Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Color Run & Company descends upon Taiwan

Here is a new topic guaranteed to get your runner friend's dander up: The Color Run - Happiest 5k on the Planet. Much like barefoot or minimalistic running, this untimed event during which volunteers blast the runners with dyed cornstarch out of spray bottles generates heated debate on its health effects. 

The Seed
I had picked my sides quickly: You can find a pair of Vibram Five Fingers in my shoe collection. And when my mom scoffed at the idea of willingly running through fluorescent sand storms, I thought, "Well, aren't you just a party pooper?" - I had excitedly told her about The Color Run and expected to hear praises for this event's creativity and positive, fun message. After all, it is pretty difficult to not be inspired by images of runners with rainbow colored smiles. What I didn't expect was what actually followed. And so, below is the story of how my mother (and a fellow teacher) brought down The Color Run in Taiwan. Okay, maybe not really. But feel free to read on anyway. 

The Build-up
August 18: The Color Me Rad run, a similar but unrelated event, takes place at the Dajia Riverside Park [大佳河濱公園] where my mom takes her daily stroll and becomes an accidental spectator. 
August 27: Dismayed by the post-race conditions at the park, she writes a blog post hoping to bring attention to the lack of proper clean-up. Photos also show nearby grass fields withering after being blanketed by powder. At the same time, she questions whether these airborne particles are, contrary to the organizer's claims, harmful to respiratory health. 
September 2: The blog post becomes somewhat viral and even gets picked up by several television news channels. Though a few people are skeptical of my mom's intentions (ie. does she work for The Color Run?!), it definitely got a lot of people talking:
Generated based on my not-so-scientific analysis of the comments

Most deride color runners as mere blind followers of whatever is currently popular, while about a quarter of commenters share my initial reaction. In this somewhat xenophilic yet nationalistic society, these sentiments often bubble up in great contrast. Some people agree with my mom's concern for the environment. And a small group of people criticize how these organizations are only interested in making money. It is worthwhile to note that although The Color Run has always been upfront about being a for-profit event company, they do highlight local charities in their marketing materials, but generally only donating less than 2% of its proceeds. 
September 17: Someone reports the Color Me Rad incident to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and they are instructed to clean up and restore the park. However, when my mom revisits the park, she found that sloppy repair had only led to an even more disheartening sight. 

New grass patches have also died.

September 28: Amidst controversy, The Color Run takes place at the same park. All eyes were on the organization to see how they will handle the clean-up.

The Linchpin
September 28 (right after the run) Alice Chen, whom my Facebook stalking confirmed to also be a teacher, posted the photo that says a thousand words. 
The Color River
The Aftermath
September 30: The EPA swiftly fines The Color Run $70,000 TWD (approx. $2,400 USD) for illegally dumping into the river. But in true corporate fashion, The Color Run PR machine claimed that only trace amounts of dust fell into the river due to strong winds when they were diligently cleaning up - despite photo evidence showing workers pushing dust directly into the river with pressure washer and brooms. 
October 3: The EPA says that it will not endorse this form of exercise and will consider regulating or even banning future events on grounds of its negative impacts on human health and the environment. 

The Cliche
Yes, yes, the power of social media and so on. Ok, these runs are extremely popular in North America and are continuing popping up in different areas of the world. Is Taiwan the only place that is incapable of executing a comprehensive clean-up plan? How is The Color Run in your city? Is Taiwan the only place that is environmentally / health conscious? Or should The Color Run organizers consider how densely populated a place is before going there?

Either way, it probably was not the happiest 5k in Taiwan.

Google Translate Time
The Color Run in: Bogota (Colombia)


  1. I've never participated in a Color Run; I must say they look like a lot of fun! I never will participate in one, though, simply for health reasons.

    My mom has suffered with seasonal allergies all her life, but in later years, any type of chemicals or small particles in the air can send her lungs into full shutdown. She has to carry an epi-pen with her at all times. The cornstarch in the air at a Color Run would devastate her lungs. To be fair, most people will never suffer like my mom would at one of these events, but I've noticed an interesting thing about her condition over the years. It's almost as if she is the proverbial canary in the mine shaft. As time wears on, things that have always irritated my mom's lungs are slowly being outed as bad for us to breathe. While the colors certainly wouldn't kill anyone, I have a hard time believing that a bunch of (sticky-when-wet) starch coating our lungs does not have some adverse effect.

    My point being, organizers making blanket statements about no negative health effects are either ignorant or disingenuous. Organizers should definitely consider population density when putting on an event.

    1. Yeah, I think they keep stressing that it is "non-toxic", which is not the same thing as not "harmful" to the environment or human body, especially in large quantities like that.

  2. This is what took place in Bogota (Colombia), the streets are dirty and municipal administration seems to do nothing. We only steal the money, corrupt!

    In the link, leave a story with pictures (in Spanish)

    Greetings from Medellin, Colombia!