Themed runs gain popularity

Have you ever felt the need to run a race at night covered in neon powder? No? Well, to be honest, I didn’t either up until a week ago. As a result of plenty of Facebook advertising and a post from a friend, the Blacklight Run caught my attention.

Black lights are pretty cool. They invert normal color schemes and create a contrast between bright, neon colors and a black abyss — much like how I imagine it would feel to take hardcore drugs. Since I probably won’t be getting hooked on hallucinogens anytime soon, and I’m always game to go running, the Blacklight Run seemed like an interesting activity.

Running is great exercise, especially for those lacking in the coordination and people skills required of other team-oriented sports, such as football, badminton and curling. A brisk run can clear your mind with the help of endorphins and an elevated heartbeat. Before this race, though, I had never participated in a themed running event.

Marathons with a theme are nothing new. There are rock ‘n’ roll runs, runs that push participants through muddy obstacles and runs that require the barest minimum of clothing. Undie runs have even become a staple at college campuses across the nation. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, considering the crowd), clothing was not optional at Saturday’s race.

The Blacklight Run is most similar to the Color Run. Both involve runners wearing white clothing that will become splattered with vibrant substances and both are focused on the fun side of a 5K rather than the timing aspect. On the other hand, the Blacklight Run can only take place at night for obvious reasons. Thus, the event takes on a different tone than the sunny Color Run. A night run enables the use of glow-in-the-dark powders and LED lights, qualities unique to the Blacklight Run that gave it an almost rave-like atmosphere.

In addition to the fluorescent decorations, some of the runners exhibited that keen sense of fashion that is only a found at a rave. A few female participants were wearing brightly colored fluffies and other runners, male and female, sported tutus. Still others brought along bracelets and necklaces that would blink and flash — exactly the kind of gear you’d expect to find at a rave.

This rave aesthetic seemed to be the driving force behind the race’s marketing scheme, even evident in the pulsating electro music played by the disc jockey. I think this is what actually categorizes the 5K as worthy of the trending hashtag. The event combined 5K running, an already tried-and-true crowd pleaser, with a relatively modern music and social scene. You might even call the Blacklight Run the mashup of all 5K’s.

And though the Blacklight Run does get a passing grade for effort, (and also its charitable dedication to Children’s Miracle Network), the execution of the run left something to be desired. It is true that sometimes my imagination does run wild, but, in my humble opinion, I don’t think my expectations were asking too much.

Based on the promotional images, I anticipated a night run that would play out like a scene from Tron. I’m not saying I expected Daft Punk to suddenly appear or that the powder would be as visually awe-inspiring as the film’s special effects, but I did anticipate an event that was better organized than the result.

My running partner and I arrived at the race a little early since it was all the way out in Pomona. Another reason for arriving early was to beat the registration lines, which actually weren’t a problem. For a hot minute, I was pretty worried I wouldn’t be able to race at all since the volunteer couldn’t find my name on the registration list. The running gods smiled on me, though, as my name suddenly appeared on the list and I was allowed to run.

The next sign that this wasn’t going to be a normal race was the abundance of food trucks next to the field. Considering it was near dinnertime and we hadn’t eaten much that day, the natural decision was to get barbecue chicken strips and French fries. Only time would tell if this would be a regrettable decision.

Stomachs full and legs stretched, it wasn’t long before 6:45 p.m. arrived and we headed over to the starting line. And thus began the mass confusion. There was a shortage of volunteers informing the runners what to do or about how the course would work. It could have been that we just missed the public service announcement, but everyone seemed to be in the same confused boat as us.

After a long period of standing and waiting without any instructions, we decided to join the other runners who began taking to the track on their own. Halfway around the other side of the track, just as we had gotten into our rhythm, a voice announced the official beginning of the race.

As it turned out, running was not a top priority for any of the participants. Most people were just walking by the time we reached the majority of the crowd again. There were, after all, at least 8,000 participants in the night’s race and the crowd was certainly a motley crew, with ages and body types that range the spectrum.

The race took us away from the dirt track at the Los Angeles Fairplex and led us through the parking lots and even through a barnyard area complete with eau de cow. Inhaling the smell of cow while running is truly an experience.

Before the event, I had pictured a race where volunteers and onlookers would douse runners with clouds of glow-in-the-dark powder as they cheered us on. It would be glorious and I would feel like an ultraviolet-enhanced version of track and field legend Steve Prefontaine. The reality ended up being a few stations scattered throughout the course so that runners could maybe get hit with a few bursts of powder.

The finish line, where we were promised we would be given a pack of glow powder, was slightly anticlimactic. Actually, there weren’t any signs so we were pretty confused about whether the race was over. Beyond the finish line, however, was a stage where the DJ and a robot were leading the crowd into a post-run frenzy.

Sadly, the robot was merely a man in costume and not a member of the famed French music duo, but the party was still a fun end to an interesting race. Music pumped and here was where the glow powder was  freely distributed. Finally, a chance to glow in the dark like Tron!

For those of you still intrigued by this nationwide trend, the Blacklight Run will return to Los Angeles in 2014. My only advice? Bring your own glow powder and don’t let it get in your mouth. Chalk doesn’t taste good, even if it does come in bright, pretty colors.


Nick Cimarusti is a senior majoring in English. His column “#trending” runs Wednesdays.