Race Review: The Color Fun Fest 5K

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Color Fun Fest: Before and After. Like other runs of this type, the Color Fun Fest brings the elements of the ancient Hindu spring festival of Holi. Photo credit: Herb Keyser.

Last weekend I had the chance to participate in my first “color run.”

“Oh! Which one? The Color Run? Run or Dye? Color Me Rad? The Graffiti Run?”

No, none of those. I had the chance to participate in the Color Fun Fest 5K on its stop in Colorado Springs.

The event markets itself as a family-friendly combination of the ancient Hindu Holi festival with heavy electronica music. During Holi, which is traditionally celebrated near the vernal equinox, friends and families celebrate love and good friendship. One of the Holi traditions is tossing of colored powders.

You will feel this energy during the Color Fun Fest. Participants run a 5K race while having colored cornstarch tossed at them approximately every mile. It’s a relatively new event making its way around the U.S., and I think once it works out some growing pains, it has the potential to be a successful running event series. Read on for details about my family’s experience.

Registration Like many other 5K races, the sooner you register, the better. Color Fun Fest has numerous promotions throughout the year. As of this writing, there was a “Girls’ Night Out” promotion using the promo code GIRLSNIGHT. However, it is expiring this week. You can choose a daytime race, which is in the late afternoon, or an evening race that starts near sunset.

The registration costs are comparable to other races of this type: $25-30 per person for early registration, with the costs skyrocketing up to $60-75 within a couple days of the race itself. Unlike other color races, kids race for FREE! This is very appealing to my family now that our sons are old enough to run their own 5K races. You will pay a small service fee for the online registration, and the kids won’t get a race t-shirt of his/her own, but that’s okay. We will just put our sons in white Hanes undershirts. Once you finish with individual registration, you will have to endure several pages of options to “add on” other race items, such as glow sticks, deely-boppers, socks, tutus, and other types of race t-shirts. I didn’t choose any of these items, I merely wanted a basic registration for the members of my family.

Preparing to Race

You can find oodles of blog posts with tips on how to make a color run fun without ruining your car’s upholstery or your home’s carpet. I heeded some of those tips, throwing a pile of old towels into the car before the race. As for clothing, make sure you wear clothing that you don’t mind possibly permanently ruining with some of the more intense cornstarch colors.

I picked some older running shorts and made sure we all wore older running shoes. I had skipped the pages upon pages of race registration add-ons because I could simply pay a trip to the dollar store or party supply store for less-expensive glow sticks, tutus, and silly sunglasses. I got everything I needed for $10 from my local Dollar Tree.

Packet Pick Up

I’ve noticed that for several of these races in the series, the packet pick up is the day prior at a local sports store. For this past weekend’s event, the packet pickup was at Sport Authority right up the street from the event location. For the first time in the dozens of races I’ve experienced, there was a $5 fee to pick up your packet on race day.

The pickup experience was okay. Nothing remarkable. You pick up your bib, packet of colored cornstarch, and t-shirt, which were included with registration. If you purchased any add-ons, such as a tutu or glow sticks, those were available to pick up also. My bag had a $10 Sports Authority coupon. That was it. For a $30-60 registration, I felt like the Color Fun Fest could have worked better with sponsors. I would have loved to have seen discounts from vendors, or maybe samples of glow sticks or day glow socks. Even in the most simple of 5Ks (such as a basic one on an Air Force base), someone works on donated swag for the racers.

The Race Course

The Colorado Springs Color Fun Fest course’s entirety was on the grounds of the World Ice Arena, home of USA Hockey and the Colorado College Tigers hockey team. We ran on the property’s service roads and then zig zagged across the parking lot. I figured constraining the course to the parking lots and service roads helped with keeping the colored powders off of other properties. Perhaps it was the city of Colorado Springs making this restriction. However I did look at the upcoming “The Color Run” course this September and that race will be downtown, colored powder and all.

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The Colorado Springs Color Fun Fest course at the World Ice Arena. It was full of switchbacks that caused some incredible bottlenecks. Read on and I’ll tell you why else this didn’t work out so well. Image: Color Fun Fest website.

The Pre-Party

My family arrived pretty early, so it was nearly devoid of runners. The day race had ended about 90 minutes prior to our arrival, and there were only a couple runners left from that time period. According to the website, “Along with the most vibrant 5K course around, Color Fun Fest 5K will also feature a massive finish-line festival featuring live DJs, vendors, food, and the monumental EPICOLOR TOSS at 3:45 pm, 5:15 pm, 7:45 pm, and 9:15 pm.

