I have been MIA for a few days, but it is not because I haven’t been involved with anything fitness or wellness related. In fact, my days have been filled to the brim with those kinds of activities, leaving me with very little time to put my thoughts together about them. For instance, my first day of CrossFit was on Friday, but I’ll have more about that later. Right now I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience with The Color Run New England.
The Color Run is touted as “the happiest 5K on the planet” and is unlike any other race I have ever seen or completed. At each kilometer volunteers spray and toss what is essentially dyed cornstarch onto the runners, who are all instructed to wear white. There is a different color at each kilometer leaving the runners multicolored at the end.
By the time I first heard about The Color Run, I was too late to sign up for the New England run. I got a late entry when a girl in my graduate program who had registered for the run could no longer make it and needed to transfer her registration. I was beyond excited because it sounded like a really fun experience and I was already schedule for a 3-mile run that day as part of my half marathon training. While it was kind of a pain that it was all the way in Amesbury, MA (almost an hour drive from Boston), I decided the experience would be worth it.
Once I had registered, communication was almost non-existent. I thought it might be because of the process of transferring registration, so I tried to let it go. I got some of the emails I needed, but not others. I kept checking the website just to be safe and that’s how I got most of my information. Unfortunately I never got the email about parking, nor was there anything on the website I could find, so I called the information number and spoke to someone who said they would forward the email along (that was two days ago and I still haven’t seen the email). I started to poke around the facebook page and found person after person commenting that they had received no information about parking, which made me realize it had nothing to do with my taking over someone else’s registration and everything to do with the mismanagement of the event. Luckily someone handling the page posted a PDF about parking.
On Friday I went downtown to hand in my waiver and pick up my bib number, a process that went very smoothly. After providing my name, showing my ID, and handing over my waiver I was given my number and directed to another table where I received three press-on tattoos, a packet of color to throw at the end (I chose green), a t-shirt, a sweatband, and a couple of coupons. Overall not bad for a race swag bag, which is good considering registration for the race was way more expensive than any other 5K I’ve ever run.
Early yesterday morning Joe and I got in the car and plugged the race location into the GPS. We decided to try street parking because parking in the lots for the race came with a cost of $10. After what I had paid for registration and gas to get to the run, I wasn’t particularly looking to spend more to park. On the parking document the start was listed as 201 Elm Street so that’s what I put into my GPS. After a bit of driving we finally made it to 201 Elm Street, Amesbury, MA and this is what we found:
Clearly in the wrong location, we checked the parking information again. There was no city listed with the address we had been given, so we tried the point of interest listed with the address, “Vision Max Cinema” to see if the GPS could find the address. Sure enough, Vision Max Cinema is at 201 Elm Street, in Salisbury. I was very frustrated, but we made the drive over. Unfortunately this meant taking a main road on which there was no parking. When we got to the actual start line, there was no parking to be found and everyone was incredibly unhelpful. I asked an officer if there was street parking anywhere nearby and he gave a canned response about parking in the lots associated with the race. Rehearsed answer, much? Frustrated and tired of dealing with the whole thing already, we put in the name of the first parking lot on the list (also without a complete address, mind you) and started on our way. It turns out that the parking lot listed first on the parking document was another 7 miles away in New Hampshire! That left us with no choice but to take the shuttles from there to the starting line and then back from the finish line after the race.
The parking situation was a nightmare. When we entered the lot and handed over our $10, we were directed into one of three lines of cars. Then we were all herded back into a single file line once the parking attendants (a group of teenagers and maybe three adults) realized that one of the attendants was missing and there was no one to direct one of the lines of cars. The parking attendants had been described by The Color Run as “parking ninjas” on one of the documents and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes that their ineptitude.
Once we parked we made our way over to the school buses that were serving as shuttles. We noticed almost immediately that some of the shuttles were labeled “spectator shuttles” even though Joe and I had planned for him to come to the start with me. At this point it was still two hours before the run because we (runners) had been advised to arrive early to ensure a parking spot and a space in the first wave (if that’s what we wanted). I was disappointed that Joe was going to have to take a separate shuttle to the finish and wait there more than two hours for me to finish, but we tried to make the best of it and Joe took some pre-color photos of me.
