I thought, how do you combine colors and an endurance event?
I say this as somebody who runs multiple times a week: running is a sad hobby. Popping in earbuds and blasting Rage Against the Machine can only distract you for so long. Eventually, you must come face-to-face with your choice, that you willingly chose to run around for no other purpose than running itself. Every time foot slaps pavement, your mind tries to identify something, anything, that would make your jaunt more enjoyable.
This is where The Color Run enters the picture. It’s untimed, colorful (literally), and takes pride in claiming its status as The Happiest 5K on the Planet.
“I thought, how do you combine colors and an endurance event?” CEO and Founder Travis Snyder said. “We realized a 5K is the right length, if it’s shorter than that, it’s not far enough for people to feel accomplished, if it’s longer, you’re eliminating people by being too difficult. And then you add the color to it.”
With a background in event planning, Snyder had been searching for a way to broaden the appeal of an endurance event. There are crazy people who love running marathons, participating in triathlons, and other various forms of self-abuse, but the vast majority of humanity doesn’t yearn to suffer that dramatically.
Trips to Disneyland and experiencing the World of Color show got the wheels churning. After researching the event and examining Disney’s ability to appeal to a wide demographic, Synder arrived at a conclusion. A lot of people aren’t avid runners, but everybody likes a good party.
“I really spent some time thinking how can I create an event that has a really wide market?” Snyder said. “How can it attract both active and non-active people?”
From these questions, The Color Run began taking shape. To appeal to the masses, Snyder settled on a five kilometer length with color stations every kilometer. Contestants show up dressed in white (think human canvases), get plastered with colorful powders throughout the run, and cross the finish line reborn as bright, breathless, abstract art.
Oh, and the finish line also doubles as a party, complete with music, dancing, and (you guessed it) more color throwing.
The first official Color Run was held in January 2012 near Arizona State University. Snyder wasn’t sure if it would be successful, but the only way to find out was try.
“The initial permit in Tempe was for 2,000 people, down by ASU campus,” Snyder said. “It ended up selling out at 6,000 and at that point, we realized we had a hit.”
Because of the success, and realizing the demand for The Color Run was bigger than anticipated, plans were changed.
“I’d gone down to Arizona for meetings, passing out flyers, and it didn’t really seem obvious at that point that people were going to enjoy it,” Snyder said. “But, there was obviously interest. At the time, we were only permitting four or five locations for the year, we quickly expanded that and in 2012, we ended up doing 58 US cities and two international cities, one in Melbourne, Australia, one in Rio de Janeiro, and had 600,000 participants.”
With offices in Salt Lake and Los Angeles, the last three years have seen The Color Run go full beast-mode — as of today, roughly 600 events have been held totalling over 4.5 million runners. With festivities spanning the globe, 70 full-time employees and 100 part-time employees ensure that all running, laughing, and color-splashing go according to plan.
“We kind of treat ourselves as a rock band that goes on tour, each year we have a new refreshment of the event,” Snyder said. “Kaleidoscope was last year’s tour name. We created custom, 10-feet-tall, walk-in kaleidoscopes so that after a person was colorful they could walk in and take photos…The theme this year is the Shine Tour.”
If you’re an albino, vampire, or just somebody who generally avoids daytime, The Color Run Night is probably your best option. There’s still color and running, but with the added bonus of glow sticks, blacklight touch powders, and reflective substances. Think a rave minus the ecstasy, a race minus the competition, and the perfect time to get colorful in the dead of night.
To deal with the the rising demand for races, Snyder has created Bigsley, a parent brand that offers multiple services, new event ideas, and continues to push the excitement and entertainment of The Color Run.
“We’re realizing there’s demand in the corporate sector for what we do well,” Snyder said. “A good example would be, we formed a partnership last year with Major League Baseball around their All-Star Weekend. They wanted someone of our skillset that is young and disruptive and vibrant, so we formed The Color Run MLB All-Star 5K, it was in Minnesota, and we created a combo event for them that had 30,000 participants, integrated Major League mascots, giant baseballs, and all that type of fun stuff.”
The Color Run has hosted personalized events for a number of big names: MTV, T-Mobile, Gatorade, Firestone. They’ve been covered by basically every media outlet available, from ESPN to USA Today to ABC Nightline (and now Beehive Startups, the obvious kingpin of the group).
As business continues to boom, Snyder remains dedicated to providing people with the most unique experience running can provide, turning the mundane act of jogging into a joyous art form. You don’t have to love running to love a good party.
“Internationally, we have partners that execute,” Snyder said. “Domestically, we’ve divided the US and Canada up into regions and we have regional managers that run each region. People want our services and we really just want to be a creative shop that keeps killing it with The Color Run and then keeps putting out fresh stuff for people to go to that’s fun.”