published Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Kaeidoscope of fitness: Charitable 5K color runs turn people into organic tie-dyed works of art

Organizers of Color the Curve, an upcoming color run in Chattanooga to benefit scoliosis research, create a vibrant cloud from the colored cornstarch that is tossed at color run participants.
Organizers of Color the Curve, an upcoming color run in Chattanooga to benefit scoliosis research, create a vibrant cloud from the colored cornstarch that is tossed at color run participants.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASH ME PINK COLOR RUN

• When: 9 a.m. March 9

• Starting/finish line: 1104 Redwine Cove Road, Dalton, Ga.

• Length: 5K run/walk and 1-mile kids' fun run

• Benefiting: Susan G. Komen for the Cure

• Age range: All ages

• Registration: $30 for the 5K; $20 for 1-mile fun run

• Website: www.washmepinkkomen.com

COLOR ME RAD CHATTANOOGA

• When: 9 a.m. March 30

• Starting/finish line: Finley Stadium, 1826 Carter St.

• Length: 5K run/walk

• Benefiting: Make-A-Wish East Tennessee Foundation

• Age range: All ages, but 18 and under must have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian

• Registration: $40 until Feb. 22; $45 Feb. 22-March 22; free ages 7 and under

• Website: www.colormerad.com/races/chattanooga

COLOR ME CHATTANOOGA

• When: 3 p.m. April 6

• Starting line: AT&T Field, 201 Power Alley

• Finish line: The Chattanooga Green, 191 Chestnut St.

• Length: 5K run/walk

• Benefiting: Signal Centers

• Age range: All ages

• Registration: $35 adults; $10 ages 10 and under. Early registration ends March 15

• Website: www.colormechattanooga.org

COLOR THE CURVE

• When: 9 a.m. June 8

• Starting/finish line: Greenway Farms, North Chickamauga Creek Greenway, 5051 Gann Store Road

• Length: 5K race and 1-mile fun run

• Benefiting: The National Scoliosis Foundation

• Age range: All ages

• Registration: $45; $160 teams of four

• Website: www.colorthecurve.com

ZOE'S RAINBOW DASH

• When: 8 a.m. July 4

• Starting/finish line: Hamilton Place mall, 2100 Hamilton Place Blvd.

• Length: 5K run/walk

• Benefiting: Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga, Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga, T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger, The Bethlehem Center, New Richland Area Food Shelf Trinity Lutheran Church (New Richland, Minn.)

• Age range: All ages

• Registration: $35 for individuals 13 and up; $20 ages 5-12; free ages 5 and under run. Pre-registration ends March 31, after which prices increase by $5

• Website: www.zoesrainbowdash.com

To its critics, running is the blandest kind of exercise, a monotonous plod from one location to another or, even more damningly, in place on a treadmill.

Lately, however, Americans have been spicing up the activity with color -- a lot of it.

So-called color runs began popping up in cities across the country last year, combining non-competitive jogs with clouds of non-toxic, colored cornstarch that turn participants into moving psychedelic canvasses. By the finish line, a color-run field usually looks like it engaged in a fistfight with a rainbow.

Five of these events are set to take place in Chattanooga before mid-summer, a trend color-run fans say speaks to the activity's all-inclusive spirit.

"This is something everyone can do, and that's the attraction of it. You can be in a wheelchair and do this, so long as you don't mind getting some cornstarch on it," says Donna McConnico, CEO of Signal Centers, which will host the inaugural Color Me Chattanooga run on April 6.

With only slight variations, most color runs have several characteristics in common.

Participants of all ages wear white or off-white clothing, whether running shorts and shirts or tank tops and tutus. At regular intervals along the course -- generally 5Ks or 1-mile fun runs -- groups of volunteers and occasionally onlookers from the crowd douse entrants with colored cornstarch. The starch, which is non-toxic and non-irritating, adheres to clothing and exposed skin so that runners eventually all look tie-dyed.

Color runs share many parallels with Holi, a Hindu festival, during which celebrants signify the death of winter and rebirth of spring by throwing colored powder at each other. This March will mark the inaugural Festival of Colors Run in Singapore, directly tying a 5K color run with a Holi celebration.

Last fall, after deciding Signal Centers would host a color run in 2013, McConnico says she decided to experience one from the runner's perspective. She entered a Charlotte event in November hosted by Color Run, one of two national organizers for the events alongside Color Me Rad, which will bring its first run to Chattanooga on March 30.

Like most color runs, the Charlotte run was not timed and included music, concessions and prize giveaways. McConnico says it was less stressful and decidedly more fun than traditional sporting events.

"It's like a big party," she says. "There's music and no one takes it very seriously. I thought it was a blast."

Organizers of Chattanooga's color runs say they anticipate race fields ranging from a few hundred in Wash Me Pink on March 9 to as many as 2,000-4,000 in Color Me Chattanooga.

Participants in events in other cities say the carefree, non-competitive spirit of color runs is what attracted them.

When he entered the Knoxville Color Me Rad run last October, Chattanooga native and University of Tennessee student Collin Thompson, 19, says he appreciated that it wasn't possible to "win" the event.

"It wasn't a competitive race -- no first or last place -- no one cared," he says.

Participants say they were drawn to color runs' charitable roots. The nationwide touring events, such as Color Me Rad and The Color Run, donate proceeds to an area charity. Many independent local organizations also recently have seized upon color runs as a novel way to engage the community.

All net proceeds from the Color Me Chattanooga run will be funneled into Signal Centers' programming. Other runs in the next few months will similarly benefit their partner organizations, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Wash Me Pink Color Run), Make-A-Wish East Tennessee (Color Me Rad Chattanooga) and the National Scoliosis Foundation (Color the Curve).

Zoe's Rainbow Dash, set for July 4, is being organized in memory of Zoe Madeline McDonough and her grandmother, Sue McDonough, who died when their family's double-decker pontoon boat overturned during a storm last July on Chickamauga Lake. Proceeds from the run will benefit a wide range of charities, including one in New Richland, Minn., where Sue McDonough lived.

Scenic City Multisport is managing both Wash Me Pink and Color the Curve. Ken Radley, the athletic event organizer's director, says color runs are great way to engage the public in activism and be healthy without a steep learning curve.

"With a color run, it's not intimidating," Radley says. "But it does get you off the couch, so even if you just walk it, you've still done a 5K. That might encourage you to do another one and try to get a better time, so it's the perfect gateway drug."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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