Ever wonder what it feels like to run through a rainbow? Over the past seven years, color runs—ranging from black-light events to bubble pits—have been springing up all over the country.
The Color Run or “the world’s first Color 5K and Color Dash event” began in 2011 with the mission to “bring people together and make the world a happier, healthier place.” This event is an untimed 5K with tour dates in over 30 states and only two rules for participation: “1: Wear white at the starting line! 2: Finish plastered in color!” In addition to the joys of being “doused from head to toe in different colors,” the run ends with a “Finish Festival” that includes music, dancing, and even more paint.
With its four pillars—healthiness, happiness, individuality, and giving back—Color Run focuses on “improving health and wellness,” spreading joy to its participants, catering to runners of varying levels and lifestyles, and partnering with charities. A few such charity partners have included the Boys and Girls Club, United Way, and Mental Health Associations.
Of course, not all color runs are the same. If you’re interested in something with more of a rave vibe and a heavier emphasis on charity, the Blacklight Run may be just the thing for you. Unlike the Color Run, the Blacklight Run is a night run that uses black lights and “UV Glow Powder.” Before the race, each participant receives a t-shirt, a temporary tattoo, a race bib, a glow pack, and a donation to a local charity.
The Blacklight Run reaches beyond just spreading joy to its participants and aims to raise donations for children’s cancer research. “To do our part to help these children and their families, the Blacklight Run takes pride in working with and donating to local children’s charities,” their website states. “Each and every one of our races is dedicated to spreading the word about childhood cancer, and each and every one of our runners makes that possible.” Over the course of the year, the run is hosted in dozens of cities across the country, so there are plenty of chances to check out the 5K.
A close cousin of the Color Run and the Blacklight Run, the Bubble Run is a 5K with chest-high foam and bubble pits. “Each kilometer, participants will run through the Foam Bogs,” their website explains, “where there is enough colored foam to cover you from head to toe! Each of the four Foam Bogs are represented by a different colored foam.” They also note that although the foam doesn’t taste great, if runners do end up with a little in their mouths, there’s no danger, as “the foam is 100% safe.” Like the Color Run, Bubble Run partners with charities to increase awareness of various causes and “shine a light on important issues.”
As fun as all of these runs are, they’ve run into some controversy over the years. In the Hindu religion, Holi is a festival of spring—and more specifically, a celebration of the love between Krishna and Radha—in which the Hindu people light bonfires and throw colored powder in the streets. Unfortunately, many participants in color runs are unaware of the religious connotation, leaving many people feeling as though their religion and culture is being used for profit.
In a 2012 article posted in Brown Girl Magazine, Nadya Agrawal explains the way in which color runs have been “co-opted” for personal use. “There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs,” she writes. “There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from.” She goes on to emphasize that there is no “mention of India, Holi, Krishna, or even spring” on the run websites.
While Agrawal makes some very important points, Elizabeth Flock too delves into the issue in an article posted on The Hindu, questioning “whether the original meaning of something […] is mocked, distorted or lost when it is copied.” After interviewing both Hindu and non-Hindu participants, she acknowledges that she “couldn’t help feeling like something was missing from the day,” but also that like Holi, a color run is an opportunity for joy and celebration: “When I ask [the participant] how much of the event is inspired by Holi, she pauses. ‘Well, I’d be lying if I said I knew the answer to that,’ she said. ‘But it’s for families to enjoy a day out.’ Which, I think to myself, is a part of what Holi is about too.”
If you do decide to participate in a color run, be sure to check out their websites and find a charity to partner with. And just as importantly, consider taking it as an opportunity to learn more about a different culture. Research the history, read about Holi, and you may find yourself with an experience that’s not only fun, but also educational and enriching.