There weren’t a lot of vendors or food. I saw the local Buffalo Wild Wings set up, and a couple other local vendors selling hot dogs and cold beverages. The DJ was playing hard electronica music, and the kids enjoyed dancing to it. As more people arrived, they were also dancing up by the stage. Within the 30 minutes before the event, most of the runners were present and the environment seemed more like a 1990s rave between the colors and music. We enjoyed the energy it conveyed. Unfortunately, some of the music the DJ was playing wasn’t quite family friendly; we heard the “f-word” in a couple of the songs. There were hundreds of children present, including preschoolers and toddlers in strollers. Event planners need to keep that in mind.

The Color Fun Fest pre-race party energy was high. We all enjoyed dancing to the electronica music. I recommend the DJs try to stick to the rated-PG songs, though. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Color Fun Fest pre-race party energy was high. We all enjoyed dancing to the electronica music. I recommend the DJs try to stick to the rated-PG songs, though. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The Race Itself

If I didn’t say it earlier in the post, I will say it now: This is not a race. This is a 5K “fun run” and you can expect the majority of participants to not be taking this seriously. Be prepared for those right at the front when the gun goes off to start the race walking, and if you are planning to run the course, you will have a lot of zig-zagging around slower people. If you go into this race with plans to just have a good time and not worry about running “PRs” (personal records), you’re fine. There are no timing chips nor is there even a clock timing runners progress. My analytical oldest son had a hard time with this. We didn’t start the race on time either. It was supposed to be an 8pm start, but it was more like 8:10pm. I’m not completely sure what the delay was. When it was 8:09pm and we still hadn’t started, I began to get worried for the kids’ sake. But at 8:10pm we were on our way.

Before and after the day and night races, there were “EPIC Color Tosses”. This was a period where we were showered with colored powders, and we could launch the free packets of powder we received with race registration. At several locations along the race route, there were race volunteers keeping the powder coming. We were doused pretty well at each of the locations. If you breathe too deeply at these locations, you can inhale quite a bit of the powder. I’m pretty sure it’s harmless (but uncomfortable) for most people, but if you’re an asthmatic or have other breathing disorders, this could be a bad situation.

This was one of the numerous color toss stations along the route. Hold your breath while running through and you won't inhale the cornstarch! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
This was one of the numerous color toss stations along the route. Hold your breath while running through and you won’t inhale the cornstarch! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

There is one water station on the route. This is appropriate for a 5K race. We were given room-temperature bottles of water. Numerous bottles with one sip taken were tossed about, which I found wasteful, or else you were stuck running with most of a bottle of water (which I did). While I was annoyed at first with the entire bottles of water as opposed to cups of water, I understand that the colored powder could get into open cups of water. I think the event planners could work better on keeping the water cold. It was a warm day in Colorado Springs.

We all enjoyed the music on the route. We could hear it well throughout the run.

Now, for the route. As I’d shown in the section above, much of the race route consisted of zig-zags across the large World Arena parking lot, with our paths bounded by orange traffic cones. I’m pretty certain someone in the lead took a wrong turn among the cones and the 3100 entrants followed the wrong route behind him/her. Therefore, in my group, the longest measured route (based on our assorted GPS apps) was only 2.56 miles. So we didn’t really run a 5K. I was pretty upset by this. I learned this fact while I was sipping my lukewarm bottled water, watching the huge lines develop at the three food vendors. While our first instinct was to blame poor route planning, I think a more accurate issue would be the lack of race volunteers along the route pointing us in the right direction.

The Post-Party

The post-party was very similar to the pre-party. The music continued to play and people continued to dance near the stage. Unfortunately, my kids were pretty hungry, so our group left before the 9:15pm EPIC Color Toss so we could get them food and cold beverages without the long lines.

Charity

As of this writing, I’m still awaiting word on how much money from the Colorado Springs entrance fees will be donated to the Color Fun Fest’s two charities: Free Arts for Abused Children and HopeKids. The Color Fun Fest website suggests that the organization also donates to “local non-profit” charities, but so far I haven’t seen evidence of any donations other than to the two national-level charities listed above. I’m hoping this is just a matter of Color Fun Fest being a new race series, and that the race coordinators can soon make arrangements with local charities. They will garner much more local interest in this race series by doing so.

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Smile, enjoy the energy, and get some exercise while you’re at it! Photo: Dave Vollmer.

Conclusions 

I suggest you give the Color Fun Fest a chance. It’s a new series, and I have hope that it will continue to improve in the next year or so. I read one of the series’ first independent blog reviews from this past spring, and I was pleased to see that they took the reviewer’s suggestions seriously. Be sure to keep up with the event’s website to see if Color Fun Fest is coming to a city year you.

My family received complimentary race admission for the Colorado Springs Color Fun Fest on August 16, 2014.

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Patricia Vollmer is the proud mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 12 & 14. She serves part time as a meteorologist with the Air Force Reserve and is currently assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, sharing her love for Disney and Star Wars, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.