If you would have asked me just 2 years ago what the “fad” in foot races was going to be in 2013, I never would have guessed that Color/Zombie/Electric/Pumpkin/Santa Clause/Naked/Turkey/*fill in the blank* runs would be the answer. That said, when Meagan and I first saw the “The Color Run 5k”, we went berserk. The idea of running through paint sounded (and looked) like a ton of fun. To top it off, the marketing is pure genius, just watch the marketing video below and you can tell why so many people sign-up to get blasted in the face by colored cornstarch.
Our interest was at an even higher level because we had just watched Outsourced (the movie, not the awful TV Show) prior to hearing about The Color Run, so we were familiar with the origins of the event. For those who don’t know, The Color Run got its concept from India’s Holi Festival, which is celebrated every year, around the world, the day after the full moon in March.
Our excitement peaked when we learned The Color Run would be coming to Wisconsin around the same time the training for our first 10k would be reaching the 5k mark. Unfortunately, the race was in Milwaukee (not Madison), and it was spoiled due to conflicting plans, so we put our color run dreams on the back burner for a while. We ended up waiting almost 2 years to finally sign up for our first color run, which took place just a couple of weeks ago when Color Me Rad, The Color Run’s biggest competitor, came to Madison. On that note, I wanted to point out that, unlike many rookie runners, Meagan and I didn’t become avid runners after or for the purpose of doing a franchised local 5K, a route into running that is becoming more common as these types of “races” gain popularity. Our motivation was provided by our love of minimalist shoes, wanting to get in shape for our wedding/honeymoon, running the 10K Haunted Hustle (not franchised, it just happens to involve a costume contest), and you, our Technically Running readers. That’s not to say that a high-budget franchised run isn’t a great way to get into running, but I recognize that our experience at the Color Me Rad run is likely different than it would be for someone who is new to running and/or new to racing.
By the time we finally got to the day of the event, I have to admit that we had almost lost interest (we even considered skipping it). Keep in mind that, at this point, it had been 2 years since these events became popular, so the excitement about their existence had basically worn off. Added to that, we’re in the final weeks of our marathon training, so a 5k fun run seems a bit trivial. Anyway, after dragging our butts out of bed, we decided to stop complaining and and not waste the $90 ($45 a piece) we’d spent on this race. We hopped in the car and drove over. Once we parked, we hustled over to the packet pick-up section to get our goody bags. One of the huge plusses for these themed runs is that they come with all kinds of SWAG, which adds to the fun. This particular goody bag included our bibs, our t-shirts, plastic sunglasses, and RAD tattoos (which I still can’t get off of the back of my leg). Of course, as soon as you’re done grabbing the gear included in your registration fee, you are immediately greeted by a table full of other branded stuff (junk?) for sale. The stuff on sale included Color Me Rad-branded running tutus, knee socks, bracelets, water bottles, and fanny packs, but the most annoying item for sale was the white t-shirts. That’s right, the race shirt included in your SWAG bag isn’t white, so you have to either purchase a new shirt for the run, or bring your own white shirt to get tie-dyed up, which wouldn’t be a problem if this wasn’t the most expensive 5K I’ve ever run in.
Once you are finished throwing your money at them, you make your way through the crowds of people to the corral and wait for your race to start, or you can hang out with the DJ and Ronald McDonald (some of the proceeds goto the Ronald McDonald House), while he screams about how awesome color packets are and showers the crowd with a colored powder-filled fire extinguisher. At this point my emotions were still on the fence, I was impressed by the free stuff, annoyed by the pay-for stuff, and unsure about the DJ-, Ronald McDonald-, color shower-, rave scene. But, I still had Meagan there, so we were able to enjoy some quality people-watching as we got elbow to elbow with some strangers and waited for the crazy DJ man to tell us to start running.
