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The Color Run: The latest in a new wave of fun runs
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The Color Run: The latest in a new wave of fun runs

IRVINE, Calif. — As a young Michael Jackson sang
about how we “wanna be startin’ somethin’,” I couldn’t
resist.

I laid down on my back and moved my arms furiously like I
was making a snow angel. Only instead of moving
snowflakes, I was pushing piles of colored cornstarch with
my limbs.

“It’s a rainbow angel!” I yelled. My now 13-year-old
stopped, stared at me for only a moment, and then she
turned and ran away, laughing, obviously embarrassed and
murmuring something about her mom being weird. I jumped up
and chased her down.

“You can’t ditch me now, kid,” I said, grinning down at
her green and pink face during the April 28 race. “You got
me into this, and now you have to run with the monster you
created.”

She shook her head and then looked at me with a bit of
panic. “Just please don’t dance, Mom, please,” she said, a
hint of desperation mixed with laughter. Note to
teenagers: Never, never give your mother ammunition like
this.

******

Travis Snyder did not set out to convince the world that
running isn’t always about the finish time. It isn’t
always about the pain, the PR (personal record, for you
non-runners) or the podium. Snyder didn’t set out to show
the world that because he didn’t know it himself.

“I was a pretty intense runner, triathlete,” said Snyder,
who started the Color Run 5K races in January of this
year. “My wife got her master’s in exercise science and I
was her guinea pig.”

Yes, he was that guy obsessed with shaving seconds,
finding more efficient ways to train and achieving
whatever goal it is that he’d set for himself when he
signed up for a race. Then he made a decision that would
take him on a different path.

“I decided to stage my first event,” said the Brigham
Young University graduate. “I was still in school and we
did it just for fun. It was the Salem Spring Triathlon,
and a couple hundred people came out. From there I kind of
entered a spiral where we added more events.”

He was part of the team that created the Red Rock Relay in
Moab (May) and in St. George (September). His former
business partner still runs those very popular events, and
interestingly, they attract both serious runners and new
or casual joggers. But Snyder didn’t begin staging races
with any grand ideas. He said there is simply something
uniquely satisfying about offering athletes the
opportunity to test themselves.

“There are really high highs and potentially low lows,” he
said. “It’s kind of a beautiful thing to think that you
are offering something that these people everywhere are
thinking of and training for. One or two events kind of
drive their everyday activity.”

Snyder says being part of the pinnacle of that goal is an
experience unlike anything else. “The event day is a
beautiful opportunity for someone to realize the
manifestation of their work.”

He understands the competitive drive. As he participated
— either as an athlete or a race director in
competitive endurance events — he began to see
something unexpected.

“The more I’m in it, the more I realize it’s a lot less
about (the competition) and a lot more about the everyday
activity of living a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Signing up for the race was the goal that kept people
motivated to make more healthy life choices for the weeks
and months leading up to the event. Despite the
camaraderie that accompanies most endurance events, the
preparation for race day can be a solitary endeavor.

“Think about it, even someone who is a crazy event person,
signing up right and left,” he said. “Ninety percent of
the work is still done by themselves on a running path, a
treadmill or a bike. The event provides the framework for
people to map out goals and have fun.”

Snyder and his wife started discussing ways to get more
people involved in races and events when they stumbled
onto the idea of the Color Run.

“I really was starting to search for something that was
more of a recruiter,” he said. “Something less threatening
to someone who was less active.”

The Color Run is just the latest in a new breed of events
marketed as more to non- or new runners. In fact, some
serious runners avoid events like the Color Run precisely
because they’re not physically challenging enough. But
Snyder believes even serious runners will find a place for
events like this in their lives if they shift their
mindset just a little.

“For a more serious runner it can be a break,” he said.
“It can also be something a runner can do with a less
active friend of family member. That’s really where the
bulk of our growth has come.”

A Color Run is a 5K that starts in waves every 15 or 20
minutes, with color stations at each kilometer. At the one
my daughter and I ran, yellow was first then green, pink
and purple.

