Get Down and Dirty

Sign up for a themed run

Get Down and Dirty

Lacking the motivation to sign up for a run? A themed run combines fun and exercise. A colour run or a chocolate run will have you sprinting for the finish line.

For many, running is no longer a solitary activity. Both new and regular runners are trading treadmill tedium for the fun and camaraderie of themed races. In 2012, more than 2 million people participated in nontraditional runs, ranging from colourful chaos to chocolate bliss.

Need a reason to run? Do it for fun!

Since most themed races cover shorter distances than marathons, both newbie and veteran runners can partake. Women account for much of the increase in participants, representing an all-time high of 56 percent of running-event finishers in the US.

Diane Chesla, creator and director of the Chocolate Race, has noticed a similar trend. “Women [are] driving race growth. I think that themed races appeal more to gals who pick a few goals and/or destination events to do a year. They want a great, fun experience that is geared to the casual runner.”

The mix of fun and fitness seems to be a winning recipe for themed runs, many of which feature post-race festivals and parties. This is backed up by the most recent nationwide survey of sports participation, in which fun and relaxation were ranked by Canadians as the most motivating benefits of physical activity.


The thrill of themed races goes beyond spicing up a bland workout routine. These events allow all sorts of individuals to reap the rewards of running, jogging, and walking, which can include

  • better heart health
  • improved mood
  • lowered blood pressure

Research also shows that working out with others (such as in themed races) can boost the health benefits that the workout provides.

Giving back

Most races also partner with a charity. Color Me Rad Vancouver, for example, donated $75 to Keep A Breast in 2013 for every volunteer that the breast cancer awareness foundation recruited. Tanisha Bors, travelling education coordinator at Keep A Breast, notes that such partnerships are mutually beneficial. Charities receive plenty of positive attention when volunteers enjoy themselves and “the event itself is so much fun.”

Freebies and discounts

Many themed races offer goodies that are included in the price of admission. ElectroDash riles up runners with glowing accessories, while colour runs provide packets of safe, eco-friendly cornstarch powder in a rainbow of hues. Discount hunters can also sign up with a team or find promo codes online to save money on registration. According to Bors, some races—such as Color Me Rad—also reward volunteers with the opportunity to run for free.

Ready to lace up for a race? Grab some brave buddies, get costuming, and run for fun in one (or several) of these themed events.

Colour races

There are only two rules for the untimed, noncompetitive Color Run: wear white; finish colourful. Since its modest debut of 600,000 runners in 2012, the Color Run has grown into a global spectacle of colour, costumes, and chaos that has captivated more than 1 million participants—at least 50 percent of whom had never run a 5 km race before.

Color Me Rad is another popular choice for those who crave a side of colour with their cardio course. Race director Jerrica Hall credits the runners with creating hype on race day. “What I love about our event is the involvement of the crowd,” she says. “We’re not just entertaining the participants; the participants make the atmosphere amazing.”

Finally, Run or Dye is a third option for dye-hard colour runners with a host of locations across our home and native land.

Mud and obstacle courses

Canadian-born Mud Hero is the brainchild of Adam Ruppel and Ted McLeod, who drew from years of experience with mountain bike races. “Challenging yet fun is the overall goal for each of our obstacles,” says McLeod, who adds that Mud Hero’s 6 km courses are gentler alternatives to more competitive events.

Obstacles range from water slides to the titular mud pits. Mud Hero also adds an “extra bit of fun and flavour” to race day by constantly evolving; past events have involved live music and even parkour demonstrations.

Mud Hero is unique among obstacle events in that 60 percent of participants are women willing to try the good clean fun of a mud run. McLeod describes the natural terrain venues with enthusiasm, noting that spectacular and spectator-friendly locations such as Red Deer’s river canyon are carefully selected.

If colour and mud sound too tame, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder may be challenges worthy of weekend warriors. These intense obstacle courses time participants, but teamwork is still emphasized over competition.

Ivana Dancova, a triathlete with four themed races under her belt, describes Spartan Race and Tough Mudder as “two different types of hard. Spartan Race was more challenging in that we had to literally run uphill in the snow … but Tough Mudder was more about endurance” because it featured a longer course.


Every kilometre of ElectroDash’s evening race is infused with music and neon lights to create an atmosphere that is more dance party than run. Jog, walk, or breakdance, ElectroDash doesn’t care as long as you’re moving in glow motion.

The Chocolate Race

“Since they were doing wine in France already (Marathon du Medoc), I decided on something just as sinfully indulgent—chocolate! And voila, the Chocolate Race was born,” explains race creator Chesla. Her enviable position involves plenty of taste-testing, which she describes as “paradise.”

The Chocolate Race is a treat for those who sweat in anticipation of the sweets they’ll eat later. Runners indulge in chocolate-covered strawberries and marshmallows throughout the course. After, they refuel with chocolate milk, taking advantage of the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio that makes for ideal (and tasty!) post-workout fuel.

Chesla and her team wake up at 3 am on race day to ensure the best experience for runners (and “fight the notorious lake winds that line our course”). Their goal for the event is simple: “to create a group of giddy racers who find [the] same type of magical experience that the naughty (and nice) kids found in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy

There’s a themed race for every type of runner (or walker). Color Me Rad’s Jerrica Hall sums it up simply: “A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of running and assume they are not capable,” she says. “Themed races provide an excellent gateway into the running world. Anyone can participate in a fun, noncompetitive 5K, whether they run or walk.”

2014 Canadian schedule

These are just some of the many themed races across Canada. For exact dates and locations, check the events’ often-updated websites—and make sure to sign up well in advance, as many races sell out.

Race Location Date
The Chocolate Race St. Catherines May 11
Spartan Race Montreal
May 17 and 18
June 7 and 8
June 22
June 28 and 29
Mud Hero Ottawa
Red Deer
May 31
June 14
July 5 and 6
July 26
August 9 and 10
August 23
Color Me Rad Montreal
June 28
August 2
ElectroDash Winnipeg
September 12
September 19
Tough Mudder Whistler
June 21 and 22
August 16 and 17

Note: Please check race websites to confirm event dates.

Participation tip: volunteer!

Most themed races boast an inclusive vibe: the team spirit and optional obstacles in races such as Mud Hero invite runners of all ages and capabilities to give them a go. But if running or walking the distance simply isn’t in the cards for you, why not go all in by volunteering?

There are a myriad of positions available in each race—from joining Color Me Rad’s “Color Bomb Squad” to handing out (and sampling?) the Chocolate Race’s goodies. The fun of tossing coloured powder over runners and sampling chocolate on the sidelines may arguably be more fun than sweating it out on the course. Themed races around the world

  • Man versus Horse Marathon (Wales): compete against riders on horseback to see which species will whinny (pardon the pun).
  • Marathon du Medoc (France): sip wine and drink in the vineyard scenery while running.
  • Nude Run of Finland (Finland): go with an open mind and leave the clothes at home.
  • The Ugly Sweater Run (North America): run in moth-eaten or tacky sweaters to celebrate the holiday season

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