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The Themed 5K Phenomenon

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed today when I saw the latest in the crazy, over the top, themed 5K trend…Bad Prom 5K. As I sat there and said, “oh my god….what next?” I knew I had to write a post about themed 5Ks today. There must be some major money to be made in these themed race series. They are so prevalent these days! After some research I was happy to find that most partner with local charities to donate part of the money raised from the event. Also, it seems that most are untimed and focused more on people having a positive experience.

Here’s a recap of some of the best worst nationwide themed 5K series.

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Bad Prom 5K

“Join the funniest, fabbest 5K ever. It’s prom, now with 500% more badness! Along the way, our hand-picked soundtrack of your favorite prom hits will keep you energized and our spectacularly decked out prom themes will amaze your senses.  We’re not talking about boring crepe paper decorations in the high school gym.  At approximately each kilometer, you’ll run through bold, bright prom themes that light up the world! The result is a one-of-a-kind immersive experience that will give you memories to last a lifetime and photo ops galore. You’ll have so much fun you’ll even forget you’re exercising!”

How much? 
$45 for a single entry, $40 if you have a team of 4

Everyone who participates gets one of our famous Bad Prom t-shirts (tux t-shirts for the guys and gown t-shirts for the ladies), glow accessories and and other swanky Bad Prom swag along with an after race dance party.

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5K Foam Fest

“If we had to describe the 5k Foam Fest in a nutshell, here’s what you’d get. Take all the mud, the dirt, and the grime of a mud race, all the obstacles you’ve seen on TV shows like “Wipeout” and “Ninja Warrior,” and then throw that entire muddy obstacles mess inside the largest and foamiest carwash ever built, and you’d have the foundation for the good ole’ 5k Foam Fest. Whether you’re a seasoned mud runner or fresh to the obstacle racing scene, the 5k Foam Fest offers a unique and fun approach to obstacle racing never seen before in the running world!”

How much?
$60-$80 depending on how early you register

Race t-shirt and a nearly endless supply of FREE (temporary) tattoos—so you can get all tatted up for the day. Not to mention of you finish the run you get the coveted Foam Fest medal. While partying with us, you get FREE access to Games and Activities like: Foam Pit, Pull-Up Bar, Mud, Limbo, Minute to Win It games, etc. etc. And to top it all off you get a free cold Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

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The Color Run

The Color Run, also known as the ‘Happiest 5k on the Planet’, is a unique paint race that celebrates healthiness, happiness and individuality. Less about your 10-minute-mile and more about having the time of your life, The Color Run is a five-kilometer, un-timed race in which thousands of participants are doused from head to toe in different colors at each kilometer. The fun continues at the finish line with a gigantic “Finish Festival,” using more colored powder to create happiness and lasting memories, not to mention millions of vivid color combinations. Trust us, this is the best post-5k party on the planet!

With only two rules, the idea is easy to follow:

  1. Wear white at the starting line
  2. Finish plastered in color

$40-$50 for solo registration depending on where and when you register, $35-$50 for teams of 4

Race bag includes a shirt, a bib, a wristband, a color packet, a headband and a temporary tattoo. 

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The Zombie Run

It’s a 5K race. Zombies run after humans. Humans run from zombies. Everybody goes to the afterparty. If you can’t follow that, someone may already have eaten your brains.

You can register as a zombie…
Would it kill you to be early? Show up 2 hours before race time to receive your free zombie makeover (blood will wash out of clothing, hair and skin) and Zombie training. You will be assigned to one of five zones within the 5K course. You and your fellow walking corpses will be driven to your zone by bus. Your job is to chase the humans, pop their balloons and terrorize them respectfully. In a successful Zombie Run, everyone dies, but no one gets hurt.

Or as a human…
As a human contestant in the Zombie Run, you will run through 5 zones of 1K each with zombies in pursuit. Each zone will be populated with more zombies than the one before, and will feature bizarre and unexpected events and elements. You may choose to wear a latex-free “Life Balloon,” which zombies will try to pop. There is no reward for keeping your life and no penalty for losing it. Everyone can finish the race.

$25-$30 to participate as a zombie (depending on when you register), $45-$50 to participate as a human (depending on when you register). $5 discount on human registration for teams of 3 or more.

