Cost of Training for Elite Distance Runners

posted by amyYB, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 12:45pm EDT

About amyYB:

Track Athlete, 2008 Olympian - 10,000 meters, Celiac Athlete, 6-time US National Champion, 2009 IAAF World Championships - 6th place 10,000 meters, 15-Time NCAA All-American, 14:56 5,000 meter P.R., 3...more

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The Cost of Competing at the Elite Level in Distance Running

The fall has arrived and the Olympic athletes are starting to come out of the post-Olympic black hole.  Some will decide to continue training and others will retire with their dreams achieved. Those that continue to train will need a plan to support their training for the next quadrennium till Rio 2016 or until they retire. 

During the Olympics there was a lot of discussion about sponsorships, Rule 40, and logo rules.  Rule 40 states, "No competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board." Those that violate this rule could have their accreditation removed or get sanctioned financially.

According to Jon Saraceno in USA Today in the following article: 


“The London Olympic organizers sent athletes a 20-page briefing that spelled out Rule 40. ‘Ambush marketers have used their association with athletes to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic Games,’ said the note. It also said ambush marketers undermine the exclusivity offered to official sponsors.”

The bottom line is that it takes money to put on the Olympics and the athletes need money to be able to train at the highest level.  Every athlete funds their career in various ways.  The lucky athletes have full support from shoe companies or groups.  They get a salary, gear, and travel stipends.  Other athletes work full or part-time jobs or get support from their family while training. 

Every athlete has a different circumstance.  From my own experience, I made the biggest improvement when I could fully focus and commit 100% to training.  I spent 6 years working part-time jobs, running road races for money, and taking money from my parents to support my running dream.  Once NIKE took a chance on me in 2007 and gave me all the resources of the Oregon Project, I went from top 10 in the USA to 6th at Worlds in 2009.  Prior to 2007, I was kidding myself to think I could compete on the international level while working.  I never cracked the top 5 in the USA on the track prior to 2007.

Most athletes train twice a day.  They spend 6-8 hours training each day. On top of that, they have massages, physical therapy, chiropractor appointments and other appointments with their support staff.  Another important aspect of training is rest.  Napping is important for many reasons, including recovery.  Young or low income athletes spend the recovery time working jobs to support their athletic career and family. 

The Track and Field Athletes Association posted an article by Jack Wickens on their bulletin that defines how much track and field athletes make.  (http://trackandfieldathletesassociation.org/blog/how-much-money-do-track-and-field-athletes-make/)

I want to define what it takes to support an athlete and give him/her the best opportunity to compete at the top in the USA and on the international level.  The following is a rundown of the costs of my 2009 season, the best year of my career.  Remember, I had received this type of funding for 2.5 years but had been training on the “professional” level for 9 years.  I often wonder how much better I could have been if I had gotten these resources earlier in my career.




  • Weekly Massage                         $75    X  52                 $3,900
  • Active Release/Chiropractor        $90    X  52                 $4,680
  • Altitude Electric Fees                   $150  X  52                 $1,800
  • Extra Room for Altitude               $200  X  12                 $2,400
  • Monthly Blood Tests                    $120  X  12                 $1,440
  • Gym Membership Fees                $50    X  12                 $600
  • Premium Food & Supplements    $100  X  52                 $5,200

Total:             $20,020                                 


  • Corporate Rental Apartment            $2,500
  • Car Rental                                        $1,000
  • Flight                                                $400

Total: $3,900 per camp X 2 = $7,800                 



  • Flights                                               $300
  • Hotels                                               $300
  • Car/gas                                             $150

Total:             $750 per meet X 9 meets = $6,750

Meets: 3 indoor, indoor nationals, 4 outdoor, outdoor nationals


  • FLIGHT                                            $2,000
  • HOTEL                                             $100  X 15 nights

Total:             $3,500

TOTAL COST:  $38,070 + 15% Agent Fee = $43,780.50


The approximate cost is $45,000 per year to cover an elite distance athlete’s training and travel.  This does not cover the cost of housing, utilities, car, gas, car insurance, health insurance or student loan payments.  These costs can be reduced in a group by housing athletes together.  However, that gets difficult as the athletes age and have families.  The cost of these extras can also be absorbed by the athlete’s spouse or parents if they live at home.

Distance athletes hit their athletic peak between the ages of 25-35.  Men are usually at the lower end and women are at the higher end of the age range.  The challenge becomes keeping the athletes in the sport after college and through the peak age.  Due to the economy the shoe contracts are smaller today than in the past few years.  Add to that, the fact that most distance athletes don’t come out of college ready to earn a shoe contract. 

There is a need for a safety net for post-collegiate athletes while they develop and build toward their athletic peak.  There are a few resources available for post-collegiate athletics.  A great resource is RunPro.com, Professional Distance Runners Resource Center.  http://www.runpro.com/  They cover every topic a new professional distance runner needs to know including grant opportunities and training groups. Runpro.com also hosts a camp for new professional runners.  They teach the new professional distance runner things they need to know beyond training including: joining a group, hiring an agent, signing a shoe contract, taxes and how to find support.

USATF offers a few opportunites for developmental athletes including the Post Collegiate Scholarship Fund.  However, due to limited money, the USATF had to put requirements on their Post Collegiate Scholarship Fund.  The main requirement is the Olympic A standard.  A majority of post-collegiate distance athletes don't hit the standard for a few years.

The USA Track & Field Foundation, a distinct and separate entity from USATF, offers the Elite Athlete Development Grant.  It is available to athletes ranked in the top 10 in the USA with the IAAF B standard but notes that most grants go to A standard athletes.  http://www.usatffoundation.org/

One of the grants that I received as a developmental athlete was from the RRCA, Road Runners Club of America.  They do a play on words and call it the Roads Scholar Program. The RRCA does not put as many requirements on their grants but it is more road racing based.

The United States has made great strides in distance running the past few years.  We are bringing home more medals and running faster.  However, we need to continue to develop athletes post collegiately to keep the depth in the distance events.  My next journal will continue this discussion touching on the groups available to athletes and funding ideas. 

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