If you started running because you thought it was an inexpensive hobby, you were probably swiftly sucked into the vortex of running shoes, marathon entry fees and pants that cost $89.99 (and that’s the sale price!) Running, like everything else, is NOT cheap if it’s done properly. And it’s addictive…(I’m still waiting for the scientific study, but know this to be true.) So the longer you do it, the more races you’re going to register for, the farther you’re going to travel, the more pairs of Brooks Ghosts you’re going to need. And while you might try to sneak a few-too many miles out of a pair of shoes, you’ll only make that mistake once; because then you get to start paying for your trips to the chiropractor and physical therapy.
No, marathonin’ ain’t easy… and it ain’t cheap! And if you’re like me and married to a non-runner you have to somehow try to justify your spending to someone who doesn’t understand…the addiction.
So I was intrigued on a recent long run when a friend told me that he deducts his race entries on his taxes as charitable contributions. My first thought was, “How have I not thought of this before?” My second thought was, “Is that legal?”
So I contacted my accountant, The Flying Pig Marathon and my U.S. Congressman to find out what they knew on the subject. Here’s what I found out…
1) 501c3 Status In order to be eligible to qualify as a charitable contribution, the organization to which you’re donating has to be a 501c3 or a church/religious organization. That’s the first thing you want to look at, according to Dave Smith, of ETA Investment & Tax Advisors. This might be trickier to figure out than you think…While the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon’s website clearly states their 501c3 status, the Zoom Triathlon Series does not. Their website says they donate $30,000 to local charities, but it is vague…So I emailed Mick Mominee, owner & athlete, and he said, “Unfortunately, we are not a registered charity. We do donate a portion of the profits to a local charity, but the rest of the profits go toward the costs that are incurred putting on the event.”
2) What’s in an Entry Fee? Speaking of the cost of putting on the event, it is extremely difficult to determine exactly HOW much of your entry fee is donated to charity. Jen Graham is the accountant and registration director for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon (which has grown to includes the Beer Series Races and Queen Bee Half Marathon.) Graham said their organization typically donates one million dollars a year to their multiple charities, but that money is coming from multiple races including 5k, 10k, one-miler and kids’ events that happen throughout the year. “It would be hard to specifically say how much of an entry fee was a charitable contribution,” Graham explained. “If someone wanted to make a separate donation, through their registration, they could choose which charity and amount the wanted to donate…and that would absolutely be tax deductible.” Graham and I also discussed the varying pricing tiers for events... I’m notoriously late registering for races, which means I pay more money. Does this mean I should get more of a deduction than the timely registrant that paid less?
3) Swine Swag “Charitable contributions are deducted based off the difference between your monetary donation and anything you received associated with that fee,” Smith explained. “You’re likely getting something for running a marathon…like a T-shirt and a medal, so you have to deduct that cost from your entry fee before claiming it on your taxes.” What Smith, my non-marathon-running accountant, is referring to is the swag we receive for registering for and completing a race. This varies from race-to-race, and the Flying Pig Marathon is known for their swine swag. Runners always get a tech shirt, a nice medal, a cooler or backpack of some variety, a race poster, and all your post-race goodies…(How do you calculate ‘banana and beer’ on your taxes?) And this year, as the 20th anniversary of the Flying Pig Marathon, we will be receiving Finishers Jackets!!! (Side Note: if you’ve never run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, this will be an amazing year with the anniversary, but Graham advises runners – myself included – to register early. “We’re up a hundred percent in registration from this time last year,” she explained. “We won’t set our cap until we start ordering our finisher jackets and medals, but we WILL sell out.”)
Speaking of those finisher jackets and medals… I asked Graham how much it costs to ‘swag’ a runner, and she said the organization has never done an extensive breakdown. “So much depends on donors, material selections, number of participants,” she said.
4) The Tax Code “There is a tax incentive for gym memberships/running,” Smith said. “BUT you currently have to have a doctor prescribe such activities to qualify.” Well… There goes that angle… But fear not! Our AMAZING men and women of congress have a plan! Doesn’t that make you feel better? H.R. 1267 PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) ACT of 2017 was introduced back in March and would basically allow people to deduct up to $1,000 (or $2,000 if filing jointly) in expenses associated with physical fitness. Don’t get too excited about those $150 shoes though…since you can (and I’m sure you do) wear them daily, they cannot be deducted…Damn! But I think we probably all make-up for the $1,000 in race entry fees and running club dues anyway.) WHY, you might ask, does this tax incentive NOT already exist? I think we’ve (that is the scientists and physicians) concluded that healthy individuals actually SAVE the government money! So where’s our tax break? Well, as of now there are 73 bipartisan co-sponsors to this bill, along with 12 senators with an identical bill. Unfortunately, neither my representative nor senator was on those lists…So, I started doing what I’m going to encourage you to do. I started making phone calls and typing emails. And I could say something cliché here about “I know this isn’t curing cancer,” BUT – in a small way it is stepping in that direction. We HAVE to insist that our government address the health epidemic in this country that is veiled by the fear of healthcare and pharmaceutical lobbyists who know they’d be out of business if we all got healthier!
So it’s about as clear as mud! You can deduct race entry fees that are made to a 501c3 organization, after doing some marathon math and guesstimating the subtraction of your swag. “It’s a little aggressive, but it’s not a jailable offense,” Smith said. But why not just make an extra donation to your favorite charity when you’re registering? OR, better yet, call your congressman/woman and Senator and tell them to pass the PHIT ACT of 2017! It’s WAY past time!