Does Swag Influence Your Race Choice?

If you have run any races, you know about the “swag” you pick up as a race entrant. These are the goodie bags – the gifts and freebies you obtain for having signed up for a race. I have many races since I started running them a few years ago and have received many race bags as a result. As you can imagine, some have been terrible and some have been really good. You will typically here about the good ones from training partners, race testimonials, or details outlined on the race website. Does any of this have any bearing in your race choice?

Should swag influence your race choice?

Swag influence your race choiceBasically, why should it matter what type of “freebies” that you pick up at a race, right? Actually, these are not really “freebies” when you consider the cost of entering the marathon. Marathon fees have not been collectively going down or even staying even over the years – they have been slowly climbing up. This is due to many things, some of which the race director has no control over (paid police presence is one big one that comes to mind). But when you see a marathon that is asking for $140 of your money so you can go running for a few hours on public roads and receive some cups of water and gatorade, use a couple of outhouses, and get a medal, it’s okay to take in all that is provided to you as a race entrant to see if it is worth it to you for your particular situation.

Some races, it will not matter what you get for running and what they charge you to run. Two of those races are Boston and New York. The NYC Marathon alone costs $255 for non NYRR members from the US! That is huge! But, they never have a problem filling the race and even have to do so with a lottery system. Runners want to do it for the experience and it really doesn’t matter what the cost is.

The Boston Marathon is the same thing. The cost for the 2014 Boston Marathon for US residents is $175! Again, Boston does not have to provide any goodies or freebies of any kind to make their registration cap. People run Boston because it is Boston – not because of what they are getting. How do I know that? Check out your next local race and see all the Boston Marathon jackets – they do not give those away! People are paying the registration fee and paying for the jacket because it is Boston. (I am not dissing the jackets – believe me, I will be buying one as well for my first Boston!)

If it does matter, what should you look for?

There is a local ultra that I was fortunate enough to run in its very first even a few years ago. This was the Beast of Burden (Winter Edition). The race director (Sam Pasceri) was doing this as his very first stab at race direction and wanted to really do a great job. One of the things he focused on was the goodie bag. He wanted to make it the best possible. He did a fantastic job in his race direction and a fantastic job with the swag bag. I believe the cost for the ultra was around $75 (for early registrations) and I received way more back than I paid! One of the best parts of the bag was the Nike Dri-Fit winter compression shirt that was custom made for the ultra. The shirt itself went for $75 in stores! It was a very functional garment and one that I have used many times for winter runs (in fact, I wore it that morning!). In addition to that, he also put road lights from Road ID in the bag, things like the Strassburg Sock, enough gels to last the whole race, and many other things. Basically, just adding it up, I received about $150 in very useful items that I would have wanted to get anyway and I got them in my race pack at this event! Well done!

Obviously, not every race will be like that. But if it does matter to you, you should see what the various marathons you are considering say they offer on their website. I personally like functional items and something that I can use over and over. It also helps if it is something that I would consider buying at some point anyway. Here is my list of what to look for. Keep in mind that this is my personal opinion! 🙂

  • Good race shirts – I like it when name brand technical shirts are offered
  • Socks/hats/gloves – something that can either be used on race morning and discarded or something that can be used in other runs
  • New product samples – my first experience with GU came from a race bag. I was not just going to buy random gels and getting a GU gel for free helped me settle on that. Same thing with creams and such for muscles and cramping – samples can go a long way to making loyal customers.
  • A nice race bag – I LOVE Fargo’s race bags. They are actual Adidas drawstring bags that are fantastic quality (this year they are Under Armour bags, but I would expect the same great quality)! I use these quite often to take around places and they hold up very well.
  • Some type of photo – I like that the Rocket City Marathon gives you a free finisher’s photo from the photography company shooting there. To me, that is a really nice touch. I would like to see more marathons offering that or a $5 off code – something to help the memory to last.
  • Anything else that puts it off the chart – probably the best goodie bag I ever got was the Akron Marathon when they use to giveaway Brooks Adrenaline shoes to each finisher. These shoes cost $100 and I was actually able to trade up to the a higher model for just a little extra. Since the race only cost $65, that was a huge goodie to include! The next time I ran it, they were giving away high quality Brooks running jackets – still very nice.

Does swag influence your race choices?

A great goodie bag is not only a great way to draw repeat runners, but it is also a chance to get great word of mouth referrals. When I came back from running the Akron Marathon and went running with my running group wearing the race jacket, many people complimented me on the jacket and asked what it cost. They were shocked to find out that it was given to all marathoners. If a runner is trying to find a fall marathon and doesn’t mind a little travel, some nice gift like that may just be enough to choose Akron.

Should the swag influence your race choice? It can for me. I like to know that I am getting some type of enduring value from my race fee beyond the experience. It not only makes me feel better about the race fee but it makes me feel more confident in the race and its organization. However, at the end of the day, if the marathon is setup to provide a really unique experience, I don’t care if they give me dirt from the course – I’m running it. 🙂 What about you?

Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.