An awesome tee, badass branded drawstring, the privilege of surviving a zombie apocalypse, admission to the after party to end them all

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Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge 5K

We took a 5k course and combined it with the crazy game show themes from favorites like Wipeout, American Gladiators, Double Dare and MXC. Anyone 13 and up can participate no matter what your athletic ability is! Crazy obstacles include the World’s Largest Inflatable Slide, the Wrecking Ball, the World’s Largest Moon Bounce and more!

$50-$70 depending on when you register

Race t-shirt (first 50 to register get upgraded to a tech tee) and a beer ticket for the post-race party. Bring cash and your ID because there are tons of vendors, food trucks, beer, etc. at the after party.


I have all of ONE crazy obstacle/mud 5K under my belt and I can’t say it was my favorite race ever but these national events look like much more of a production than the local mud run I completed last year.

Have you run a themed 5K? If so, which one and what did you think? If not, is it something you’d like to do? 

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • tina @ nourished wellness August 8, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Bad prom 5K? That’s hilarious! I image the side pony-tails and shoulder pads may be an obstruction during the race. I will running the Electric Run in September! It’s a late-night 5K with lights and electronic dance music. I am a fan of the music so I think it will be a blast!

  • Ashley August 8, 2013, 4:51 pm

    I have done the Color Run and its a blast!! I did it with a big group of friends, but we also saw a lot of families doing it together with their kids. Its super kid-friendly and seems like a great, fun way to introduce your kids to running/exercise. Its not timed, and a ton of people just walk it (strollers and wheelchairs are allowed), so you can do it on any fitness level.

  • Julie August 8, 2013, 4:59 pm

    OMG, I want to seriously hurt everyone who ever was involved in these stupid gimmicky for profit races. I did the color run in 2011 and it was the WORST THING EVER. 50.00 for the most bass-akward, sloppily set up POS thing (I will not even begin to call it a race, run, or walk). The “thing” was supposed to start at 8am and didn’t end up starting until after 9:30 because they never capped the “thing” and there was like 50,000 people there to do their “thing”. The city of Atlanta banished this from midtown, to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was such a nightmare. And the fact that it is 100% for profit, as are most of these “theme” things, is so infuriating. I guess bravo for ingenuity and capitalism, but I REFUSE to give one dime to these “things” that are so disorganized, pulled out of someone’s rear end idea, with no thought for logistics or charity once they get your million dollar entry fee for what is supposed to be a 5k distance and is just a random hodge-podge of distance and organization.

    I know I’m being a debbie downer in regards to this, and I by no means went into “The color thing” expecting it to be a USTAF event or serious 5k, but it was beyond horrible of an experience and knowing that some guy made bank off of all of us teenagers (well, early 20s for me, keepin’ it real) who just wanted to show up, giggle, and post 8 bazillion pics on facebook of our “run” was just not a smart move on my part. Lesson learned. Never again. And it continues to get more and more ridiculous, PROM RUN… REALLY?!?

    • Sara August 9, 2013, 8:29 am

      Wasn’t sure how my opinion would be viewed here but I completely agree with you! The color run was by far the worst and most pointless race I’ve ever done! Everyone thinks its so great it’s not timed but that allows the company to not pay for timing chips and make even more profit! If you are a runner you will hate these races. If you’ve never raced and arent really in running shape then it may be for you.

    • Dana August 10, 2013, 4:40 pm

      The Color Run was the most disorganized race I have ever done. The race I did benefitted a local charity, but was hosted by the Color Run ppl, so it wasn’t all for profit.

  • laura August 8, 2013, 5:05 pm

    I did a Ruckus run back in June and it was a blast! My 3 yr old daughter participated in the mini ruckus and she too had a great time. I cant wait to sign up for my next run! Its definitely fun to do them with family/friends, i wouldnt have enjoyed it as much by myself.

  • jennyv August 8, 2013, 5:25 pm

    I am actually not really into themed races — although I did run a local 7 mile race through mud, fields, creeks, etc. where the large majority does dress up (I was “Where’s Waldo?” with family!) I think sometimes I’m slightly too competitive for my own good. I do think they are great to do with friends though instead of planning a weekend around food or something else — it’s a weekend of activity!

  • Shashi @ http://runninsrilankan.com August 8, 2013, 5:35 pm

    The Bad Prom 5k would be a photographer’s paradise! Would be too fun to see all the outfits!
    I have yet to run a themed 5K. There have been a couple of 9-11 runs that I have done for local precincts that had a lot of folks that were dressed up in patriotic gear – but these were not really themed runs.

