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“Doesn't matter who wins 'cause they're all losers.” Gimmick racing at an all time high

“Doesn’t matter who wins ’cause they’re all losers.” Gimmick racing at an all time high

| On 30, May 2013

photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

That quote of course is in reference to Rand McPherson’s (David Spade) take on Ultimate Frisbee aka the “Hippie Olympics” from the 1994 cult classic, PCU. Sure, Ultimate is a little heady, but I’d say disc golf is more along the lines of something you’d find Jerrytown and the boys doing on a Saturday afternoon before a George Clinton concert.

What does this have to do with running? Not a lot. But there is an epidemic going on right now. Gimmick races. You know them. You may have even participated in one of two. Hell, my first race back to competition four years ago was the Krispy Kreme Challenge, so who am I to judge? Until recently, the corniest thing out there was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon series, with their local bands stumbling through “Sweet Home Alabama,” and their VIP Porta Potties. Those times have changed.

Let’s break it down:

color run1. Color Runs

What are they? The new kid on the block. There are tons of them out there right now. The Color Run, Run or Dye (“The Most Colorful 5k Run™ – says the website), and Color Me Rad (“The run that’s been ruining all other 5k’s”) are just a few of the races trying to take your money for shooting paint on you while you run. The list goes on. There will be one of these where you live, if there hasn’t already, in the next few months. Money to be made!

What’s the draw? Participants wear white and paint guns shoot vibrant colors on you while you run a 5k. What could be more exciting? They all want you to watch their well-produced YouTube clips (aka sales pitches) to get pumped (to spend ~$50) for the race of a lifetime. OMG Color!

Verdict? Sorry, this bores me. I know the point is to run and then post some pics on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever, but I don’t see the obsession. But these things are selling out all over the country, so I’m obviously in the minority. Viva Color Runs. De Colores!

2. Electric Runs

What are they? Night time race with glow sticks, neon and DJ’s at the finish line. Expect more of these to start popping up. Electric Run is the main “entrepreneur” of these events right now.

What’s the draw? Earlier this year, I got an email that stated “with hot music, breathtaking light displays and an energized crowd of thousands, it will feel less like a run and more like a moving party.” So there’s that. Costs around $60 a pop.

Verdict? I know the execution of this is going to be taylor made for the running tourist, but night time races are good by me. Try one. But probably just one. And don’t be upset when things get weird and annoying post-race.


3. Mud/Obstacle Runs

What are they? The old maid of gimmick racing. Tough Mudder (“Probably the toughest event on the planet”), Warrior Dash (“The World’s Largest Obstacle Race Series”) and Spartan Race are the big ones. But beware of fly by night operations, like this one in Cary, NC, that ripped people off with a short course, crappy obstacles and charged $65 a head. And then stiffed the Special Olympics. A-holes!

What’s the draw? It’s something different. I get it. You want a challenge? Try scoring 100 on the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. It’s just three steps. 18:00 for three miles, 100 crunches in a minute and 20 pull-ups. Is it even possible to do 20 pull-ups? No charge! But if you want to get muddy, you better save up! Race day registration at the Charlotte Tough Mudder is $180. You heard me right. Well, you get one free beer. But your friends have to pay to watch you race. This is a business, folks. $2 million annual revenue to $22 million in one year for the Tough Mudder conglomerate.

4. Zombie Runs

What are they? Post apocalyptic sets are created. Zombie Run is the main culprit. You can be a runner, or a Zombie.

What’s the draw? Answers the age old question, “How fast can you run while being chased by a zombie?” The website say “a unique 5k mud run & obstacle course, sprinkled with hungry zombies.” Get ready for $79 race day registration in Chicago.

Verdict? A mud run dressed up with some more live action. I don’t know. I liked Zombieland, but it’s gonna take more for me to spend nearly $80, plus their gentle reminder to “bring your ID and cash for additional beverages and snacks.”

beer mile

Thrill seeker? Here are some alternatives

1. Organize and run a Beer Mile (or Chocolate Milk, Milk, Egg Nog, etc)

It’s not exactly legal, but it’s free. If you have some friends go with you to help out, you can keep your exposure to a minimum and everyone goes home happy, especially those innocent bystanders who get to watch the awesomeness that is the Beer Mile.