After my mini photo shoot I got on the runner bus and Joe got on the spectator bus and we set out to the start and finish lines respectively. When the runners were dropped off, there was no indication where we should go aside from the mobs of people. I followed the crowd and found myself at registration, which I obviously didn’t need as I had picked up my packet in Boston. I wandered around for a few minutes until I noticed another group of runners walking up a road to the right and then noticed the one sign that was directing people toward the start line.
I jogged to the start to warm up and found dozens of entrants of all shapes, size, and level of ability. I really like that this race appealed to so many people who might otherwise not have ever run or walked in a 5K. A bit frustrating though was that there was no separation based on ability or pace. Those who intended to walk the entire course were mixed right in at the front of the line with those who were more advanced runners. As I began to stretch out to resolve some of the tightness and soreness in my legs from my first day of CrossFit the day before (more to come on that later) one of the entrants turned to her group and said, “Oh my god, people are stretching for this.” I looked around and there were several of us stretching, but it was amazing that so many others were doing nothing to prepare. Sure, a 5K isn’t the most taxing race, but I don’t think stretching before a run is ever a bad idea.
I made my way toward the front because I frankly did not want to be behind over 100 people who were starting the race walking when I wanted to run at half marathon pace. Despite that it was still over 90 minutes before the race, hundreds of people were in line. Some were wearing running clothes, others were in costume, but everyone seemed excited to get the race under way. The longer we stood and sat there, the hotter it started to get. According to the website the starting window was supposed to be 9:30-10:45 (that’s what the website still says as of this writing), but the pre-race document indicated that the first wave would go out at 10am with waves of about 1,000 runners starting every 10 minutes thereafter. This was not the only time the information about the run was contradictory; almost everything about the run was poorly communicated and disorganized.
When 10am finally rolled around, we still didn’t get started. Instead an announcer started throwing out free sunglasses and other items as entrants tried to start the wave. By the time we got started, it was very warm. I am still at a loss as to why a race in late July didn’t start until after 10am, but that was still not the worst part of this race. As I started along the somewhat hilly course, I was feeling pretty slow because of the pain from CrossFit. Note to self, take rest days seriously and don’t do CrossFit in place of running. Unfortunately this meant that I walked up one of the large hills. Each time we went through one of the color stations, volunteers produced a cloud of color for the runners. Interestingly enough, I never found a station with purple, which was supposed to be part of the race. When I saw a few runners with purple on their shirts, I asked where the station was. All of them said the same thing, “There wasn’t one, but I had a purple packet and decided to open it to add some extra color.”
I knew I wasn’t going to have a great time because I just wasn’t able to run as fast as I needed, so I was very surprised when after 23 minutes a spectator informed me that the finish line was “just up around the corner.” Just before turning the corner, however, one of the shuttle buses came along the race route, forcing runners to move to the side of the road for it to pass. My only thought was, “Wait, what? Why are there shuttle buses along the race route?” I wasn’t the only person having this thought and I later learned from Joe that the bus actually waited for the first couple of runners to cross the finish before turning onto the road. This, like most of the decisions related to the race, made no sense.
I crossed the finish line at just under 27 minutes, which I knew was impossible.
The first thing I said to Joe after I grabbed my cup of water at the finish was, “There’s no way that was a full 5K.” I tried to be positive about the experience, but I felt like I had been scammed out of my money. Still, I tried to just smile and enjoy the experience of being covered in color.
The information for the race had also advised runners to bring cash or cards for food and beverages after the finish. I was already kind of surprised that no food would be provided to runners at the finish (unlike every other race I’ve ever run), but I figured Joe and I would likely get on the first shuttles out of the park. Here again there was a contradiction, one piece of information said shuttles would begin at 11, another said they would start at noon. Just to be safe Joe and I brought our debit cards to get food in case we needed to. What the information didn’t indicate was that if you brought a card for food, you would need to use the one ATM on location. Not only did this mean a fee to get money, having only one open ATM meant standing in line for at least 15 minutes before then standing in line to buy tickets (as food could not be purchased with cash) and then standing in line again for food or drinks. Each type of food was at a different table (even hamburgers and fries weren’t at the same location), so it took well over half an hour to even get food.
