Insane 5Ks Are About So Much More Than The Running

"Five, four, three, two..." yells the announcer, decked in bright socks and a colorful hat, to the crowd below him, ready to run the recent Color in Motion 5 at Rentschler Field.

"...One!" At this signal, clouds of blue, purple, pink and orange fills the sky and falls on the crowd in the form of powered paint. Slowly, hundreds of white outfits turn tie-dyed.

"Are you ready?" The crowd cheers. "Go!"

Off goes the first leg of runners on their 3.1 mile journey through gravel, pavement, grass and color bombs —colored corn starch that turns the masses into a running rainbow.

The Color in Motion 5k is just one of several creative races that have started coming to Connecticut in the last few years, many of them stopping at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Other recent Greater-Hartford area races that are about so much more than the running have included the Merrell Down & Dirty Obstacle Race on the Riverfront and The Walking Dead Escape at Xfinity. Upcoming insane races at Rentschler include the Electric Run, a night 5k through and "electric wonderland"; and the Roc Race, a game-show inflatable obstacle course.

"We have many participants who have never run a 5k who come and say they had so much fun they didn't even realize they were getting a workout or were able to run that far," says Color in Motion race director Chris Vincent. "We like people to think of the event as a big, fun party that anyone can attend rather than a race or competition.

"The experience creates lasting memories for each participant while keeping people active and involved."

The Hartford race had more than 3,000 participants, says Vincent, as well as hundreds of volunteers and spectators. The idea for color runs, he said, comes from the annual Holi Festival in India that celebrates the end of winter and coming of spring, in which participants spray each other with colored powder and water.

Derek Miles, operations manager of Rentschler Field, says the first creative run held at Rentschler Field was Color Me Rad three years ago.

"We started to see an influx of these types of runs about a year ago," Miles says. "These events have become huge and are popping up all over the world."

With the influx of demand, Miles says, Global Spectrum — the company that runs Rentschler— tries to accommodate as many races as it can, without overdoing it.

"We usually try to separate the color runs a month or two apart to keep the interest in the races. Choosing the races really depends on when they would like to hold the event and what other events we have during that time period," he says.

Melody Bryden, 15, and her father, Rick, 57, of Cheshire, ran the Color in Motion 5k together. Melody had done other races but was excited about Color In Motion because, she says, there was more energy and everyone "wears crazy stuff and you get covered in colors." For Dad, it was about quality time with his daughter. "We get to do something together; we don't get to that often," he says.

But these races draw even non-runners, such as 29-year-old Andre Williams of Morris who was there with a group of friends and openly admits he hates running.

Williams signed on for the color run because of the group aspect. "It's something everyone can achieve together," he says. "The start of your day is totally different. It's about having fun. Your time doesn't matter. It's not about competition."

Rentschler Field has 115 acres of paved and unpaved land for the perfect area to run the 3.1 miles required for a 5k, Miles says. Because of Hartford's large population base and an active UConn community, Vincent, a Boston native, agrees that Hartford is a great location for these creative races.

The event takes hundreds of hours of preparation before race day, Vincent says, from selecting the right venue to being sure all safety precautions are taken. The morning of each race coordinators and volunteers arrive hours before the runners to unload hundreds of boxes of race gear, paint and to "divide and conquer."

The Color in Motion race stepped off at 9 a.m. in front of Rentschler Field gate E, the parking lot pavement colored like a shirt from the 1960s. Some runners — or color chasers — started off in stark white clothing and others were covered head to toe before lifting a foot, but by the end everyone circled back with a look of accomplishment, nearly unrecognizable from an hour before.

Spectators gather at the finish line, safe from the color bombs, to cheer on the runners.

As for the clean up? After the party, coordinators and volunteers break out the brooms, heavy-duty water trucks and street sweepers to take the venue from colorful back to basic black until the next race steps off.

>>Upcoming races At Rentschler Field in East Hartford include the Run or Dye, July 19, runordye.com; Roc Race, Aug. 9, rocrace.com/Hartford; the Electric Run, Oct. 11, electricrun.com/Hartford. There will be a Warrior Dash on Sept. 20 at Camp Laurelwood in Madison. warriordash.com