2. Naked Mile / Undies Run

Hey, sex sells. But these are free. Find one and run at your own risk! Better yet? Start a new one.

3. A Trail Race

Getting off the pavement is fun and there are tons of great ones out there. No electric shocks necessary (maybe some log jumping)!

4. An actual road race

That pint glass you got for finishing 3rd in your age group at the “Ides of March 5k” will come in much handier than that picture of you covered in mud, that you splashed on yourself after the race. Trust me!

And that’s another week of The Mixed Zone. Stay tuned for more fun in running each week. But no, I will not be part of your mud run team. But if this is what it takes to get people off the couch, I’m all for it!


  1. Brian

    What’s the harm with these races though? A lot of people that do zombie runs, tough mudders, color runs, etc. aren’t looking for competition. They’re looking for an active event to do with friends that’s more interesting than a typical 5K. So they pay a little extra for the gimmick – big deal. At least they’re running.

    • Leonard

      Prior to the large emergence of these “Gimmick” runs most 5ks and 10ks had a cause. Most races were either for a specific charity or for a running club or store. Gimmick runs are for profit and money rarely ever goes to a charity (atleast from what I’ve seen advertised on their websites) or back to the local running community. I am all for people getting out there and being active but it is taking away from some really good causes.

  2. Mitch

    I agree with Brian. You look at the attendees of most of these races and they aren’t cc runners, elite athletes, runners looking to PR. They are families, hobby runners, groups of friends, strollers. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to run with a group of friends and have it be relaxed and different. But you do also get the runners there. How many 5k’s have we raced and it’s the same thing every time? Same food at the finish, same sweat left on the course, same intrapersonal mental battle. It’s nice to be able to PR at those courses and receive that reward of self accomplishment but every now and then take a break and unwind from the monotony of being a runner.

  3. This article is oozing with elitist bitterness, get over yourself, its just running.

  4. Jesse Squire

    I may be bitter, but (in terms of running) I most certainly am not elite.

    As I read it, the objects of derision are not the participants but the people putting on the races. …”trying to take your money”…”fly by night operations”…”bring your ID and cash for additional beverages and snacks [e.g., registration doesn’t cover that]”…”your friends have to pay to watch you race”.

    Hey, if you want to spend all that money on a race, it’s your money. But I’m the guy who doesn’t buy $5 lattes because he can make his own coffee at home.

  5. James

    Call it a gimmick, but do realize these events tend to get people into the sport of running. The thought of running a pure distance race isn’t very appealing to many, but these “gimmick” races are usually the starting point for people’s journey towards better health and fitness. What you also disregard about these “gimmick” races is the group/family camaraderie it brings about while still also getting people to enjoy running. I’m glad that there are events like these because it opens the door to many other people who otherwise would not even bother to go running due to judgmental purists runners like you. Also, do realize that events like the Spartan Race are legitimate races that are timed, judged, and ranked with prizes and entry to tougher races are awarded. Lastly, you should be thankful that even just a little bit of money at least goes to charity. Sure, it may not be as substantial as compared to a regular road race, however, do consider the fact that these events require more elaborate setups and creativity than your typical road race. Hell, if your main argument is about charity then, you should just straight up donate to charity and then just go time yourself for your own 5K, 10K, etc. You’ll be sure that 100% of your money goes to your charity and you get to run for free.

  6. Although I don’t necessarily agree with the spirit you have written this article, I think you do bring up some valid points and is something that, as a member of the running community, I’ve thought about when I’ve seen fellow friends post up pictures on Facebook or Instagram.

    Ultimately, it’s all about the money in my opinion. These race organizers are exploiting the latest trend of people wanting instant gratification of a memorable experience with a side of “heey look at me! I’m active, fit and having fun!”

    All these same experiences can be had for free with friends. Run outside in the rain, Jump some tree logs at a local park if you want.

    But on the other side of the coin, I’ve seen people train up for these runs and get introduced to running through these expensive events and there spirit of running continues well after the event.

  7. Jack in MN

    My brother and I ran an hour or so in a local Cleveland metro park a couple weeks ago and then went to grab lunch. As we dined 10 “runners” from a color sat around us on the patio: four of them lit cigarettes. Encouraging fitness? 5Ks have become to modern tailgate party.

  8. Jack in MN

    “a color run” and “the modern equivalent of a.” Hasting postings.

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