The Cost of Running (Is driving cheaper than running?)

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Have you ever wondered how much running costs financially? This question cropped up while testing running shoes, as I realized they wear out rather quicker than I'd expected. I decided to estimate how much running costs, and compare it to the cost of driving. Could it really be cheaper to drive a car than to run?

  • The cost of driving can vary dramatically, but the US government gives an estimate for tax purposes of $0.54/mile. That includes the cost of depreciation, insurance, servicing, and fuel. The actual costs can be a lot higher, such as driving a brand-new, quickly depreciating vehicle rather than an older car that is mostly depreciated (or even starting to appreciate in value.) For the sake of argument, let's assume the US government estimate is a reasonable approximation for an average driver.
  • The cost of running shoes can vary even more than the cost of a car. At one extreme, is running barefoot that has no footwear cost, but most runners wear shoes. Extremely minimalist shoes, like the Merrell Trail Glove have no cushioning, which is the first thing to wear out the shoe, so they last a long time. The commonly held belief is that most cushioned running shoes were last about 300 to 500 miles. The actual mileage will vary on your running style, and your immunity to injury as running shoes where around unevenly creating additional stresses on your body. In my testing, I found a load of variation in the longevity of running shoes. I've found the Hoka Clifton are significantly worn after only 200 miles, but the much cheaper Nike Zoom Streak LT are good after 300+ miles, and maybe you can stretch that out to 500 miles. That puts the $130 Clifton at $0.65/mile and the $80 Streak at $0.16/mile.
  • The average 150 pound/75Kg runner is estimated to burn about 100 Calories/mile. While some runners may hope to avoid increasing their food intake to replace the calories they burn, in the long run most of us will need to stay in equilibrium. So how much is hundred calories likely to cost? Let's ignore the use of Energy Gels that cost well over $1 per 100 Calories (there all some, but few people try to replace all the running calories with them.) Instead, let's assume that you want to eat a balanced diet to replace those calories. The US government estimates that an adult female needs 2,200 Calories/day and that it will cost between $37 and $75 per week to feed her, while an adult male needs 2,800 Calories/day with a cost of $42-85/week. That works out to $0.22 and $0.49 per 100 Calories.
  • The medical costs a much harder to estimate. Running is associated with a high injury rate, but the health benefits of running can mitigate far more serious health risks.

So, without considering clothing or other equipment, running costs between $0.38/mile and $1.14/mile.