Everyone received a color packet in their bag — and
a white T-shirt — and at the end of the race, there
are color throws every 20 minutes or so. They had music,
dancing, snacks and an air blaster that takes the majority
of the non-toxic color off of your skin and clothes.
(Although, if you sweat, it seems to stick a little
longer.)

No one can deny the popularity of these kinds of events.
The Dirty Dash, a Utah-based series of runs through mud
and usually other mud-covered obstacles, sold out to more
than 6,000 runners in its first weekend two years ago. Now
it boasts 13 races (usually sold out) in seven western
states.

Wasat Leishman, who owns Wasatch Area Race Productions,
has spent his career staging serious, competitive events,
including the USA National Triathlon Championships. But a
couple of years ago, he began to see the hunger for a
different kind of “race.” So last year he started Kiss Me
Dirty, which is an all-women’s mud run, and the Pride Day
5K. Kiss Me Dirty sold out and actually out-grew its first
venue, Wheeler Farm. WARP officials decided to offer two
dates in two different locations, one in Salt Lake County
and one in Ogden.

“We wanted to be different, special and unique,” Leishman
said. “The feel and texture of these all-women’s events is
really special.” Leishman decided to try and adapt the mud
run concept to one of Utah’s most famous natural resources
— the greatest snow on earth. He held a “Lick the
Pole 5K,” which was an obstacle-laden 5K course at Soldier
Hollow that paid homage to the movie “A Christmas Story.”
Both Leishman and Snyder believe creative minds will offer
more of these events, even while there is an increase in
the number of serious, competitive events as well.

“It’s a totally different market,” said Leishman. “In the
current environment, everybody is looking for something
fun and different. If you’ve never done a triathlon, it is
a fun an energetic environment.”

But as the event director for the USA National
championships in the sport for two years, he said there is
an almost insatiable demand for events that market fun
first, fitness second.

“The market is currently craving more of a party
atmosphere,” he said. “The Color Run is a really creative
idea.”

It takes the Hindu concept of a spring color festival and
marries it with the traditional 5K. Utahns will likely
have plenty of opportunity to try the new race as Snyder
is hoping to stage a Color Run in Utah in the next year,
and another company, also Utah-based, started the same
type of 5K called Color Me Rad. That series debuted in
Utah on April 28 at Utah Valley University with a sold-out
race (about 4,000 people).

Snyder said the gap between events focused on fun and
events centered around competition isn’t as wide as some
may initially believe.

“I don’t think they are that different,” said Snyder.
“Both of them fulfill a completely different set of
satisfactions.”

“There is something really awesome about making a goal to
run a sub-20 minute 5K and doing it,” he continued. “That
has a distinct set of satisfactions and highs. But going
and doing the Color Run, it’s much more about being
social, a little more about the experience and just about
being. It’s a lot less about expectation; it’s just about
fun.”

In fact, Snyder has heard from serious runners who were
roped into his Color Runs. One Texas man explained that
while he was initially irritated to learn that the 5K
would not be timed, his mood shifted as he stood with
“thousands of people dressed in white, smiling and happy.”

“He turned off his watch and just ran,” he said. “He told
me it was one of the most beautiful running experiences.
The pure innocence of it came back to him on that
morning.”

Snyder said 60 percent of those who sign up for the Color
Run have never done a 5K. His hope is that it shows them
that the sport isn’t just about pain or sacrifice. It’s
also about health and living a more active lifestyle.

“People are surprised it was three miles,” he said. “These
first-time runners suddenly realize, ‘I can actually run
three miles.'” And knowing it’s a possibility could open
the door to other experiences.

*****

It was somewhere between pink and purple that my daughter
said it. I tried not to make a big deal about it. But just
like a gardener who knows he’s about to experience a
special harvest, I knew the seed that would change her
life had been planted on a former military base on a
cloudy, cool California morning in April.

“This is the best 5K of my life,” she said running
sideways, grinning and giggling. “I love running!”

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com
Twitter: adonsports