August 20, 2014 - 8:22 AM
A couple of years ago, I joined my daughter at the Colour Run, a popular 5K that sprays powdered paint on participants until their clothes, hair and skin sport a rainbow of colour. Intrigued by the burgeoning market of themed runs and by photos I’d seen on Facebook and Instagram, I gave it a try.
I wasn’t alone. The race was packed with people, many of whom were in costume or part of a large group of friends. As I looked around, it was pretty clear there were plenty of novice runners in the group. Many wore shoes not designed to pound the pavement and the starting line lacked the intensity veteran runners emote before the gun goes off. In its place was a party atmosphere that bespoke of the Colour Run’s claim to be the “Happiest 5K on the Planet.”
Back in the third wave of runners, the two of us positioned ourselves close to the front of the pack so we wouldn’t get jammed up in the crowd. When the gun went off, it didn’t take long to realize that the Colour Run was an event, not a run. The walkers significantly outnumbered the runners, with the route so packed with people and the pace so slow it was impossible to run the course. Clearly, the goal of the event wasn’t to run but to walk, shuffle or jog the distance while getting pelted with colour.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time — once I adjusted my attitude. But this 5K isn’t designed for runners looking for a workout.
Since then, the number of themed races has exploded and has been joined by a similar boost in popularity in obstacle racing with events like the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder pulling in a record number of participants and spawning a record number of copycat events.
But like my experience at the Colour Run, not all exercise enthusiasts know what they’re signing up for when they register for a themed race. And some, like CrossFit instructor Chelsea Privee, were disappointed with their experience.
Privee signed up for a Spartan Race thinking it would be a good test of the strength, speed and power she hones everyday at the gym. Marketed as an event designed to push your limits, test your strength and challenge your endurance, it has a reputation for being a kick-ass physical challenge. But it was nowhere near what she expected.
Not only was the race expensive and poorly organized, said Privee, she was turned off by the number of people who failed to complete the challenges. Instead, they flew through the course without finishing many of its toughest elements or its associated penalty of 30 burpees.
“I realize that some people are not as competitive as me, but for a race that claims to truly push people and athletes to the limits with super challenging obstacles, it does not live up to those claims and does not get people achieving that goal,” Privee said.
Despite her disappointment in the event, Privee should count herself lucky she wasn’t among the competitors at Tough Mudder events in Michigan and Nevada who picked up a severe gastrointestinal bug from crawling through mud puddles contaminated by traces of cow and pig manure.
Then there were the competitors at a Tough Mudder in Philadelphia who suffered injuries from a low-volt electrical current running through puddles designed to make the event more difficult. But the most tragic story related to obstacle racing is the death of a 28-year-old male who drowned during a Tough Mudder event in West Virginia after jumping into a puddle of muddy water from a 15-foot-high platform.
Death and injury are not unknown at competitive athletic events, but normally they’re the result of some kind of hidden health issue or from the strain of extreme effort, not the result of the race itself. But as the popularity of themed events rises and the number of copycat events also rise, standards get looser, which when combined with large crowds of people often unprepared for the physicality of the events, accidents happen.
But that’s not the only consequence of the boom in themed events. Lately, several events in the U.S. have folded before race day and didn’t refund registration fees. After receiving several complaints, the U.S.-based Better Business Bureau warns racers to check the fine print before signing up for a race. They also advise contacting the race venue to verify its stated location and to pay by credit card, which allows consumers to dispute charges. And if the event boasts a charitable connection, they suggest checking with the charity to make sure the claim and the charity are legitimate.
Racers should also expect a heftier registration fee for themed runs and obstacle course races as compared with a regular fun run. Typically, the more props and obstacles, the bigger the price tag. The Colour Run, which boasted more than one million participants worldwide in 2013, costs $60 per person ($50 early bird fee). The Spartan Race is $85 (with several early bird options) and the Tough Mudder is $195.
The bottom line is, do your homework before signing up for a themed race. You may also want to adjust your expectations if you’re used to competing in traditional road races or triathlons. One thing you shouldn’t adjust, however, is the expectation of a safe, well-run event.
No one wants to become a statistic in the next article about the dangers of themed races.
News from © Canada.com, 2014