Want to kick a road race up a notch? Just add color.
Color runs, also known as powder races or paint races, are trending on the 5K and benefit fun run circuits.
Last month, the trend hit Pittsfield as Berkshire County Kids' Place added a mile-long "Colors For Kids" non-competitive fun run/walk to its traditional annual 5K benefit road race to end child abuse. This Saturday, the Pittsfield Family YMCA will host its first "Tie Dye Dash" a 5K benefit fun run to be held in Burbank Park.
For this style of race, runners show up wearing white or light colors. As they run the course, spectators toss non-toxic, dyed powders or cornstarch at the racers, who finish looking like rainbows.
"It makes everyone a human canvas," said Kaylyn Kern, youth and adult wellness director for the Pittsfield Family YMCA.
Over the past year in her new position, Kern said she has been "thinking about different fundraisers we could be doing and how we could get our community up and moving and active" in a way that wasn't necessarily competitive.
"Bringing in the color for us was a way to make it fun or creative, to add a little flair," she said. "If that's what inspires people to get up and get moving, it's wonderful."
Various organizations have popped up across the country and around the globe, branding this festive and vibrant style of road race.
According to The Color Run website, this style of race was "inspired by several awesome events, including Disney's World of Color, Paint Parties, Mud Runs and festivals throughout the world such as Holi."
Holi is a Hindu spring festival that is celebrated throughout northern India, but has also become more secularized and celebrated around the world by non-Hindus, particularly on college campuses. The celebration, which begins after the last full moon of the lunar month known as Phalguna, coincided this year with St. Patrick's Day, March 17.
Bonfires are lit in the early morning to symbolize the destruction of the demoness Holika, who, according to mythology, tried to destroy the young prince Prahlad, a devotee of Vishnu, the god responsible for protecting the universe. In essence, Holi is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil, of welcoming the light of spring over the dark of winter. And, as the color runs have adopted, it is an occasion to be celebrated in a bright, energetic, lively manner. Colored powders, known as gulal, and water guns filled with dyed water are used to douse the crowds.
Kern said Saturday's race will use non-toxic, biodegradable powders, which volunteers will toss at runners as they pass through five "splash zones." Registered runners will also receive sunglasses to help protect from getting powder in their eyes.
"We did a [trial] day last week and it was so much fun. It feels like getting a dust of wind at you, which might feel good to people after running for awhile," she said.
Various runners and websites suggest the following to participants:
n Wear white.
n For protection, wear sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes. Bandanas or dust masks can protect the nose and mouth. People who have sensitive skin or are allergic to cornstarch should avoid racing.
n Though the color tends to wash off pretty easily, it can stain. Bring a towel and change of clothes for after the race, and bring a towel or plastic for your car and the ride home.
n If you're a spectator taking photos, keep your camera in a clear plastic bag.
n To get the most color, run close to the throwers. To get less color, run in the outer course lanes.
n Costumes are welcome and encouraged.
After doing some research, Kern and the YMCA's mission advancement director, Michelle Green, decided that the YMCA could engage its own volunteers to organize the race versus enlisting one of the branded runs. Though the branded runs do partner with charities, host organizations usually have to pay the company to come in and facilitate the run, and then a portion of the registration fees get donated back to the nonprofit. Due to popularity, distributors of color packets and powders can easily be found online. There are even recipes to make your own on Pinterest.
Green said the YMCA's first Tie Dye Dash will benefit the organization's educational programs, including its licensed school-age program, which includes students from five Pittsfield elementary schools; its accredited child care program, and the Marilyn Hamilton Literacy Program.
Now heading into its second-year, the free summer program is supported by grants and the Masonic St. John's Lodge No. 10. Based at Pitt Park, it can enroll up to 100 students to participate in literacy-based activities, sports and field trips. All who attend the race are also encouraged to bring a new or gently used children's book (up to Grade 8 reading levels) for the literacy program.
Kern said this Saturday's benefit will include approximately 300 racers, ages 8 to 86; the average age is 31.
She said she has yet to participate in a color run, but is something that her friends and family members have done and are still talking about.
"The idea for me, and I think for other people, is having something fun to look forward to," Kern said.