community that gives us so much.
6) Win an Event. Yep, you’ve gotta be a fastie for this one! Some races or series of races will give their winners free entry into the next one. This is not something exclusive to big events either. I’ve seen it done on the local level as well. So if you’ve really got some get up and go in those legs of yours, be sure to check out what the awards are for the top runners and also as important, actually stick around for the awards presentation when your race is over so you can claim your prize.
7) Review a Race. If you happen to have a blog, this one’s for you! Since you’re probably going to write about your race experience anyway, why not fire off an email to the race director to see if they’re looking for a little PR? Or at the very least, make a little notation on your blog somewhere that you ARE willing to do race reviews. That way, should just the right person stumble onto your blog, voila! They’ll know that yes, yes you are willing to run for free and put in a few good (but always honest) words for them. Usually this works better with local and/or fairly new events, but hey if you can score yourself a big entry, jammin’. One major lesson I’ve learned since I’ve had kids is that it never hurts to ask. My 6yr old isn’t afraid to (politely) ask anybody for anything and more often than not, it works out for her. Be bold. All they can do is say no thanks.
8) Register Early. Most races offer early bird discounts, so if you’ve got that race on your bucket list and you’re fairly certain it’s gonna be a go, it may be worth forking over the cash early. I’ve run races as inexpensive as $10-15 just because I signed up really really early. BONUS: You don’t have to worry about it selling out!
9) Use Social Media. I know some of you are hold outs (ahem... RunSis!)But I can’t think of an easier way to find out about deals, specials and giveaways then with Facebook and Twitter. If you have privacy concerns, I totally understand, but did you know it is entirely up to you how much information you share? If you are concerned about privacy, set up an account, put nothing on it, accept and send out no friend requests. Just use your account to like various running blogs, companies and events and check it every once in a while to see if there’s something that interests you. Whenever I see a runningish promotion that I think you all might be interested I post it on FB & Twitter. If you do decide to take that leap, you can follow me on Twitter here of Facebook here and I’ll do my best to let you know about any contests I see. And if YOU notice one or you run one yourself that you haven’t noticed me post about, please don’t hesitate to let me know & I’ll get it up ASAP.
One other plus to Social Media is if you do become some kind of FB or Twitter guru or you already are, with lots of people paying attention to what you say, race directors may be more interested in having you at their event because chances are you’ll talk about it. Much like some people leverage their blog for free race entry, so too can you leverage your FB page or Twitter account. “Hey local race director, I’ve got 6,000 people following me on Twitter and I'd really like to run your race, any chance you’d be willing to pass on a free entry to me if I give you my solemn oath to tweet the snot out of it?” (“tweet the snot out of it” that’s correct Twitter lingo right? I have no idea. I stink at Twitter.)
10) Make sure your friends and family know you like to run races or at least that you run. You don’t have to annoy them with incessant chatter about running or anything, but if they don’t know you run, they can’t tell you when their friend had to back out last minute of some race and they’re looking for someone to take their spot so they can at least get their shirt. Things happen. Stuff comes up. Put yourself in a position where when it does, you’re the first person that pops to mind.
11) Sponsor an Event. Ok yes, technically this would cost you or your business money, but it might be a good investment to get the word out about your company and increase your bottom line if you sponsor a race in your target market. BUT even if you don’t own a business, this could still be an option for you. Pitch the idea to the company you or your spouse work for OR try to sweet talk a business owner you know. Perhaps they’d like the idea of improving name recognition by taking a larger role in the community and sponsoring a local race. Or perhaps they’d like to drop info about their company, maybe even a discount coupon of some sort, into the swag bag of a few hundred or a thousand runners. If so and the event passes on free race entries to their sponsors, who better to share those entries with than the one who came up with the idea!
So that’s all I got mamas. But I know some of you out there probably have more ideas, so please feel free to leave us a comment and share!
P.S. Details/Review on my FIRST obstacle 5K, Rock the World, that I ran this weekend coming soon!