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Charity Races Emphasize Color and Fun, Not Time

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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD
For The State Journal

MORGANTOWN — What's white then red and yellow and pink and blue and green all over?

Participants at the end of a color run — a kind of 5K race that has rapidly gained popularity in the United States over the past year. At least three are scheduled in West Virginia in the next few months.

Runners and walkers advance along the course passing through color stations where they are doused with cornstarch and food-grade dye. The goal is to get messy and have fun. The race is not timed or competitive.

For-profit companies bring the races to town and partner with local charities that receive a portion of the proceeds.

Color Me Rad is holding a 5K in Morgantown starting at 9 a.m. Sept. 7 at Mylan Park to benefit the Rosenbaum Family House, which provides a place for adult patients and their families to stay while receiving medical care from West Virginia University Healthcare.

A different company, Color Vibe, has a similar 5K scheduled in Charleston for Sept. 28. A Color Run 5K will be held Aug. 31 in Huntington to benefit Power of the Purse, a philanthropic group associated with the United Way of River Cities that works to improve the lives of women and children in the community.

The colorful races are influenced by a Hindu celebration that marks the coming of spring during which participants apply color to their skin and hair.

"It's inspired by the Holi Festival of India," said Gretchen Willard, spokesperson for Color Me Rad. "We're headquartered in Utah, where a big Holi Festival is held every spring. The guys who started Color Me Rad went to this event and thought, ‘Wouldn't it be fun if we could combine this festival with running?'"

Their idea has taken off in just over a year.

"It's kind of amazing," Willard said. "We have held more than 100 races in the first year. We started in April 2012. We are in 365 cities this year, in the U.S. and Canada."

The color races are blooming in popularity.

More than 3,000 people signed up for the Color Me Rad 5K in Morgantown within two weeks of registration opening, said Elisha Dew, one of the co-chairs of the committee bringing the race to Morgantown.

"When we started planning this event, our original goal was 4,000 to 5,000 participants," she said.

"Morgantown is considered a small market, but people are excited for this event. Even the organizers at Color Me Rad were surprised at how many registrants we were pulling in, and how quickly. Now that we've seen the response, we're hoping for 6,000 to 8,000."

"With the expansion of the hospital, the Family House needs a new facility, and Color Me Rad is set up to be a major fundraiser for this year," Dew said. Waves of about 1,000 runners and walkers will leave the starting line every 20 minutes to thin congestion on the course.

There will be plenty to do while they wait and when they return.

"We are planning to have kids' activities, merchandise, food vendors and possibly other services on site as well," Dew said. "We want to make the day more like a festival than just a ‘run and leave' type of event."

Participants begin the race dressed in white. Some people wear costumes.

"We get lots of people who come out dressed as polar bears, unicorns, Gumby," Willard said. "We get tutus and team costumes. I think part of the appeal of this is it's a time to really act silly and let your inhibitions go and just have a great time and not take yourself too seriously and not take your time seriously."

She said organizers wanted an event that people didn't feel they had to be the fastest.

"We estimate that about half of our runners are first-time 5K participants," she said. "For people who don't do 5Ks, they get comfortable that that distance is something they can do. For people who train hardcore, they see this as their treat."

"This is definitely not the race to aim for a personal record," said Dew, who walked in the Pittsburgh Color Me Rad on June 9 with her co-chairs Vicki Antion Nelson and Teri Batis plus Pat Antion and Kelley Harris. "The event is untimed and non-competitive. Many people even slow down through the color stations, hoping to get blasted with as much color as possible."