February 17, 2014
The Color Run (also known as the “Happiest 5k on the Planet”) is a very unique kind of untimed, 5K (3.2 mile) “race”.
You start the run dressed in a clean white t-shirt, and then you pass through a color station once every kilometer or so. Each color station is associated with a different color, with volunteers blasting you with dyed (but harmless) cornstarch out of spray bottles as you run by. So you complete the 5K completely covered in…color.
At the finish line of a Color Run, there are typically some pretty wild celebrations featuring a giant dance party, food vendors, and of course – lots and lots of color.
It looks like this:
But it can certainly be intimidating to know exactly what to do to get ready for a 5K Color Run and what to expect during the race, especially if it’s your first event. So in this article, you’re going to get my top 10 tips to get ready for a Color Run – and even if you're a 5K running veteran, you may pick up a thing or two.
10 Tips To Get Ready For a Color Run
It may sound simple, but if you reserve a spot and pay for your Color Run, you will automatically gain more incentive to train. Knowing that your name is on the registration list or that your friends know you signed up for the race will really energize you, so take the first step and find a race near you. There are more than 170 Color Runs in over 30 countries, so it shouldn't be hard to find something.
So how far out should you look when finding a race? Depending on how fit you are right now, 1-3 months is sufficient time to prepare for a 5K distance.
2. Train 3 times a week.
You don’t have to run every day to get ready for a 5K (or even a marathon, for that matter)! Just 3 times a week is fine. For example, one day can be your “fast day,” in which you either walk or run a short distance at a very fast pace. Begin with 1/4 mile at a fast pace, and gradually add to the distance until you can run or walk very fast for a mile. Another day can be a “strength day,” in which you walk or run at a moderate intensity up a steep hill, series of hills, or stirs. Begin with 1-2 hill repeats, and gradually work yourself up to 5-10. Finally, include an easier “endurance day” in which you go long and slow, without pushing yourself too hard. On these days, begin at about 1-2 miles, and gradually work yourself up to 3-4 miles. For more tips on increasing your running speed, check out my article and podcast episode on “How to Run Faster“.
3. Combine walking and running.
If you feel completely exhausted during your running workouts, then attempt a brisk series of runs separated by walks instead of a steady jog or run. Use a landmark, a telephone pole for instance, and walk to one pole, then jog to the next. You'll eventually increase your endurance, and this can make the training easier, both mentally and physically. Or, you can walk 3 minutes, run 1 minute, walk 2 minutes, run 1 minute, walk 1 minute, run 1 minute, etc. For more on this type of run-walk protocol, check out my article and podcast episode on “How to Start Running.” Even some very fast Ironman triathletes and marathoners will run 8-10 minutes then do a brisk walk for 1 minute during their race (and I interviewed on guy who walked an entire marathon in under 3 hours!)
You'll improve your endurance and oxygen capacity, strengthen your joints and ligaments, and allow your body to have a break from the impact of fast walking or running if you include something other than simply pounding the pavement in your routine. So try adding one bike ride and one swim or elliptical trainer workout into your routine, preferably in between your walking/running days. Here are some ideas for good cross-training workouts – and if you're really wanting a fresh change-up that works all your running muscles without any impact, try one of those fancy but fun Elliptigo machines. I ride mine once per week.
5. Lift weights.
Resistance training is also a great way to strengthen the supporting ligaments and tendons while building up resistance to injury. It also gives you a step up in your fat burning hormones. Try a full body program, with 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions, performed 2-3 days a week. For a good full body workout program for runners, check out this Huffington Post article on becoming a better athlete.
Anytime you increase walking or running volume, certain areas of your body tend to get tighter – particularly your “fascia” or layer of connective tissue that surrounds your muscles. To ensure you don't get injured and that you don't have those dreaded heavy leg syndrome during your training or your race, your primary flexibility and mobility focus should be to reduce build-up of adhesions and cross-linking in this fascia – particularly on the muscles of the upper leg: the hip flexors and the hamstrings, and also the calf muscles of the lower leg. Here's a comprehensive article on how to increase your mobility with these strategies.
And while a yoga class will do a halfway decent job stretching your muscles, runners are far better off performing a dynamic flexibility routine that includes lots of marching, lunging, sideways stepping, and front and side leg swings – and even some foam rolling. Here’s a good dynamic stretch routine.
7. Warm-up before the Color Run.
If you feel like performing your Color Run at a faster pace, a warm-up becomes very important, since it allows your body to attain a higher intensity without as much “burn.” To warm-up for your Color Run, simply perform an easy jog for 2-5 minutes, then include a few short 20-45-second efforts at a fast pace, with full recoveries between each. Aim for a slight burn in your muscles and deep breathing with each of those fast pace efforts. Try to finish your warm-up within 5 minutes before the Color Run begins – and while you're waiting, do some of those dynamic stretch moves.
8. Don't eat too much before the Color Run.
There's no need to wake up and 2am and eat a bowl of Wheaties before a 5K. A simple small meal about 2-3 hours before the race will allow you to sufficiently digest your food, but still have enough energy for the event. Here are some very good meal ideas that will burn clean and give you good amounts of energy. If you tend to get hungry directly before your runs, try a small pick-me-up, like half a banana or a small handful of raisins, just 5-10 minutes before the race.
Remember that you don’t need to worry about eating too much or having big meals leading up to the event – your muscles have more than enough storage fuel on board to get you through a 5K! And if you tend to get the butterflies in your stomach, definitely avoid excessive fiber, like big kale smoothies, dried fruits or giant bowls of oatmeal. You don't want to be coloring a toilet bowl when your Color Run starts!
9. Don't feel performance pressure during the Color Run.
Many people simply walk their first Color Run. It is, after all, a completely untimed event. Other people combine walking and running. If you’re new to this whole 5K thing, don’t impose any expectations on yourself. Just relax, have fun, and perform at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to have a big smile on your messy, colorful face at the finish line.
10. Pace your race.
Depending on how fast you walk or run, expect the Color Run to last anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes (although very fast folks can complete the run in under 15 minutes!). I recommend you split things up like this: walk or run the first few minutes fast (you’ll get caught up in the crowd, which generally moves at a quick pace when things first start), then settle into a sustainable pace until you hit the 2-mile (around 3K0 marker. Then gradually push yourself to the 3 mile (around 4K) mark, and finally, for those meters, go as hard as you can so you look great sprinting in your finish line photos.
Just remember to wipe that colorful drool off your grinning mug before you cross the finish line so you don't look like a complete zombie in your post-race photos.
Need a Color Run training plan? Here are a few of my favorites:
–5K Training Plan for Beginners (includes theory, practice, manual, templates and injury prevention guide)
–Trail Running Terror plan (for those of you who like to take things outdoors and get dirty)
–10 Weeks to 10K Run Plan for All Levels (yea, yea – 10K, but good for those of you who plan on taking things to the next level eventually)
So there you have it. It's easy to find a Color Run near you, even easier to register, and now you know how to train, how to pace, and how to eat for your first Color Run. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start running! If you have questions about how to get ready for a Color Run, then leave your comments below!