How Much Do Marathon Runners Get Paid?

Image by bignoseduglyguy via Flickr

Image by bignoseduglyguy via Flickr

As I finished a 14-miler last weekend I passed two runners coming in the other direction. These two chaps, virtually sprinting, were about 7 feet tall and didn’t have an ounce of fat on them. If you’d have cooked them up and made a jogger-burger you’d still be chewing the meat a week later. These two were as toned as they come.

I’d manage to finish my 14-mile training run in about 2 hours 10 minutes (not bad going considering I was taking it easy). Who knows at what stage these two runners were. But just from the look of their posture, the length of their stride and the clothes they were wearing you could tell that they were professionals. Or at least ran for more than a hobby.

This got me thinking. How much of a lifestyle change do you have to make to become a professional runner? How much competition is there? What sort of money are we talking for a race win? How fast do you really have to be?

The first thing to distinguish is which type of event are we trying to excel in? Track runners have a completely different training regime and diet to distance runners. This being a blog about the London Marathon, we’ll focus on marathon running.

1. Training

My (intermediate level) training plan for the marathon consists of 5 runs a week. Every Saturday I’ll go on my long run, adding a mile each week until I’ve hit 21 miles before tapering off a few weeks before a race. I’ll be lucky if I run more than 30 miles a week in the mid stages. Paula Radcliffe’s training plan for the same race sees her running 150 miles a week. That’s the equivalent of London to Cardiff each week!

Working on an 8-day cycle, she’ll typically do two runs a day (swapping some runs for a session with the weights or a sports massage). There’s no denying that in order to race at a competitive level some serious time on the road is needed. This raises the question of holding down a job. Surely there aren’t enough hours in the day?

2. Diet

As well as giving up your free time, there are certain foods you must give up (or at least cut down on) to have a chance of competing professionally. Keep the refined sugars and fat down and the carbs and protein up. Also, due to the increased level of training, professional runners have to eat often. To speed recovery, a runner will usually eat within half an hour after a run. So say hello to bananas, rice and salmon and wave goodbye to crisps, iced-cream and fizzy drinks (although our favourite record holder can’t go without her daily dark chocolate fix).

3. Competition

To compete in the London Marathon as a male elite runner you need to be able to run a marathon in under 2 hours 45 minutes (sub 3.15 if you are female). No small feat. But plenty elite runners manage this each year and are in with a shot of claiming victory.

The World Marathon Majors compiles the big 5 city marathons (Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin and our favourite London). In order to qualify you must score in the top 5 in at least 4 of these events. Again, no small feat. But this is where the prize money starts to get interesting.

4. Money

Let’s not beat about the bush. To start making money from winning races you’ve got to be good. Really good. To get in the money at the London Marathon you’ve got to be able to run a sub 2:11:00 (sub 2:28:00 for women). This will earn you a cool $1000.

But get past a certain level and the money starts to get pretty tasty. Finish first place in the London Marathon and you can expect upwards of $50,000. And it doesn’t stop there.

Finish the marathon in under 2:05:00 and you’ll get a $100,000 kicker. Break the course record in the process and you’ll get another $25,000. Break the World record and you’ll land yourself another $125,000 on top of all your winnings! So if you are a world record breaker, there is potential to win upwards of $300,000!

Couple that with winning the World Marathon Majors and you’re on your way to becoming a millionaire.

Running professionallyRunning for a living
(cue cheesy stock photo)

Let’s face it. Unless you’re the best of the best, you’re not going to see any prize money from entering a marathon. The decision to turn professional can’t be easy. As we’ve seen, training is a full-time job and requires ultimate dedication. To gamble a lifestyle on the premise of winning a race seems to me to be a big gamble. It is no surprise then that the majority of professionals start young and gain their confidence and technique through years of experience (from track running out of a school club).

Of course, earning a living from running doesn’t just have to come from winning races. Coaches and personal trainers at a basic level can charge around £50 an hour for their services. Get a job at a running magazine, writing about your favourite sport and you’ve obtained the epitome of job satisfaction!

I’d love to hear from any althetes who run full time. Do you know anyone who makes a living out of running? How big a yearly income can they expect? Feel free to comment below and let us know.

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