  • Katie August 8, 2013, 7:07 pm

    I was too cheap to pay the race fee for the Color Run, but when it came to Rochester this year I decided to volunteer with friends. I have to say, gimmick or not, it was SO much fun to throw color at people!! I was covered head to toe in yellow at the end, but it was a blast!

    Not sure if it counts as a gimmick race, but I did the Chocolate Race this year in St. Catherine’s Canada. There was chocolate on the race course, and the run was along beautiful scenic lake Ontario, and there was a chocolate party and champagne at the end! Also a ton of fun! (Probably not the best competitive race even though it’s timed as the beginning/end is quite narrow).

  • sarah August 8, 2013, 7:08 pm

    I find it funny that all of the people I see on facebook who run the color runs are people who haven’t run a race before and they are spending more than some people spend on half marathons! For the color run companies, it is a great way to get business from a new section of the population. It reminds me of the economics stuff I learned in college that there are consumers for many levels of products. It’s like the spectrum of generic products to the organic/specialty products that cost more. It’s more about marketing than it is about fitness. However, if it gets people out and active then maybe that is good.

  • Brittany @ proteinandpumps August 8, 2013, 7:53 pm

    I have a hard time getting into themes. Especially if it requires costume lol. The color run and mud runs seem fun but the others seem over the top.

  • Eva August 8, 2013, 8:45 pm

    Whoa, they are ridiculously expensive! I’ve done marathons for $30, so $80 for an untimed 5k is so incredibly not happening. I can’t believe they find that many people willing to spend so much money on those things! Crazy.

  • Nicole @ Simply Nicole August 8, 2013, 9:04 pm

    I did the color run for my blog and it was a lot of fun! Not sure if I’d spend the money to register on my own tho. It is pretty pricey! I’m going the DRENCHED 5K next week and that one’s going to be really cool. You should look into it 🙂

  • Emily August 8, 2013, 10:21 pm

    I write for a running publication (iRun Magazine) and I’ve been toying with how to do a certain kind of column!! It’s just baffling how many different races there are (and people willing to run them!!). I’m in Ottawa (the Colour Run will be here soon!!) and there’s another one close to here called “The Prison Break Run” – it sold out in no time and it’s basically like a game of flag football meets a Tough Mudder.

    And I thought running without distraction was challenging enough!!! Imagine if a different civilization was analyzing us: “Why do they dress up and run around like crazy all the time Roy?” I’m pretty sure that’s what one alien said to the other alien.


  • Jaclyn August 9, 2013, 12:43 am

    I am doing the Zombie run next Saturday and am really excited! I know they are “gimmicky” but I think that they are a fun way to do something outside, with friends, to be active. It’s also a good way to get friends or family involved in fitness and there are a lot of races out there for anyone who wants a more serious race. Why not have some fun and get chased, muddy, or painted on??? It’s fun to let loose once in a while 🙂

  • Monica Patterson August 9, 2013, 7:52 am

    The Color Run™ 5k – Charlotte Official Page
    The Color Run™ 5k paint race event in Charlotte will be happening on October 19th, 2013.

  • Mary Ann August 9, 2013, 8:09 am

    Do these participants realize they have to get into their cars with all that mud, color and junk on themselves? These races are just a gimmick to raise money and I just won’t take the risk of slipping in mud and/or paint to run a race. Give me asphalt please.

  • Teresa August 9, 2013, 9:36 am

    There is even a Streak the Cove 5k where you run butt naked! I have no words….

    • Sarah August 9, 2013, 11:59 am

      that one should be free!

  • Patti Smith August 9, 2013, 10:58 am

    I’ve done the Color Run with my daughters and my mom 🙂 We really enjoyed it, and I think it’s the perfect one to run/walk with family of all ages and all abilities. It’s not timed and the race aspect of it is downplayed very much, so I would think hardcore runners need to know that upfront.

    I contemplated signing up for a Zombie Run in my area but then chickened out :p

  • Heather August 9, 2013, 11:56 am

    These are obviously not geared towards serious runners, and I find some of the attitudes here to be kind of elitist and snotty.

    Some of us will NEVER be able to competively run a marathon, a half marathon or even a 5K. Everyone I know who does these themed runs does them for the fun/social aspect of it, not for a time chip or bragging rights.

