The Color Run, Tough Mudder and the others: is this sport?


Something is happening to running.

No longer is it enough to don a pair of running shoes, shorts and a technical t-shirt and hit the roads.  Nowadays it seems you have to wade through mud, climbs walls, swim streams, push through electrodes, in the Tough Mudder events or or avoid a zombie intent on “infecting” you in the Zombie Evacuation Race.

Alternatively, you can equip yourself with a tweed outfit and join the deerstalkers or run 5km surrounded by a firework show to celebrate Guy Fawkes night.

Not challenging enough? Then run for 24 hours straight in the Adidas Thunder Run or Take on the Mountain in RatRace’s Man V Mountain event.

Music lovers can choose to Run to the Beat or take part in one of the RocknRoll live music running events, no headphones required!

And that’s without mentioning the latest trend to hit our streets, The Color Run, also known as the Happiest 5km’s on the planet, where participants start the race dressed in pristine white and finish covered in all the colours of the rainbow (not by chance is the event sponsored by Dulux!)

Last but not least, there are the “fluo” runs and Energiser Night Runs – 5km races run after sunset with head torches to light the way.

But is this sport or just a day out? 

1. Mass participation in sport can only be a good thing.
Just look at the stats. To date more than 1 million people have signed up for Tough Mudder events, in 2013 alone more than 1 million people took part in the Color Run in the UK, and Run to the Beat in September has more than 19,000 runners registered.  And that’s just three of many many events.

How can this level of participation in sport events – all of which that require some degree of training and commitment (from beginners in their first 5km to more serious athletes who’ll run to the summit of Snowdon before taking on an obstacle course) – not be seen as a positive?

2. It’s not against the clock
It’s about Community, Collaboration, Teamwork.  The shorter 5-10km themed races are a chance for people who don’t have the time or the desire to dedicate hours to training and racing to take part in sports without the stress of a “real” race. For many it could also be the first step on the path to fitness.

Zombie Evacuation: A beginners route to fitness. We also wanted to create not just a race….. but an EXPERIENCE! Most of all we want people to realise that there is more to life than sitting in front of the TV.”

Color Run: “a unique color race that celebrates healthiness, happiness, individuality, and giving back to the community.”

Other events – such as the challenging Tough Mudder series put teamwork and camaraderie ahead of individual achievement.  They emphasis the experience over and above the finishing time.

“But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.”

3. They are fun
It doesn’t surprise me that these events have really taken off in the UK following the USA.  We’re often far less worried about “looking good” ahead of having fun than many of our European counterparts (you don’t see many runners in a Borat mankini or dressed as the Honey Monster in the Milan marathon for example).   Give us Brits the opportunity to get dressed up, roll in the mud, run through paint, or wade through waist-high water (none of which is easy to do whilst looking your best) and for some reason we’re in our element.  Perhaps it just reminds us of our PE lessons during our school days!

4. They raise money for charity
Many of the events have an official charity partner. Two examples are the Tough Mudder events which  have raised more than $5 million for the Wounded Warrior Project or The Color Run which has partnered with Stand Up to Cancer.  Of course you can donate to charity without asking a friend to wade through mud or get sprayed in coloured powder, but for some reason we seem to be prepared to put up the cash just to watch our friends, family and colleagues take on experiences that we would otherwise consider a form of madness.

In conclusion, from my perspective these races can only be a good thing.  Purists say it is not running, and it’s true, I certainly wouldn’t approach the Color Run in the same way as I would the Boston marathon, but they are a chance to get out, have fun, and you never know, maybe for one or two people it could just be the stimulus they need to get their running shoes on and take those essential first steps…

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