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home : sports : high school sports April 29, 2016

Katie Rinka, left, and her sister Sara proudly display their colorful clothing after completing a color dash run in Eau Claire. Big Brothers Big Sisters of northwest Wisconsin will hold a 5K Color Dash Aug. 23 at Rhineladner High School. (photo courtesy of Katie Rinka/Instagram)
Katie Rinka, left, and her sister Sara proudly display their colorful clothing after completing a color dash run in Eau Claire. Big Brothers Big Sisters of northwest Wisconsin will hold a 5K Color Dash Aug. 23 at Rhineladner High School. (photo courtesy of Katie Rinka/Instagram)
8/13/2014 3:25:00 PM
Experiential racing catching hold in the Northwoods

Andy Hildebrand
Feature Writer

The days of traditional 5-kilometer races certainly aren't extinct, but a new brand of running event has exploded in popularity over the last few years.

Runners today have a smorgasbord of creative and exhilarating options to choose from, some more grueling than others.

Many aren't timed and they aren't just for serious athletes. The emphasis is on creating an atmosphere that's more about having fun than setting a personal best time. That's part of the appeal.

Later this month, the Color Dash will make its way to Rhinelander, the area's very first themed event.

Many area competitors are preparing for the multi-colored affair, but some Northwoods athletes have already participated in similar events, or other kinds of experiential runs.

Rhinelander resident Katie Rinka took part in a color run in Eau Claire. She said it wasn't your average race.

"In a normal race I would have been completely miserable but this race everyone did for fun and you enjoyed yourself cause it was such a unique and fun experience," she said. "The color run was more like a party then it was an actual run. Everybody was there in the morning dancing beforehand and doing Zumba. Then during the run you're blasted with a ton of colored powder at different stations. Then after the run there is loud music and the colored powder has been sprayed everywhere. It's a lot like being at a rave."

Color runs are far from the only kind of niche run available today. Barbie Haack said she took part in an event that was maybe a little more challenging and a lot dirtier.

"Two friends and I participated in the first Muddy Marquette as part of the Marquette County Fair in July of last year," she said. "It's a 5K run through the mud. It wasn't timed, and we were released in different waves. Some groups wore costumers. It was a purely for fun event."

The non-competitive nature of the event appealed to Haack and made her more comfortable. Plus, the course kept her on her toes.

"In a traditional 5K, it's all about running as fast as you can to cross the finish line," she said. "A mud run challenges you in other physical and mental ways by forcing you to take obstacles that may be really intimidating, and many of them force you to work as a team, unlike a traditional run where you are trying to beat everyone. Although the obstacles are challenging, they also give you a break from running which is great if you're a sprinter and not a distance runner."

That's a common theme in runs of this nature. It's often more than an individual challenge. Friends tackle the obstacles or make their way through the clouds of color together, and that adds an entirely different element to it.

Tierney Edwards has participated in both kinds of niche runs. She said the social component is a big bonus.

"As far as themed runs, I have participated in the Color Run as well as he Warrior Dash," she said. "Both are 5K runs. In both instances, I had a group of friends that wanted to do it, so we signed up as a team. The Color Run has color stations every kilometer where people throw powdered color on you. It's basically equivalent to dyed powdered sugar. At the end there is a deejay and more color throwing. I think themed runs are very different kind of runs. I started with a few themed runs just to get me excited about running. While running a themed run, you don't think about running. There are also people of all ages participating. Like myself, I think people are choosing themed runs as a way to start working out and getting active."

While certainly trendy, some of these experiential runs aren't for the faint of heart. Lee DeMet said he took part in the Tough Mudder with some college friends and it was far from easy.

"The Tough Mudder is about a 13-mile run with anywhere between 20 to 30 obstacles along the way," he said. "The obstacles range from climbing walls, mud pits and mudslides, river crossings via a hanging rope or balance beam, and even one in which you have to run through a bunch of hanging electrical wires that give you a pretty good shock on contact."

Even with events like the Tough Mudder though, it's still about that social element. Sure, it's a challenge, but it's one to share with friends.

"The race isn't really meant to be competitive, and it's not timed at all," DeMet said. "The only real goal is to finish and have a good time. It's also put on by the Wounded Warriors organization, so all the proceeds go toward supporting injured veterans. The race itself was pretty fun. There were probably a few thousand participants in all, so they start people in waves throughout the day. Most of the obstacles can't be completed without help from other racers, so there's a big emphasis on teamwork. It's much more fun to run with a group of people, so my friends and I ended up meeting and running with another group of racers from Madison."

While events like the Tough Mudder represent a greater challenge than events like the Color Dash, they both involve being both social and active.

DeMet said he likes the physical challenge events like the Tough Mudder present.

"For my own part, the allure for an event like the Tough Mudder is simply to see if I can make it through alive," he said. "It's satisfying to finish something like that and know that you're in good enough physical shape to handle any kind of situation. I think the Tough Mudder is a little different from other theme runs because it's more towards the hard core end of the spectrum."

Many others are perfectly content with tame side of experiential runs though. Rinka and Edwards both said they'll continue to sign up for events like the Color Dash.

"I would love to keep doing them," Rinka said. "You meet a lot of cool people and get to dress fun and it's a great time."

Andy Hildebrand may be reached at

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