You’re about to run a 5K, and everything from your shoelaces to your singlet sport a shade of florescent hue. Next to you, a runner stretches, and her glow-in-the-dark bracelets shine bright against the night sky. In front of you, another runner’s shoulder-length magenta wig peaks out beneath her oversized fuzzy hat.
Sound like one of those crazy dreams? Or even a rave? Think again — it’s just the setting of the Electric Run, a brand new race series that’s crisscrossing the country. Held at night, the race is set against the backdrop of a highly charged wonderland — think light installations, glowing neon trees, rainbow tunnels and thudding DJ beats streaming from giant speakers throughout the race. Runners are encouraged to wear their finest psychedelic gear; you’ll see everything from technicolor tutus to full-body glow suits as you trot along.
This definitely isn’t your typical 5K.
On the heels of the uber-popular mud obstacle runs like Tough Mudder and Muddy Buddy, novelty races like the Electric Run, The Color Run, Blacklight Run and others are cropping up just about everywhere, across the U.S. Want to be chased down by zombies? There’s a race for that. Want to be blasted with showers of colored corn starch? There’s a race for that too. A quick Google search will lead you to the sites of at least a dozen themed races, from the “Wipeout”-inspired ROC race (with giant water slides and monkey bars) to the aptly named Drenched 5K (where runners get doused with water guns, natch!). And thousands of runners are soaking up the fun.
“[These races] offer a non-threatening running environment,” says Jessica Nixon, a rep for The Color Run, which is set to host a sell-out crowd of 5,000 at the National Harbor in Washington D.C. on Sept. 22. “It’s the kind of event where both professional and novice runners can come together and enjoy the purity of the sport.”
Granted, these races are more about partying than clocking a PR. And running purists may turn up their noses at these non-traditional races, many of which don’t even include a finisher’s clock and reward participants for their costumes instead of quickness. But event organizers say what’s most important is the fact that they are tapping into a completely new demographic of runners and inspiring healthy, active lifestyles across the nation.
“Our type of event attracts people who may otherwise be intimidated by a race. There are many first timers and a lot of families, since strollers are allowed on the course,” says Lauren Jones, the marketing director for Drenched 5K, which has a dozen locations around the country. “We figured there are enough ‘hard-core’ competitive events out there — it’s time to go back to our childhood roots, throw some water balloons and let loose.”
As popular as they are now, are these races here to stay? It’s difficult to tell. But one thing’s for sure: Whether you’re getting blasted by a water gun or being chased down by zombies, you will never have more fun on the run.
This story originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic edition of the August issue of Competitor.