SAN FRANCISCO – Two days after the fact, I still bear the faint bodily traces from the slowest 5K I've ever run.
Or perhaps it should be called a 5C run.
As in, five colors.
There, on my left quadriceps, is a green Gorbachevian blemish. My right calf sports an orange hue, like a spray-on tan gone hideously wrong. Blue, running to violet, has oozed into the tender epidermis on the back of my neck. My left big toenail is a deep purple.
Oh, wait: My toe is always that color.
Not to fear, no bodily harm came my way; just a little temporary discoloration in the name of good, clean Technicolor fun.
I survived San Francisco's version of The Color Run, a wacky 5K in which your white-clad corpus serves as a canvas for artistic and athletic expression.
The event hits Sacramento on Aug. 4.
By hit, I mean more like doused, pelted and dusted by volunteer van Goghs wielding bottles of chalky paint at each kilometer mark. Then, at the finish line, an "Animal House" type food fight, only with paint, breaks out as participants toss a rainbow of colors at one another with impunity.
Great fun. Messy, but fun nonetheless.
The Color Run began in January, brainchild of Utah triathlete Travis Snyder, and it has spread to 45 cities in both (politically) blue and red states.
"Travis has been in the racing scene a long time and really wanted to start a run where the really experienced runners could introduce the sport to those who aren't into it, and make it fun and noncompetitive," said Jackson Cozzens, a Color Run spokesman. "That's why it's not timed. It's one of the few running events not timed."
California boasts four Color Runs. The Sacramento event will start near the Capitol, wend its way through Old Sac, along the Sacramento River and then through midtown.
As a preview of the Aug. 4 shenanigans, I participated in the first San Francisco Color Run two weeks ago at Candlestick Park. It was a wild scene, even for a city where anything goes.
Thousands showed up on a typical chilly morn, all clad in white like the Man From Glad (ask your grandparents, kids) or Tom Wolfe (ask your parents). In the time it takes to run or walk or saunter 5 kilometers – 3.1 miles – the participants emerged tie-dyed, head to toe, though most of the paint was targeted for the white shirt.
About the paint: We're not talking latex or acrylic. It's nontoxic and essentially harmless colored cornstarch. Oh, it'll turn your clothes and skin all sorts of hues, especially if you sweat, but in a few days your skin will be back to its natural color. As for your shirt, you can wash the color right out of it, if you wish. But many choose to commemorate the experience by keeping the garment splattered.
Of course, not everyone wore a shirt to The Color Run.
Take Morgan Murphy of Sacramento, who donned a full-body white painter's suit, with hood, accentuated with gray paper coverings for his shoes. He looked as if he was girding himself for hazardous materials duty, not a fun run.
"I did a 101 Dalmatians costume for Halloween last year, and I had an extra painter's suit, so I decided to use it again," said Murphy, who ran with his family. "It sounded like a really fun run. It's something different. I saw pictures from my cousin. He did one in another city a while ago."
If Murphy chose to outfit himself for minimum skin exposure, Steve Krzywonos of San Francisco took a different approach. He wore a white bathrobe. That is all. (Oh, and running shoes, as well.)
"It's only because my union suit didn't come in the mail soon enough," he said, "I was going to do the button-up union one-piece, all white. But I settled for this (robe) because I wanted to absorb as much color as I possibly can.
"This year I did Bay to Breakers in a Gumby costume and that was the most fun I've ever had. This is comparable, but nothing's like Bay to Breakers."
Indeed, The Color Run had much the same vibe as San Francisco's annual bacchanal, sans nudity (though we did catch a few stragglers hoisting beer mugs). People cavorted and galumphed. They posed and primped. They spent most of their energy laughing uproariously at one another.
It's not a timed "race," though I suppose you could run fast. But what's the point? The real challenge is trying to get as saturated with color as possible, and the way to do that is to veer toward the outside at the color stations to get a full-frontal dousing.
At the San Francisco event, the run began like any other 5K, albeit at a leisurely pace. Nearing the 1K mark, though, I looked ahead and saw a pink cloud on the horizon and heard the whoops and hollers of those in front of me.
Passing through, I was hit, square in the chest, with a stream of chalky pink coloring by a dude pretending to be Jackson Pollock, then was coated by a fine mist of dust as if I were caught in a Shake 'n' Bake bag.
At that first color station, I learned something very important: Keep your mouth closed as you pass, lest your molars and tongue become gritty with residue.
The kilometers go by fast because you're wondering which color will hit you next. In this case, it was yellow at the 2K mark, blue at the 3K. The family yearned for green, to mark our Irish heritage, at 4K. But rounding the corner, we saw plumes of orange dust billow and rain down on runners. My mind kept thinking "Agent Orange," and mushroom clouds.
But, really, it's all harmless fun – and doesn't affect one's breathing too much.
In fact, it has breathed new life into your run-of-the-mill weekly 5K.