After I posted the question about whether stress helps runners, my friend Scott replied with a dictum I had seen on more than my share of road race expo t-shirts and paraphenalia. He said:
"Running is less expensive than a therapist, and you do get some exercise."
Which, naturally, got me to thinking.
I ran the numbers, once upon a time, to talk about how inexpensive running is as a sport, comparing it to the most common youth/team sports of soccer, baseball and softball. Naturally, I do realize when we begin to compare youth and adult sports, as well as the differences between team and individual ones, we end up (improperly) comparing apples to oranges.
So, let's talk about running versus therapy in terms of first-order (direct) financial cost, as well as time and potential side effects. I'll try to be as strenuous in providing equal sides of the argument, but since I'm a running kind of guy the bias toward running is almost a given.
First, here are the assumptions under which I calculated the cost of running for one year:
A schedule with one rest day per week, and three days of no running for unforeseen circumstances like illness, minor injuries, and the like, means the "typical" recreational runner will run a little more than 300 days per year...310, to be exact. If each day's run lasts 60 minutes at an 8-minute-per-mile pace, the total number of miles adds up to 1625 for the year.
Race Entries: $70 - If anyone has read my "from 20-minutes a day-to-marathon" sequence, the assumption is for limited racing; 5,000-meter races only, after 38 weeks of training. I assumed three-to-four races (one a month) during those weeks, at $20 per race. This doesn't count pre-race coffees or post-race beers.
Equipment: $476 - The assumptions here are based on a male runner and the most basic components to protect one's self from physical and legal harm. Guys who feel no need to wear a shirt on a run can subtract anywhere from $45-60, depending on whether the race promoter/s have a "no shirt" entry option. Good quality running shoes will last approximately 500 miles, and cost on the average $100 a pair; figure the purchase of anywhere from three-to-four pairs during the course of a year. Depending on whether you need to be at the cutting edge of running fashion or if you just want to keep your nether regions covered, a pair of running shorts can be found for as little as $15; I've considered three pairs to be the absolute minimum number...once you've run in a salt-scratchy pair of running shorts you realize the more pairs a guy has, the better. Three or four technical fiber t-shirts (Cotton, while much more expensive, weighs a ton when soaked with sweat and also holds all that nasty heat in. My advice is to avoid at all costs.) can be bought for as little as 15 bucks apiece. When you start running races later in that first year I recommend learning which races give out technical fiber shirts...there's a sign the race director loves their participants. After a few years it's all you'll be wearing, unless you go to a hash run. Good acrylic running socks, six pairs each, finish off the attire. Expect to pay in the $10-12 range for a good pair. The really good ones will last up to ten years and save your feet from needless beating.
So, if you decide to undergo psychotherapy rather than running, how much are you going to pay? If you visit a therapist once a week for a year you can expect to pay almost 10 times as much as you would invest in running gear ALONE; closer to 12 times if your health insurance doesn't cover the shrink. Add another $2500 if the therapist decides you need an antidepressant.
The cost of therapy alone is enough to make me depressed.
The litany of potential side-effects of any of the varieties of antidepressant drugs - agitation, blurred vision, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, emotional numbness, headaches, heart attack, hepatitis, hypertensive reactions, lack of motivation, loss of "drive," nausea, physical dependency, seizures, skin rash, stroke, tremors, weight gain or loss, withdrawal syndrome, etc. - is enough to make me get out on the road if not stay out there. I like what little, er, "drive" I have, thank you very much.
So, even if I don't count the fleeting, slightly-nebulous description of "runners' high," a state of which I can only claim to have been in on four occasions in two decades, the risks of addiction to running far outweigh those of more expensive drugs. I don't have to worry about the FDA when I'm out on the road getting a few miles in with my wife, my friends, or my dog. Even if I don't develop any more neurons by running, Scott is right...it is a whole lot cheaper than therapy.
As long as it doesn't lead to triathlon.