Most of the time running is one of the cheapest forms of exercise. Your only real expense is shoes. Yes there are things like shorts and t-shirts, but even if you didn't run, you would probably already have these things. Unfortunately, even the most minimalist runner may want to race from time to time and races cost money.
At the exact opposite end of the spectrum, you have the New York City Marathon. This New York Road Runners race may have cost $5 back in 1977, but today for a non-NYRR member, it will set you back $255 plus the$11 processing fee--that's a $100 increase since 2008 when it was $155 for non-members and $125 for members! If you want to go back to 2000, it was just $58.
In inflation-adjusted dollars, that $5 entry fee from 1977 equals around $20 today. Obviously that doesn't tell the whole story, because even the cheapest marathons cost more than that (excluding free marathons like the Holiday Marathons in Van Cortlandt Park). Today races tend to include more goodies like tech tees, medals, and a whole bunch of other useless crap.
I like the tech shirts, but I don't need them. My suggestion? Races should cut down on the extras, or at least the "mandatory" ones. I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler last week (I got an entry through work) and this is the approach they take. Want a tech tee instead of a cotton one? Check a box and pay more. Want a medal for your "accomplishment"? Check a box and pay more. This approach could help keep down costs.
I say could because I can already think of at least one good counterexample out there: Bay to Breakers. In 2010, the first time I did this race, it was $44 for most runners (it was cheaper if you were one of the first 3,00 to register--I wasn't). That entry fee included a t-shirt and plenty of post-race food. This year, it's being sponsored by Zazzle, an online business that specializing is customized apparel, and it now costs $57 for "basic registration." What does that mean? No t-shirt. Want the shirt? Sign up for the $72 "plus registration." Did I mention this is a 12k?
I like big races so I won't only be doing $5 5ks, but I don't plan on running New York this year. For the same price, I've signed up for Boston, the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and several other local races. I have to make my limited race registration dollars go farther.
What about you? What are your thoughts the steady increase in race fees?