The Colored Run!

30 04 2012

When Tim first mentioned the “Color Run” to me, my first reaction was “Great!  Now I can talk about how I’m training for a race all the time and make people feel guilty and out of shape.”  This is because “making others feel out of shape” is the only way I can motivate myself to run with any frequency.  But, over time, as the days passed, and I began to get into a routine and feel my pace quicken, my attitude began to change from one of self-satisfaction and annoying conversation starters (“So when I was on my third mile during a training run yesterday…”) to something completely different – an attitude of extreme arrogance and annoying conversation interjections.  (“Oh, I love chicken, but it always seems to hit me on my third mile.”) 

This is because I, like most runners, only run to feel good about myself.  Sometimes this feeling is rooted in enjoying my own well-being and cardiovascular health, but more often my running life is validated by bringing it up around people who I know to be less dedicated runners than I.  The key is to bring it up when they’re least expecting it, particularly if you can fool them into thinking that you’re bringing it up to commiserate about how rarely you actually run.  If done correctly, one can bring up the topic without getting too specific about one’s own running habits before handing off the conversation to someone willing to mournfully reminisce about how they used to run all the time.  Once they start to tail off, you simply allow just enough silence to make them feel apprehensive before launching into a detailed description of your intense training regimen as if you hadn’t just sympathetically “mm-hmmed” with them for the past five minutes.  (They will either respond with a suddenly-remembered physical ailment that would prevent them from running now even if they wanted to, or they might just take a swing at you.  This is where running really comes in handy.)

This last paragraph was not about the Color Run.  It is called a “humorous aside” and should not be assumed to be accurate, no matter how consistent it may be with my demeanor, reputation and outstanding warrants.

The Color Run, as Tim described it to me back in January, is a 5K race put on for charity in which the runners are coated with different colors of bright powder at each kilometer, eventually crossing the finish line looking much like deliriously happy escapees from a clown prison riot.  (And they should be happy – I mean, clown prison.)  My first question for Tim was, of course, What Charity The Race Is For?  This detail was very crucial to my decision, partially because I wanted to avoid raising money for a cause I didn’t actually support, but mostly because I wanted to make sure the charity would sound cool when I was telling everyone about it.   Tim told me it was for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Check and check.

I didn’t do anything impressive to train for the event itself, but I did at least make sure to keep running on some sort of a periodic basis for the three months preceding the actual race.  This was a good way of maintaining credibility as a runner more than any actual fitness level, because the funny thing about exercising is that after one jog, you are convinced that you have suddenly transformed your metabolism into that of a high-school junior and you eat accordingly.  (If fast food and ice cream count as actual “eating”, that is.  My Dad maintains that they belong to the part of the food pyramid that you can’t see because it is in the garbage can that the food pyramid throws stuff away into.  But what does he really know?  Who can really know that anyway, since that part of the food pyramid is completely hypothetical.  You may not even be “reading” this sentence as far as you or I know.  Or at least as far as the food pyramid garbage can knows.  Isn’t uncertainty comforting?)

The day before the race, I drove down to Laguna Hills to pick up my pre-race packet, which contained a Color Run t-shirt, a packet of colored powder and a Color Run sweatband.  In an email sent out by the Color Run staff, we were “strongly encouraged” to pick up the packets prior to the actual day of the race.  This is because every human being in Orange County between the ages of 18 and 29 had signed up for the Color Run, a fact that was not advertised by actual numbers and figures so much as by the massive line of cars we encountered forty minutes before our starting time the next morning.   (I could have said that the cars weren’t moving, but I think that it is generally accepted that a “massive line of cars” would only be considered massive as such because it isn’t moving.  So, there you go.)

The cars weren’t moving.  After fifteen minutes of being in yet another car that wasn’t moving, we decided to chance parking at a nearby shopping center and walking up the hill to wherever the starting line was.  We decided to do this by using “logic.”  (If you are unfamiliar with “logic,” it is what dictates that it is impossible for traffic to be at a standstill more than a mile from the actual parking lot for a stupid rainbow 5K.  I recently discovered that “logic” is also stupid.)

