What's the point in running?
A couple of weeks ago, I approached The Color Run without an ounce of trepidation. The whole concept seemed so happy, I thought I’d self-combust with joy before I even got there. Craziness was the order of the day.
Happy-clappy feelings and beach balls, as 20,000 people wait for their turn!
Erm ... paint!
It was like an episode of Art Attack on crack.
I remember the sponsors (they do vitamins), because the name was everywhere, and they were mentioned every two minutes, and they were part of the event hashtag on Twitter. But I can’t remember where the charity dollars were going or what the actual point of it was beyond just having some fun. That objective, at least, achieved a measure of success judging by the vibe.
Post-race I watched the crowd heave and expand in its colourful glory, while a club soundtrack pounded out the speakers and people lost their shit during paint throws. That was the fun bit. The race itself was pretty ordinary, even with the sporadic colour squirting by volunteers.
There was something that felt almost self-indulgent about the whole thing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was this nebulous, exciting concept in my head. To steal Bob Geldof’s famous book title about Live Aid, I just couldn’t help thinking: is this it?
There’s something every other month on the obstacle course/fun run/recreation-en-masse front. They’re as ubiquitous as those annoying “charity” workers on the mall, who try to stop you during your lunch break with a lame question about which mobile phone you’re using. But it seems to me that an event running off recreation and goodwill fumes should offer a little more than a good feeling and photo-opp-hashtag-promoting-the-promoter. #amiright?
The disappointment of the Color Run had me thinking about the other things I’ve attempted and, more importantly, why. Until last year, my experience in any type of mass outdoor activity involving movement and energy was limited to the City 2 Surf. At the time, I was about 18 kilograms heavier and I wore a headscarf. I felt compelled to prove that I could do it, and if it aided a charity of some kind, even better.
For most of the course, I was moving slow enough to see the stares directed my way, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to my scarf or because I looked like I was about to collapse, as someone wearing a novelty outfit joyfully waddled past. When a bystander mimicked a bomb exploding as I hobbled towards Bondi Beach, I figured it was the latter. But I think the most important thing to take away from the experience is that I didn’t die. And notwithstanding the idiotic bystander, there’s something sort of communal about shared misery.
Fast forward to last year, when I was somewhat fitter, I approached the Warrior Dash, a 5km mud-soaked obstacle course from hell, like a child at a McDonald’s playpen. It was both wondrous and scary all at once. I was pretty sure I’d suck at it, but I felt adventurous and brave, because I was pushing my limits. And if there’s anything a fun run will achieve beyond charity dollars, it’s an inflated sense of self. That and I’d have a lot of photos to share on Facebook.
Like the City 2 Surf, I felt death stare me in the face, except this time it was sans headscarf and excess kilos, and it was from the top of a slippery, muddy plank. It was both disgusting and exhilarating at once. But I have no idea where the money went or what I was doing there.
There’s usually a party at the end of these races, and that seems to have become the whole point. Warrior Dash, for example, descends into grimy hell as people get drunk, lose more clothing, and start to resemble the subjects of a cave painting. Add ridiculously loud music and, last year, heavy hail, and you’re kind of left wondering what you’re actually achieving, beyond a medal and a furry warrior helmet.
I can’t help thinking we’re being sucked into a deceptive fun-run vortex; there’s something so constructed and commercial about them. But like a moth to a flame, I’m a sucker for them. Even though they seem to fixate on after-drinks and hard partying, neither of which appeal to me, I find they’re an antidote to boredom.
But let’s just call a mud-soaked spade a spade and say it’s a Warrior Dash/Piss Up. And if the Warrior Dash isn’t enough of a challenge, there’s the Tough Mudder, which seems to take inspiration from a military training guidebook, running 18-20km with harder obstacles, but judging from what I’ve heard, that one’s strictly for the cross-fit bunch. No paint involved. Most likely major party at the finish line.