Once the run started, I quickly got annoyed again (I know I sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, but I have little patience) because we had a hard time separating from the pack due to the large number of children losing their parents, and not paying attention to the two 6 foot giants about to crush them. To add to my frustration, the terrain in the first stretch was through the front lawn of the Alliant Energy Center, which is very pitted and difficult to run on. This was especially concerning because it would have been really easy to roll an ankle on that terrain, and, since we are so far into our marathon training, my fear of injury is at an all-time high.
Alright, so after all of that complaining, I know what you’re thinking, “When does this become fun?” Well, less than 5 minutes into the run, we hit the first color station. The station was manned by 10 volunteers, each equipped with boxes full of the colored cornstarch, who were busy making a mess of the scene as runners lined up to get a splash of purple. As soon as the first color station was complete, I couldn’t wait to get to the next one. The 5k course included two water stations and five color stations, which represented the full range of the color spectrum (purple, green, pink, blue, and red) and included multiple different methods for coloring your once white shirt (color hose, color blaster, color packets, color cannons etc.).
If the five color stations during the run didn’t get you colorful enough, then the “Color Bomb” after the finish line should do the trick. As we left the finish line, we walked over to the crowd gathering near the designated color bomb area. This is where the aforementioned rave was going on, and is where my feelings about this event officially crossed over to excited, happy, and surprised. The DJ was still chock full of energy and was excited to spread his wealth of color packets to the crowd. Once most of the party had a color packet in their hands (we were handed a couple during the last few hundred feet of our run), he began to count down from ten, with the intent to cover the crowd in color. What ensued was a color explosion, hence the name, Color Bomb. To say the least, the experience was so entertaining that we stuck around long enough to get a second Color Bomb.
After we left the run and I had some time to think about the experience, I came up with the following opinions:
- Any organization that’s sole purpose is to motivate our fat American bodies to get off the couch and go for a run is a good organization in my eyes. The fact that some of the proceeds go to the Ronald McDonald House is just the icing on the rainbow-colored (confetti) cake.
- Themed runs provide a different type of motivation for people during a run. Rather than being focused on finishing, runners are focused on reaching the next obstacle, station, zombie, etc. as a form of entertainment. This, in turn, keeps their mind off the run and focuses it on a more exciting goal, while still encouraging people to be healthy.
- Big business still gets its taste on these. I’m not opposed to making a sale when it seems right. I’m all for having a pre-race event for local sponsors and stores to sell their products to the masses but when you spend $45 for a 5k, you’d expect that the shirt that comes with the goody bag to be the shirt you use for the run. Having to spend another $20 to buy a Color Me Rad branded white shirt is just plain silly. I’m not sure how the other themed races treat things like this, but I would be willing to bet there are some serious rip-offs that go along with the electric and zombie runs, too.
- For anyone considering an event like this, make sure you look at the course prior to the event. Running in uneven, pockmarked grass a month before your first marathon was a bit terrifying and if you have to do it in your race, you may want to practice beforehand because running in grass is a very different experience than on pavement.
- Themed runs are what you make of them. You can go in with a poor attitude and be pleasantly surprised (like I did), you can go with huge expectations and be drastically underwhelmed, or you can go in expecting nothing and form your own opinion. If you don’t do well with big crowds and don’t like acting foolish in front of other people, then a themed run is not the place for you.
To sum things up, I would say a theme run is a great place for a beginner. It gives them an easy first time experience of training for a race, picking up a race packet, standing in a corral, wearing a bib, and following a course. The biggest difference when switching over is that many of the themed runs don’t actually time you, so, in a real race, expect to be ranked against other runners. A seasoned runner may be completely unimpressed with the difficulty, given the short distance and the fact that we walked through many of the color stations. Will I ever sign up for another event like this again? Maybe, but probably not of my own accord. I would be willing to bet the next time I do a themed run will be via invite by a friend looking to start running. If you’re looking to help a friend try running, or if you’re trying to get yourself back into it, then a themed run is a great option just make sure you pick the right one.