By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, May 30 (Reuters) - When Theresa Tufaro started running back in her college days, she thought she was taking up one of the cheapest hobbies ever.
"In theory all you need is some workout clothes and a pair of sneakers," says the 32-year-old, who works as a marketing manager for publisher Scholastic in New York City. "I didn't quite realize what I was getting into."
That is because Tufaro soon found out she was fast, running a sizzling 3:20 in the Boston Marathon one year. And when she started getting serious about the sport, more costs started piling up.
Now, in a given year, Tufaro might spend $100 every few months for new running shoes; $100 for the occasional 10-week speed-training class; $200 on technical clothing; and another $300 on race entry costs. Add it all up, and her beloved sport can be a pricey passion - as more and more aficionados are finding out.
"They used to call marathoners 'The One Percent Club,'" Tufaro laughs. "Now maybe a third of all my friends have run a marathon. It is growing every year, and people are getting super competitive about it."
That bears out what the organization Running USA is calling a 'Second Running Boom', which started in the mid-1990s (the first was in the 1970s and early '80s). According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 9.17 million Americans are now "frequent" runners, hitting the trails more than 110 days a year. That is up almost 25 percent in a single year.
Not only are people running for fun; they are in it to win it. Running USA reports 13.9 million Americans finished road races in 2011, a whopping 170 percent increase over 20 years ago.
More runners are buying more stuff. "It's not just about having a proper set of shoes anymore," says Matt Forsman, a running coach and race producer in San Francisco. "There are tons of gear options these days, everything from GPS watches to heart-rate monitors to technical shirts and more."
In fact, Forsman estimates a serious runner could spend $400 a year on gear, almost $500 on training programs, $300 or more on race fees, and $100 every few weeks for massages, which he likens to getting an oil change for your car. And heaven forbid you ever get injured, which could cost you hundreds of dollars a week for six to 10 weeks of physical therapy.
You don't have to tell champions like Scott Jurek. While most of us are padding around the local park or maybe entering a 5K race here and there, Jurek is winning famous races like the Western States (100 miles) or the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley (135 miles). And he, too, has noticed costs are going up and up.
"Races definitely seem to be getting more popular and more expensive," says Jurek, also an author who wrote the book Eat and Run. "We all have a desire to test our endurance, and we were meant to run long distances. Running used to be seen as kind of a weird endeavor - but not anymore."
So how can you pursue that passion, and safeguard your health, while trimming costs at the same time? A few tips from the road warriors:
Go small. The bigger marathons, like New York or Boston, can now come with registration fees of $200 or more - not to mention the potential travel and hotel costs involved. Instead, look to regular group runs put on by your local club or specialty store. "The biggest costs usually involve huge events that are on your bucket list, which are all getting pricier," says Jurek. "But odds are there are plenty of smaller races happening close to you, that won't cost much at all."
Buy used gear - judiciously. Shave some costs by checking out chains that sell pre-owned gear or gadgets, like Play It Again Sports. "The good thing about synthetic running apparel is that it lasts forever," says Forsman.
One critical exception: shoes, which take such a beating that you really should not scrimp. "You need to find a pair that is the perfect fit for you, so that is one area where you don't want to compromise," Forsman says.
Make use of smartphone apps. Yes, the latest gadgets like GPS watches are extremely cool and flashy. But they can also cost $150 to $400. Instead, look to popular free phone apps like MapMyRun or Runkeeper, says Forsman. They will accomplish the same goals of monitoring your distance and pace.
Run for charity. Plenty of charitable organizations might be able to secure your race entries, help with travel and lodging costs, and even provide you with a professional training program to get you ready for the big day.
The flip side of the deal? You have to raise money for them. Some of the biggest such operations nationwide include the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
There is no question that if you get serious about running, the costs can be forbidding. But for hard core runners like Scott Jurek, the transformative part of the sport is well worth it.
"You come out on the other side a different person," says Jurek, whose mind-bending accomplishments include winning the Western States ultra marathon a record seven consecutive times.