After what we later measured as 2.2 miles of walking past jealous carloads of fellow runners, we finally reached the actual race site about twenty minutes after 9:00, when it had been scheduled to start.  The race site was a huge airport.  There is not really much I can say that will describe it better than that.  The actual course went up and down a couple of runways, and various kiosks, portable toilets and information booths were scattered everywhere. 

Once we finished availing ourselves of the facilities – a necessity that became quickly apparent during mile two of our uphill journey – we were ready to begin.  Really, we were kind of impressed at the scale of the whole event (much more so than we were with the crew directing traffic), and the excitement was starting to ramp up as we approached the starting line.  This, at least, they had planned for, because they were releasing groups of 100 or so runners every few minutes.  In the meantime, they were also tossing extra colored powder packets and bracelets out to those still waiting to run.  It felt more like a weird sort of concert than a race, particularly because of the pop-hop blasting out of speakers all over the place.  And there, right in the middle of an all-too-expected faceful of yellow powder, I suddenly realized why so many people were participating in the Color Run:

Facebook.

I was stunned at how ignorant I had been to assume that all these people must love running and raising money for charity.  No, they had all been planning it out for months.  The plastic Ziploc bags containing their iPhones, the not-exactly-raceday-coiffed hair, the inordinate number of people not wearing anything resembling actual running shoes – I had unknowingly stumbled onto a breeding ground of profile pictures and status updates to satisfy every last one of my generation’s Social Networking proclivities.  What could be more perfect?  By the ostensibly innocuous act of uploading a photo of yourself at the Color Run to Facebook you are saying (subtly implying, really) all of the following:

-You enjoy raising awareness for needy children

-You love to volunteer for charitable causes (this is very desirable, but rather tough to handle on Facebook in normal circumstances.  Even the most obtuse Facebook user recognizes the disconnect present in working for charity, then telling everyone you know about what you did.

-You have been and enjoy continuing to exercise regularly

-You participate in wild and crazy events with all your friends!

-You have friends!

               

                There’s no denying the fact that I was chagrinned at this point.  I mean, there was some serious self-examination going on in the middle of that crowd.  Was I just another of the thousands of mindless suburbanites jumping at the chance to proclaim my virtues in such a unique fashion?  Was I simply doing this because I knew it would be unique and fun to tell people about for days afterwards, especially when they asked what that crazy Facebook picture was all about?

Well, probably.

I knew then that I couldn’t possibly put any pictures of this event on Facebook myself for fear of succumbing to complete hypocrisy.  This seemed to ease my fears, and I found myself running with a smile as our group was sent off with a recorded gunshot.  Maybe I’m not any better than all these people; maybe I have been totally drawn into this whole charade by clever marketing and well-targeted appeals for charitable contribution rather than any actual virtue on my own part.  But at least I’m not dropping my iPhone in a puddle of green mud ten feet from the starting line like that guy over there.

We ran, and we were showered in color.  At times, I could hardly breathe, but that is one of our miraculous bodies’ natural responses to some punk teenager flinging a cup full of “purple” down your throat when you’re trying to yell at Tim to keep up with you.  Some people were wearing sunglasses, but forgive me – that is just too much.

Once we crossed the finish line, we were all ready to go.  Bananas and Gatorade were laid out in the “finish” area, which we enjoyed, but after ten minutes in the Slurpee line (really), we finally agreed that we had taken enough pictures of people in line with us at their request, and we began the long walk back to our car. 

I didn’t regret missing out on a Slurpee, but it did occur to me that this was probably the only time in my life where I could have gotten away with throwing a Slurpee at a complete stranger without fear of complaint.  That’s something that you won’t see on Facebook, probably.  I haven’t checked, though. 

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