    I think it’s an awesome thing that people are spending their Saturday mornings doing something that is active, even if they are not athletes.

  • Haley @Cupcakes and Sunshine August 9, 2013, 3:55 pm

    These are awesome! I really want to do the color run even though I know a lot of people already have. Themed 5Ks would make running so much fun! And did you say swag? I’m in!

  • Annie August 9, 2013, 4:32 pm

    I just did a Mud run recently. I had a blast. I totally face planted in the mud. It was surprising how deep the water was!

  • Lee August 9, 2013, 7:50 pm

    I did Color Me Rad last month, but that’s the only themed 5K I’ve done. It was fun, but I’d rather just do a regular race.

  • Latrice August 10, 2013, 3:24 pm

    I am definitely not into the themed 5k runs. A few of my running friends have tried them and they didn’t have positive things to say afterward. I shall live vicariously through them and keep the $30 – $60 entry fee in my pocket … or apply it towards a half or full marathon.

    Great post outlining the different kinds. I had never heard of the Bad Prom 5K. That’s a race I wouldn’t mind volunteering for.

  • Megan (The Lyons' Share) August 11, 2013, 11:49 am

    I have to agree with some other commenters that the Color Run I did was very disorganized! That said, it was a great way to mix up my regular routine and get “out of the box” a little bit … afterwards, though, ALL I wanted was a shower! Sweat + dirt + sketchy color powder don’t mix well. I really want to do an obstacle race!

  • Stephen August 12, 2013, 10:34 am

    Wow these are hilarious; seems like there’s a 5k for everything these days. Great post.

  • Julie August 16, 2013, 11:11 am

    I did the Color Run. Actually, it was Run or Dye, lol! It’s basically the same thing. It was fun and I liked that it was laid back and families with kids did it. What a great way to get your kids interested in running, maybe? 🙂 I have to say I was surprised at how many people WALKED, but then everyone has to start somewhere and who knows if this was their big goal, you know? who am I to judge? 🙂

  • Mark January 20, 2014, 10:20 am

    I’ve participated in the Run or Dye in Niagara last year and honestly felt kind of embarrassed being there. 99% of those there never ran a day in their lives. These so called races can be good for your self-esteem though when you blow past those numskulls and giving yourself a false sense of being an elite runner for at least 1 day while normally falling deep in the middle of the pack of real 5k, 10ks, Half’s or whatever. Only real reason I had at the color run was to share my running experience with my young daughter who absolutely loved it.
    As for mud runs I have only done one, the Punisher Adventure race in Ancaster, Ontario and definitely a tough race that is challenging for the best of runners due to the elevations and hills. This race is essentially a very challenging trail race with enough obstacles to make it REALLY interesting. Can’t wait for the next one.
    Someone earlier mentioned that ‘themed’ races need to be timed. However I’ve been to a few Cancer runs (not really races) that takes out competitiveness and no official timing is offered. The run itself is meant to bring people together for a similar cause. And while they state it is entirely charitable, we all can assume how little money actually goes toward research and how much is used up in administration. So how different is it really from one of those runs and a run that has people gathering to share something (whatever that may be) and run dressed as Santa’s, or through colored dye, or away from zombies

  • Becky April 2, 2014, 8:14 am

    I did the color run last year and I’m planning on doing it again this year. I’m more of a casual jogger than a serious runner and on top of that I was such during last year’s race so I walked most of it, but I had a blast. A friend of mine who runs marathons did it with me though and she also had a great time (she actually ran to and from the event though to get her work out in). The point of the run isn’t the race, it’s fun and it gets people excited about exercise. And while the color run is a for profit company, they do partner with local charities for every race. I had a great time and I highly recommend participating.

  • Ali April 16, 2014, 10:01 am

    I did the Warrior Dash a few years ago after a bad breakup. Training for that helped my self esteem and I ended up having a blast getting that muddy and pushing myself to do something I never thought I could. These runs are meant to be fun and you take what you want out of the experience. I am a city event planner and we hosted a Mardi Gras glow run and had a huge turnout. People come out to just have fun. I am a serious runner now, but I never could have done it without doing a “fun run” first. The crazy inflatable obstacle run looks like a lot of fun. I mean who hasn’t watched MXC or Wipeout and thought that wouldn’t be fun to try. Live life to the fullest while you can. Experiences are wonderful, challenging and can be a BLAST!

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