In the past few years, “fun runs” have become all the rage in the running world. The paint run, in which runners are pelted with a colored powder, creating almost a human rainbow of multicolored bodies, is the current king of the 5K fads. There are at least five such paint runs currently criss-crossing the country and the globe, raking in the cash, presumably before the paint, and the novelty, wear off.
One such company, Run or Dye, descended on Santa Paula earlier this month and the results, much like the colors thrown at runners, were mixed.
Initially planning on coming to Ventura (not surprisingly, its chief competitor, The Color Run, came to Downtown Ventura this past October), depending on who you ask, either the permits were not granted by the city or an appropriate location could not be confirmed in time despite, oddly, tickets already being on sale and a flier online showing a paint-bombed Ventura promenade.
That’s where Ventura Ranch KOA Campgrounds and the city of Santa Paula stepped in and agreed, with less than a month before race day, to allow the event to take place in the city and at the campgrounds, a beautiful location indeed but definitely not the most accessible.
Any doubt that the idea was popular enough to work in a small city like Santa Paula was quickly put to rest as the turnout was nothing short of sensational. An estimated crowd of more than 7,000 people from across Ventura County and beyond attended the event, with a large majority of that number being teenagers and first-time runners.
That type of turnout ultimately adds up to big money.
With entry for runners coming in at $45, even with discount websites like GroupOn offering half-off deals for at least 1,000 people, that still comes out to well more than a quarter of a million dollars. While there are numerous costs to putting on an event of that size, anyway you spin it, the folks at Run or Dye, a for-profit organization that is owned by Viral Events, a Utah-based company, still left town with a sizable profit.
Even participating local nonprofit organizations, which Run or Dye is fast to point out received a share of the proceeds, had to bring volunteers, i.e., labor for the event. Run or Dye then paid the organizations a set price per volunteer — $50 — but only up to 100 people per organization, even if they brought more than that number, according to volunteers who worked the event.
At the Santa Paula race, The Ventura Family YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of the Santa Clara Valley were the nonprofit partners and combined to provide an impressive 241 volunteers. After the event, the daily newspaper reported that the event was a benefit put on by Run or Dye for the organizations: and while it is undoubtedly a great fundraising tool for a nonprofit, it’s far from a benefit just for nonprofits, which could be misleading to those who participated.
The question is, however, was “the full color celebration of life and fitness” really worth the price of admission?
As crowds gathered at the starting line, they looked up to a massive tower where two announcers killed time by spouting clubworthy, time-killing banter asking “all the sexy ladies in the house to make some noise” and reminding female runners that one of the duo was single. Runners then took off at random times throughout the day as opposed to the scheduled times for which they had signed up.
When the now-doused-in-powder runners finished, they were treated to more of the same, as a stage was set up and folks packed in front of it, only to have other emcees banter with the interchangeable crowd for literally hours, throwing out tutus and packets of dye in the process while seemingly waiting for something to actually happen.
Occasionally some teenage runners were brought up on stage for a “twerk contest,” and runners were encouraged to “hit the merch table hard” to buy more dye for the random “tie-dye the sky” sessions. After one mumbling emcee, who encouraged people to go online and “hashtag best day ever,” things started to descend into the feel of a rave meets youth group. Weird speeches about how “Run or Dye isn’t really about running but loving” and “Remember the troops who can’t be here today but would want to be” were mixed in with multiple “Living on a Prayer” and “Don’t Stop Believing” sing along sessions.
As for the race, well, there wasn’t much of one. The course was far short of the three miles promised and extremely tight at points. No times or winners were noted and many runners complained of the rocky and boulder-laden route.
The campground location also led to the biggest issue of the day, transportation. Being in a remote location, it was decided to bus attendees in from various lots in the city. What was promised to be a short bus ride was anything but. Runners often waited well over an hour to get on a bus, and there simply weren’t enough of; and worse than that, the wait to get on a bus to leave was up to two hours with no bathrooms or water at most of the pick-up locations.
Late in the day when two buses full of tired cornstarch-covered racers crashed into each other. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
All that aside, for the hordes of color-doused teenagers who spent the day taking picture after picture for their accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and probably a new social media site we’ve yet to hear about, it was a seemingly fun and successful outing as it did undoubtedly provide for some great photo opportunities.
The Run or Dye Facebook page was hit with complaints and demands for refunds later in the day. To its credit, the organization responded to several of them.
In the end perhaps the only true winners of the race were the organizers themselves, who left Ventura County with a small fortune and 11,000 dye packets lighter.
Chris Jay was a volunteer at the Run or Dye event. Who’s on first? is a monthly column featuring local sports-related stories. If there is an athlete, team or sporting event in Ventura County we should know about, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.