Traveling and Racing As a Very Poor Person

I’m part of a growing group of endurance athletes who don’t have jobs, instead devoting their time to training full-time and chasing minuscule amounts of money around the world. This means travel. Lots of it.

The following are tips I’ve learned regarding traveling cheaply.

1. Don’t Spend Money on Food.

Remember when $5 footlongs were actually 5 bucks?

I was sitting in Phoenix earlier this year, waiting on a late-arriving plane, and extremely hungry. Eventually, and against my better judgement, I succumbed to the smell of Italian herbs and cheese wafting towards me from Subway and purchased what appeared to be a meatball sub. The final cost of the sandwich was 9.00. It tasted every bit as bad as I imagined it would, and within an hour I was hungry again.

Fast food is the #1 cost inflator when traveling. If you’re flying out to a race on a Friday and racing the next day, you should really be able to get through the entire weekend without purchasing any food. If you’re driving, it’s even easier- just bring a cooler.

1. Bring 5-10 sandwiches along with you on the plane.

2. Fill your pockets with hard-boiled eggs and your thermos with coffee from the hotel breakfast bar. Don’t have a breakfast bar at your hotel? Find a hotel that has one. The awkward eye contact you’ll have to choose to make or not make with the front desk worker upon entrance will be totally worth it for the waffles and yogurt usually present.

“Do they know I don’t stay here?” “Do they care?”

(In my experience, the amount a company pays an employee directly relates to their willingness to give a crap about their employer. So in this case, no, this minimum wage night auditor finishing up their shift does not care whatsoever)

3. Go HAM on the post-race bananas and protein bars. Avoid the free beer. Trade your tickets for food. My record is 400 grams of protein in the hour after a race. Did I have kidney pain for an entire week after this? Maybe. More importantly, was I full? Yes.

2. Minimize Cost of Accommodations

Split a hotel whenever you can. This is not as weird as it sounds. In fact, you might meet some new racing buddies this way. Post on the specific race’s Facebook page before you travel. You’re guaranteed to find another racer looking to save some money.

If my rental car is a mid-size or above, I’ll sleep in it. If it’s a Dodge minivan with fold-flat seats, you’ve hit the jackpot. As it is, I don’t sleep well in a new place, so I’m not exactly missing out on a great night of sleep by choosing a car trunk over a hotel bed. Admittedly, this isn’t the greatest rationalization.

This also might lead to some sketchy nights. I got all of 40 minutes of sleep before a race this fall after choosing a rather shady section of New Jersey’s turnpike to pull off for a night of sleep.

If you’re planning on doing attempting to sleep in your car, do yourself a favor and avoid New Jersey and Florida. In fact, you’d be wise to just avoid these two states at all times.

Some of my fellow racers will camp out at or by the venue before races. Some take it even further. One in particular who will for now remain nameless (he may have podiumed at Fenway) spent the night under a bridge before a fall stadium sprint. The temperature was well below freezing that night. But he saved $60. Was that worth potentially being shanked and or made love to by homeless people? I think so.

Of course, in a perfect world I would own a Mercedes sprinter, aka the “OCRv.(that’s trademarked, don’t you dare take that name!) I’d have the van wrapped with various race’s discount codes (a unique code that I’d receive a cash kick-back from) and meander race to race, sleeping in a queen bed each night, kickbacks covering travel costs.

Then I remember that my back doesn’t allow me to sit for more than 3 hours at a time, and that a new Sprinter would put me back $60,000…

3. Don’t overspend on gear

New racing shoes can put you back $150. Compression tops and bottoms, as well as arm and leg sleeves can cost hundreds more. Then you run the risk of tearing them during the race.

Luckily, there are inexpensive alternatives to the aforementioned gear.

1. Shoes- Cross country spikes were designed for running over hilly, muddy terrain.

Pick up a pair from Eastbay or Dick Pond for 30-50 bucks. They’ll last forever, and might even outperform your specially designed “OCR-specific” shoes.

2. Compression- Starter and Eastbay both offer cheap compression gear.

Of course, the cheapest clothing is no clothing. A pair of running shorts is really all that’s needed. (I’d recommend wearing performance briefs underneath so that your water departures don’t give the volunteers such a show, if you know what I mean. (And that’s probably cold water that you’re leaving)

Leave the calf and arm sleeves behind- they’re simply not an aesthetically pleasing look for racers. On top of that, they most likely have no scientific backing.

4. Volunteer

Not only will you receive a free race entry, but you’ll also probably be given gear and food.

Work hard and express interest in moving up, and you may be offered a real job with the race. This could mean free travel to future races.

5. Don’t Race OCR

If racing is responsible for any of the following:

A. Taking time away from your family
B. Adding stress to relationships
C. Compounding financial woes

Then it’s probably time to take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities.

If you’re like me, and it’s responsible for all 3, then you’re in a select group, one of which all hope is lost for. I wish you the best of luck.


McCauley is looking for one-way sponsorships. What is that, you ask? You pay him to race, and he does absolutely nothing to help your brand. What a deal!

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