by Jack Wickens, 2011

Open up your local newspaper or do a web search and you can easily view the income levels of top professional athletes in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, etc.  Try to find similar data for track & field athletes and you'll pretty much come up empty.

There are many things that cause this lack of public transparency about professional track & field athlete earnings - not the least of which is that the primary source of this income (shoe company sponsors) is negotiated privately with each individual athlete/agent, and the contracts often contain performance trigger points and bonus clauses that add unpredictability to the contract value.  Also, sources that are visible, like prize money, are generally too small to generate much public attention.

Provided by the New York Road Runners

Congratulations on your decision to continue your running career as a post-collegiate athlete! Ours is the greatest sport in the world, and New York Road Runners is constantly looking for ways to support and promote not only the superstars of the sport, but also the up-and-comers.

As you transition into post-collegiate running, there are a number of important decisions you’ll need to make: Who will coach you? Will you require the services of an agent? Will you move to a new location for training? How will you support yourself financially? Whatever your answers to these questions may be, you’ll eventually need to start competing in some races.

The pro athlete community is larger and more competitive than it has ever been, and every race out there has a finite budget and ability to host athletes, so competition for prize money, travel expenses, and even free race entries is fierce. Almost as important as the hard training you’ll need to do to improve as an athlete, you’ll need to find ways to make yourself stand out among the competition.

by Virginia Brophy Achman

Road races play an important role for professional athletes.  Many professional athletes earn a living, in part, by winning prize money at such events.

Each year, various road races are awarded championship races by USATF, meaning the national championship for that distance will be held in conjunction with their road race (e.g. 2013 USA Men’s Marathon Championship at the 2013 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon). The collective championship races in a given year form the USA Running Circuit.  Competing in national championship events allows an athlete the opportunity to win points based on their placement in the event. The athlete who collects the most points wins prize money for the circuit provided by USATF.


Desiree Davila; USATF 10,000m A variety of competitions are available to professional distance runners, including indoor and outdoor track, cross country and the roads. There are national and world championships for each as well as high profile U.S. and international events.


The distance events for track start at the 800 meters and go up through the 10,000 meters, including the steeplechase. Like the collegiate calendar, the indoor track season usually is conducted from January until early March, with the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships held the last weekend in February. The IAAF World Indoor Championships are held every other year in early March.

The outdoor U.S. track season starts in March and concludes in late summer if an athlete is able to participate in meets held outside of the United States. Many U.S. athletes travel to Europe to extend their track season into July and August. Domestically, the outdoor track season generally concludes with the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships held in late June, or in the case of an Olympic year, in early July with the U.S. Olympic Trials.  The IAAF World Outdoor Championships are held in mid to late August or early September. World Outdoor is not held in the same year as the Olympics and it is not held two years after and before an Olympics.

In addition the Pan American Games are held every four years in the year before the Olympics.

Cross Country

For a professional distance runner, the cross country calendar is much different than it was during the prep and collegiate running years. In the U.S., there are a limited number of highly competitive cross country races available. There is a USATF Club Cross Country race held in December, and there is the USA Cross Country Championships held in early February.

Distances contested at club cross are 10k for men and 6k for women. At the championships, which also serves every other year as the cross country trials selection race for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, the professional distances are 12k for men and 8k for women. World Cross is held in late March and beginning in 2011 will be held in odd numbered years.

Runners interested in competing more frequently in cross country events will need to travel to Europe or other countries, although an occasional competitive meet in the U.S. has been held in January.

Road Racing

The roads open up a new area of competition for post-collegiate runners. Races cover a variety of events, with U.S. championships contested for both men and women at distances that have included the mile, 5k, 8k, 10k, 7 mile, 10 mile, 15k, 20k, half marathon, 25k and marathon. There are also races at other distances that award prize money.

USA Running Circuit
The USA Running Circuit is a series of road races that are designated as national championship events by USA Track & Field during a particular year. Each race within the circuit offers a significant prize purse. Runners can also obtain points for placing in the top 10 at each of these races to qualify for Running Circuit honors and additional prize money. For more information about the USA Running Circuit and the races scheduled for men and women, visit the USA Running Circuit website

Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO)
The Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO) is an alliance of race directors who together organize and promote the PRRO Circuit, a nationwide series of premier non-marathon road racing events.  The Circuit's open competition policy (athletes from all countries are eligible) results in the most competitive and high-profile elite fields in the sport at each event.  The PRRO Circuit culminates on the Fourth of July 2012 with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race 10k in Atlanta, Georgia.  For a list of competitions and more information on the organization, visit

Elite Recruiters/Race or Meet Directors

In order to secure entry, lodging and travel money for road races in particular, runners or their representatives will need to work with an event’s elite recruiter or race director. For any event, there is a limited amount of lodging and travel support so a runner needs to make contact early and present the appropriate credentials. Please see the Sidebar with this section about professional running and elite recruiting which has been provided by the New York Road Runners organization.