Participants in color run blind-sided by cancellation

A white-shirted army descended on the Sacramento Raceway for a chance to be showered in colored corn starch Saturday. But the hundreds who turned out for an event promoted as “The Color Fight” discovered only an empty track and their prepaid tickets worthless.

Throngs of angry participants were turned away at the gate after the event was unexpectedly canceled by the organizer, Chris Martin of San Jose.

Nancy Smith, co-owner of the raceway, said Martin had tried twice to pay the facility’s $2,500 rental fee, once with a check that bounced and once with a credit card that did not clear. A website for the event was no longer accessible on Saturday. About 500 participants were expected for the event, Nancy Smith said.

Martin said by phone that the event was canceled because a number of participants had requested refunds after the run was moved from Capitol Mall downtown to the raceway.

“There’s no drama, we have to move forward,” she said, adding that all those who paid would be able to get refunds.

Runners were blind-sided by the cancellation, with most having prepaid their vouchers on major e-commerce sites Groupon and Amazon Local.

Some runners said Saturday they had received refunds, working through through the sites where they signed up.

A spokesman for Groupon said all vouchers sold by the company are backed by the “Groupon Promise,” which permits refunds in the case an event is canceled or rescheduled.

“We don’t know what happened,” said Amanda Lawand, 23, while sitting in a car. “We woke our butts up early and downed protein shakes. It’s depressing.”

The Elk Grove resident signed up a month in advance on Amazon to run with her friend Blake Romney, 23.

The event was originally scheduled for 10 a.m. on Capitol Mall, but would-be runners received last-minute emails directing them to the Sacramento Raceway, about 15 miles away at 5305 Excelsior Road in southeast Sacramento County. A city of Sacramento spokesperson could not confirm Saturday whether the race had sought a permit to hold the event on the mall.

Aimee Gibson, a raceway employee, said at one point there were more than 100 cars lined up at the gate.“It was crazy,” she said. “We didn’t have any idea what happened.”

Maricor Coquioco, 43, pulled up in a white minivan shortly before noon. She woke up at 5 a.m. to make the nearly two-hour drive from San Francisco.

“It was going to be our first color run,” Coquioco said, as she waited with her four family members in the van. “How are we going to get our money back?”

Heather Lucas, 29, drove with her husband from their Dixon home to attend the race. Organizers were “horrible in how they handled the cancellation,” she said in an email to The Bee. “I did not receive any notification via email or phone in regards to it. To have to hear it from the owners of the facility was just rude.”

Lucas said she bought her ticket through Amazon and was able to get a refund.

The Color Fight’s Facebook page lists 95 scheduled events across the country, from San Francisco to Atlanta. Sacramento appears to be the first Color Fight event. The page was created on Oct. 3, and commenting had been disabled Saturday.

Brianne Pendley drove from Jackson for the event. She said she received an email from the organizers as she arrived saying the run had been canceled. She had paid her entry fee through PayPal and said the site assured her that the Color Fight had sent her a full refund that would be in her account in a few days. But “it was a waste of my time and gas,” she said in an email.

Participants had been promised T-shirts, bibs and color packets.

Raceway co-owner Dave Smith said Martin showed up at 9 a.m. Saturday to tell him the organizing company didn’t have any money to put on the event.

“It was a very strange way to do business,” Dave Smith said, noting that he had already spent $500 to prep the course for the runners.

With names like Color Run, Color Me Rad and Color Vibe, so-called novelty runs have in recent months taken the nation by storm. The idea behind color runs is simple: Pay an entry fee, often up to $50, and get colored corn starch thrown on you at various intervals on the course.

Experts say there are now 100 different variations of novelty runs across the country because they are so profitable. Industry leader The Color Run drew 13,000 people to its Sacramento event in August, netting more than $500,000.