The color festival that was supposed to happen after the race was also a joke. The big color toss never happened as there was no instruction how it was supposed to go down. Instead, people tossed their packets of color in a group in front of the stage in small bursts. Luckily I found my way into one of them and was able to break open my packet of green.
While Joe was in line to get us tickets for food, I met up with a friend who had participated in the race. It was his first ever 5K and I was very pleased to hear that he had enjoyed the experience. He did mention, however, that according to an app on his phone that utilized GPS, we only ran 2.75 miles. I knew it! The race hadn’t been a full 5K, no wonder they weren’t offering any sort of official timing. I can’t even begin to tell you how deceived I felt about the whole thing at this point and how disappointed I was that I had spent my money on the race.
Unfortunately it didn’t stop there. When 12pm rolled around, there were still no shuttles transporting people back to their cars. By 12:30 there was a line of hundreds of people waiting where the shuttles were supposed to be. Every once in a while I noticed that the line would shift slightly, but certainly not enough for the 50 shuttles supposedly available to transport runners. Around 12:45 the line had grown considerably and was still barely moving at all. I overheard a woman say to her family, “This is NOT the happiest 5K on the planet.” Agreed. Then she said, “I feel like I’m trapped here,” while she looked at the long line her husband had been waiting in for a considerable amount of time.
At this point Joe and I made the decision to join the line because we needed to get back to Boston sooner rather than later. When we got in the line we were parallel to the highway and traffic was moving along smoothly. I only mention this because after well over an hour standing in line and barely moving, the announcer attributed the long wait to all of the traffic on the highway and an accident that had occurred. While it is very likely that an accident had slowed traffic at that point, no explanation was offered as to why the shuttles were so delayed to begin with when traffic was moving along just fine. Literally thousands of people were standing in line (there were over 11,000 registered runners plus their family members at the event), in the blistering sun without any indication when we might actually get on the buses. Finally at around 2pm the organizers started handing out water to the people in line, some of whom had been in line for almost two hours at this point. Closer to 2:30, EMS personnel also started handing out water. While this was a nice gesture and certainly needed in the heat and sun, it was almost too little too late. There was still very little information provided and rather than being transparent about the issues, the organizers tried to make the most of the situation by bringing the music over from the after party and throwing out more color packets and merchandise to the crowd. Because what I wanted while standing in a line with a bunch of sweaty, cranky, dehydrated people is to dance around and throw color, obviously.
Joe and I finally got on a bus around 3pm and back to the car around 3:15. We still had an hour drive to get home and we were both exhausted and frustrated. Nothing about the event had been as advertised. Even if the traffic debacle hadn’t occurred, I still would have been very upset with the organization (or rather, disorganization) of the entire thing.
I consider myself lucky that I have participated in many events and know that most races aren’t like this. Even the most disorganized of events are better organized than this one and at least those are the full distance advertised. My biggest concern is that all of those participants who had never run a race before might be discouraged from ever participating again because of the way everything turned out. To those people, I urge you to run or walk in another race, just not one organized by this group. Whether the disorganization was the fault of The Color Run specifically or the group that helped to organize, The Greater Boston Running Company, I will never participate in a race run by either ever again. I encourage anyone who was part of The Color Run New England to complain to the organizers to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. When you pay $50 for a race, it should at minimum be the distance you sign up for and at best a positive experience overall.
While there were positive aspects of this race, I wish I hadn’t signed up for it at all. I would have been better off running my 3 miles at home, at least then I would have gotten the full distance I needed and wouldn’t have been forced to spend over 7 hours of my day dealing with the disorganization and lack of professionalism of The Color Run New England.
I can’t speak to The Color Run as a whole, but if you are registered for one of the future events, at least be prepared to spend way more money than the entry fee and don’t count on being able to leave when you want. I hope that others have a different experience than the one I had because I think the concept as a whole is a good one, the execution was just a complete failure.
Have you ever participated in The Color Run in another city? Was the experience a positive one?