Healthy Active+ist

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A Tale of Two Races

Color me rad 2

Running in the Color Me Rad 5K in Wilmington, NC recently left me feeling a little bit sick to my stomach.  No, it wasn’t my (less than) grueling pace or even the copious amounts of colored powder I ingested when it was thrown on me.  It was the knowledge that I’d just shelled out a $40 per person entry fee to run in a FOR PROFIT race.

Let me back up a bit. You’d have to live under a rock not to have noticed that charity 5K races are proliferating like crazy. And I love the trend, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. They’re healthy and active with a bit of activism, too. What’s not to like?

So when our family was invited to join a team running the 5K Color Me Rad run to “help raise money for UNC Wilmington’s sports programs,” we all thought, why not? Even India, who had been a somewhat ambivalent Girls on the Run – er last Spring was psyched for it. The thought of getting covered in rainbow-colored powder while running had a lot of appeal for the kids. For me, the charity aspect of running a 5K is a big draw. We’d get together as a family, get some exercise, and do some good at the same time.

I’m sorry,  did I say we’d do some good? Perhaps “some” was the wrong word. Perhaps I should have written, do “a little” good at the same time. A very little.

My first hint that something was a bit off was when I visited the very slick website to register and was invited to type UNCW in the promo code line during registration to donate “a portion of the proceeds” to UNCW’s Seahawks Club. I was quite surprised to see that if you failed to type UNCW in the promo code, your hefty registration fees wouldn’t even go towards the Seahawks Club! That led me to the FAQ section of the website, where Color Me Rad admitted to being a for-profit enterprise. They didn’t lie. But they certainly didn’t put the info front and center. So then I wondered: If you did happen to put in the promo code, how much was…. a “portion?”

Well I haven’t been able to find out. But what I do know from published info about other Color Me Rad races is that they’re developing a reputation for donating a rather small portion of proceeds to their “charity partner.” From what I’ve read, they typically give between 6% and $12% of proceeds to charity. So, if they were donating, say, 10% to charity, only $4 of my $40 was going to the Seahawks. But they sure do talk about that charity part a LOT in their marketing and public relations.  Clearly they’re counting on people associating 5ks with charities, and not asking too many questions.

Apparently, I’ve been out of the loop, and this is a trend.  Color Me Rad and other flashy races like it go from city to city, sometimes with a “charity partner” and sometimes not. Hmmm. I can’t help but worry that the market is becoming over saturated with races anyway and that what was once a reliable way for nonprofit organizations to raise money is going to become harder and harder to pull off now. It’s hard to compete with the slickness of these races – they’ve got fancy websites and rainbow stuff and music and gimmicks galore.

I learned from writing this post that I’m certainly not alone in having reservations about these events. I typed in “for-profit races” to Google and got dozens of articles about cities thinking of banning them, nonprofits upset about losing out to them, and runners feeling duped by them.

I belong to a local organization called Active Chatham and our main fundraiser is the 5k Reindeer Run coming up on December 14 (shameless plug: if you’re in the Triangle area of NC visit for info). It’s the perfect fundraiser for us because our organization is about promoting physical activity in our local community. Every year, we use the proceeds to award a grant to a local organization for a project that provides places for local residents to be active. Last year, we awarded our funds to an organization building a skateboard park. What a great way to get kids and teenagers active!

We work really hard to keep our costs down. We’re sweating over each and every expense from the t-shirts to police security. We want to make sure we maximize our profits so we can give out as big a grant as possible.  And of course our event is a small local event so our entry fees are $20, not the $40 that Color Me Rad was able to get.

Though it is perhaps lacking in rainbow-colored powder, music, zombies, crazy obstacles or funky fashions, it is always a really fun event. A lot of local people and organizations get behind it and so there is a great feeling of community spirit. Plus, Santa is there AND you can wear antlers when you run. Good times!

Run/walk events are a fantastic trend for many reasons. It’s hard for me to knock something that gets people together to be active. But if you’re running in these events primarily for the fundraising I suggest you take a close look at what you’re registering for. I will likely avoid the for-profit races from now on.

What do you think? Am I being a Scrooge? Scroll down to leave a reply!



  1. Lexie,
    You are right. Color me Rad should be upfront and very clear about their intentions, no doubt they would say they were, but it’s all about the strategic communication, how it’s done and the words they use and placement. Not entirely honest and therefore dishonest in its entirety. You are not being a Scrooge, they are.

  2. everyone should read the Healthy Activist, every week.
    Stay informed!