It’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid the latest trend in running: thousands of people covering 5 kilometers in something other than a race.
The concept seems bizarre to those who think a trophy is a suitable reward for running a long distance well, as opposed to being doused in colored corn starch. Yet such events are attracting thousands of runners in cities across America. It deserves an examination for those who are at least curious.
“Color Me Rad” brought a few thousand people to Darien Lake in June. Next up on the calendar is “The Color Run,” which will bring several thousand to the waterfront on Aug. 17.
In the latter’s case, the idea dates back all the way to January 2012.
“Travis Snyder is the founder of The Color Run,” said Jessica Nixon of the organization’s staff. “He had 10 to 15 years of organizing athletic events behind him. He was involved beforehand in high-end events, such as triathlons and relay races.
“What he began to see that, although these events were very rewarding, the participants trained so hard that there was a lack of enjoyment. He wanted to start a fun run, something inspired by something like the old ‘Wonderful World of Color’ show from Disney.”
A course was set up in Tempe, Ariz., and 6,000 people turned out. That sort of success almost demanded similar events in other cities, and The Color Run had 50 such stagings in the United States over the course of 2012.
“It caught us by surprise,” said Alex Fowler, who will be directing the Buffalo version later this month, about the rapid growth. “We’ve gone from 10 full-time employees to 50.”
The company’s initial goal for 2013 was to reach 100 cities, and it will go sailing past that number with ease.
“We look at the population and location when we pick out cities. We don’t want to be doing two cities that are a half-hour apart,” Fowler said. “We reach out to a city and see the response – how they respond to Facebook posts, how government reacts. Buffalo has been incredible to work with. I’ve talked with the sports commission and special events committee there, and they’ve been great to work with.”
Runners are given a packet of colored corn starch and a white shirt. When they reach a kilometer marker, they are rewarded with a corn-starch shower. At the finish line, runners on cue throw their packet’s contents into the air to create a mosaic of color at the postrace party.
“A lot of our runners have never done a 5K. Sometimes it is their first organized athletic event,” Nixon said. “Lots of people pick The Color Run because they set it as an obtainable goal.”
Who does these events? The demographics say women (about 70 percent) and the young (18-35).
The national organization has worked with Fleet Feet in Buffalo for help in setting up some of the logistics, including the course. Part of the proceeds will go to Shoes on Students, a local charity that raises money to provide shoes for young runners. The Buffalo race also marks the beginning of an association between The Color Run and the Global Poverty Project.
This is not an inexpensive event, at least by typical Western New York running standards. The registration fee is $50, with a $5 discount for those on a four-person team. Fowler said he hopes to sell out the event by attracting 10,000 people.
If you think that’s expensive, a “Run for Your Lives” event in which participants do a 5K obstacle course while avoiding “zombies” is coming up in Batavia. It costs $97 and will also be held Aug. 17. The “Buffalo Zombie Mud Run” checks in at $55 for its September staging in Clarence.
As you might expect, the idea of untimed group runs hasn’t gone over well with dedicated racers. Internet message boards have carried some venomous posts about the idea, and other competitive runners will find something else to do Aug. 17. That’s not to say there aren’t benefits to the sport of running.
“I’d never do one of them, because I take the races too seriously,” one very active runner said. “But it’s a way for people to try the sport. They don’t feel intimidated by what a 5K might do. It could be a stepping stone to other races.”
Mary Wittenberg, head of New York Road Runners, has expressed similar thoughts. She says she is for anything that gets people into running shoes and out the door.
Even the most dedicated racer can agree with that sentiment.
• EVL-9 and EVL-4 Trail Runs, Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, 9:30 a.m. today, 574-0888.
• Telegraph Road Race, 11714 Telegraph Road in Medina, 2 p.m. Sunday, 549-5100.
• The Mud Run, 6.5K, S. Feddick Road in Boston, 6:30 p.m. Monday, 941-1004.
• GBTC 5,000-Meter Track Race, Crosby Field in Kenmore, 6 p.m. Wednesday.
• Run for Hope 5K, Lincoln Park in Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 834-9028.
• Dunkirk Lakefront 5K, 30 Lake Shore Drive East in Dunkirk, 9 a.m. Saturday.
• Erie County Fair 5K, Fairgrounds in Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 649-3900.
• Christine Padasak Memorial Autism Awareness 5K, 393 North St. in Springville, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 949-4072.
• Stephen’s Cross-Country Run, 6K, Long Point State Park in Bemus Point, 9 a.m. Aug. 11, 488-0788.