I’ll be honest, I have a bit of a reputation in the RW office for being something of a competitive animal, so a Personal Worst of 40-odd minutes for a 5K wouldn’t normally constitute a good Sunday. But then the Color Run is about as far from competitive as you can get in your running shoes, and Sunday 7th June was a marvellous family day out.
Under benevolent blue skies in the gentle June sunshine, I lined up in the start chute between the towering stadium and the London Designer Outlet complex surrounded by my very excited five-year-old son, ten-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew. With my marginally-less-excited wife completing the line up, ‘Team Mackie’ had swelled from last year when I ran this same event with my then 4-year-old boy. That was his first ‘race’ and it’s a testament to the inclusive, family-friendly nature of the event that we came back with our ranks swelled.
That’s my boy
Of course, this is steadfastly not a ‘race’, and as our wave ambled onto the course with big smiles in place of ‘race focus’ and not a gps start beep to be heard, nobody seemed to have missed the point and turned it into one. Apart from my son. He was immediately busy picking his way through the field with the determination of an Olympian. Obviously not a regular reader of Dad’s magazine, his pacing strategy was maverick in the extreme. He was sprinting all out, weaving between slightly bemused but smiling punters who clocked his blond mop bouncing by at waist height, until his diminutive lungs gave out on him and he came to an abrupt stop. Then, after gathering his ‘puff’, he’d be off again, turning the outing into a full-on interval session.
My nephew followed the all-or-nothing approach while my niece, a little older and wiser than the boys, trotted steadily with my wife as I kept visual on the two young hares. By then I was sporting a grin of my own. It’s such a pleasure watching kids run for the pure joy of running and great to be part of an event where they’re welcomed with open arms to do their thing alongside the adults.
Powder to the people
As the course bent round the curves of the stadium the atmosphere was a mobile party of big grins and general bonhomie, and it all ramped up considerably when we hit the first colour station. If you’re not familiar with the Colour Run format, these 5K runs are punctuated at every kilometre marker by volunteers who cover you in paint powder. You get a thorough splattering of a different hue at each, so by the end your initially white race T-shirt – along with anything else you’re wearing, plus your body/hair/mood – is covered in a crazy kaleidoscopic paint job.
It was pink first and, predictably, we all went big on it. The kids were wide-eyed and giggling as we compared coverage before kicking on. The boys stuck to their sprint/walk strategy, while the field in general wasn’t in much of a hurry. We saw plenty of other families with younger kids dotted among the masses of teenagers and 20-somethings, who were generally jogging round in groups of friends. This certainly isn’t one for the running purist, but I found it heart-warming to see a different demographic involved in and enjoying an event.
The rest of the course unfolded on the streets around Wembley, which in all honesty can’t be described as the most scenic I’ve ever run through, but there was something quite special about being in constant sight of the iconic Wembley arch and the colour stations were a riot, painting not just the runners but the surrounding air in translucent clouds of blue, yellow and orange to add to the initial pink. We were only half way round when my nephew made me promise we could do it again next year and by the time we crossed the finish line – all five of us hand-in-hand – I was pretty convinced that this might just be, as the organisers’ strapline claims, ‘the happiest 5K on the planet’
Playground and pizza
The happy didn’t end at the finish line either – in an expansive open space under the gaze of that iconic arch there was a mini festival in full flow. Those teens and 20-somethings were bouncing in front of a main stage, the sky awash with the packets of paint powder they hurled into the air.
With my gang a little too young (or a little too old) for moshing we soaked it from a distance for a while then took our leave and it was then that the Wembley Park location came into its own. A short stroll to the other side of stadium took us to a fantastic playground where the kids could burn off their race-generated excitement, and with them fully-absorbed in the swings, slides and climbing frames my wife and were able to indulge in a sit in the sunshine.
It wasn’t long before the hunger monster made an inevitable appearance with the little ‘uns though, and thankfully it was a simple, hassle-fee hop across the road into the London Designer Outlet complex to access myriad family-friendly food option. We settled at a window table in Prezzo, with me demolishing a gargantuan pizza that I certainly hadn’t justified by my running efforts. It was a perfect vantage point to watch later waves pootling down the first straight with the Wembley arch arcing majestically into the deep blue of the sky. Among the ordinary Sunday punters, increasing numbers of rainbow-plastered finishers appeared on tables inside and out while the kids polished off ice-cream and cheese cake – the diet of future champions.
As we made our way back down Wembley Way with the throngs of returning Color Runners, I asked the kids again if they’d had fun. The answers were emphatic and I had to agree. (Though on Monday, with the pink paint washed out of my hair, I was back on the track, grimacing my way through a speedwork interval session. And that was fun too...)