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Get happy: Overview of the 2013 Color Run

On Sunday my husband and I ran a 5K called the Color Run, which is inspired in part by the Indian festival Holi.

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Steve and Claire

On Sunday my husband and I ran a 5K called the Color Run, which is inspired in part by the Indian festival Holi. The theme of the run is “Happy” (hence the “Happy” tattoos I received with our packet pickup) and along the run bursts of colored cornstarch are thrown at you. The idea is that the runners wear all white, and then by the end of the race it’s a messy, colorful joyful mess, with a party featuring even more bursts of color. If you’re still white by the end of the race, you’re doing it wrong (isn’t that just the theme of life, really?)
A friend told me she was running the race and so I signed up, remembering the happy expressions and ruined shirts of post-Color-Run runners from a few years ago. I had a few reservations pre-run, though. Earlier this spring my friends and I ran another untimed, “happy” gimmick race called the Rave Run where the idea was that the runners race in the dark, lit up by 5Ks worth of light show and glowing apparel. However, an unlit run at night on an uneven surface (the downtown lakefront) was a very poor idea, and the light show we were promised was pretty paltry.


I am certainly not a very serious runner, but I was also a little irritated by the number of people present who seemed more interested in Instagramming the event than actually making their way down the path. Meanwhile, at the packet pickup for the Color Run (which, annoyingly, was in Grant Park and sucked for anyone who had to park), there was a swag-for-sale tent, encouraging runners (girls especially), to pick up silly running items like tutus and kneesocks and goofy sunglasses. I definitely think it’s fun when runners dress up for races and treat it like a party but I never realized that I have a bit of a snobbish point of view in that it’s fun when runners DIY it, but it feels mercenary when a for-profit 5K makes extra bucks by selling costumery that will never be worn again post-race. I am aware that I am cranky, however, and I shouldn’t begrudge people their right to make their race fun their way.

Regardless, I slapped two “Happy” tattoos on the backs of my legs and we lined up to run Sunday morning. The race had a rolling starting line, which I liked because it worked well: we had the option of showing up anytime during a specific window, instead of for a specific start time (races never start at the start time, unless you’re one of the elite runners up front.)
Again, the swag factor was huge: the emcee letting out waves of runners threw out lots of free stuff and promised us the chance to get our photo taken with a new Chevy (the main sponsor.) This was a bit eyeroll inducing. But, whatever. Happy!
A friend of mine who was running her first 5K was worried about being undertrained for the race, but I’d say probably half as many people walked as ran, which I had no problem with except people never obey the request that runners stay the left, walkers, right. I tried to run the entire thing but I had to dodge a lot of walkers.

After running down from Madison to Randolph and back, I ran through the first color zone, which is where the fun starts. Volunteers throw and squirt the colored powder at the runners, which is delightful (the powder has the smell and feel of talc). While the run organizers suggest people who don’t wish to be too powdered stick to the middle of the route, I don’t remember seeing anyone who did this.

EVERYONE wanted the color, to the point where at the yellow station, (I ran through, orange, yellow, pink and blue), there was a bottleneck as people slowed down to collect their color. If I were feeling super-competitive that day I would have been annoyed but the temperature was already in the 80’s so I didn’t mind a little break.


One part of the race that could have used some improvement was water dispersal. I was feeling competitive enough to skip the super-crowded water station on the route because I figured I’d get water at the end of the race. However, the water table after the finish line was also too crowded to penetrate in a timely manner. I feel like water should be the one thing you should have no problem accessing after a race. I also didn’t see any food handouts either, such as bananas. There was a tent where you could line up and get a free bottle of coconut water but coconut water is for people with no taste buds. So the water situation was a little bit lacking.

After the race I met up with my husband, who is not quite as enthusiastic a runner as I am. He was proud of himself for running the whole thing. And, to my surprise, suggested heading to the post-party for a little bit, where, periodically, cannons shot out Costco-sized loads of color. My husband, and I say this lovingly, can sometimes be a bit of a hater—if you want to talk smack about something a lot of people like that he dislikes for that very reason, he is usually your guy. But I was happy to enter the party zone with him.

Steve on the bus

There’s something undeniably childish and awesome about dancing to loud music in a big blinding cloud of colorful dust while totally sober and dirty. For a few moments visibility was nil and it was a hot sweaty claustrophobic mess but it was wonderful (I was especially happy to get some new bursts of color on me because my color had mixed into a muddy greenish brown by the time I was all done.)

Afterwards, we did get our photo taken in the Chevy tent after all and uploaded pictures of us to social media despite of, not because of, the DJ exhorting everyone there to do so. We gave into the fun, sponsorships and all. Then took the bus home. I highly recommend, at least once in your life, being one of the weirdest looking people on the bus for once. It will make you realize how strenuously people have been trained to ignore CTA oddness.

In all, despite the commercialism and organizational snafus, I did have a great time on the Color Run and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for some good clean dirty non-competitive athletic fun. I think it would be fun to take the kid to it in a few years. And yes, I did get most of the color out of our clothes, although it’s been two full days since the race and I am still coming up with blue boogers.

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