Dust-up race to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House

A new kind of “fun run” fundraiser is coming to Fresno in September that organizers promise will brighten participants’ outlooks — not to mention their clothing.

The Color Me Rad 5K will host a 3.1-mile run through Woodward Park Sept. 29, with proceeds benefiting the Central Valley Ronald McDonald House in Madera. Runners start out in all-white attire, but cross the finish line with flying colors — literally — after being bombarded with powdered bursts of color throughout the run.

“We’ve been selling out at every event,” said Laura Peterson, sales representative for Salt Lake City-based Color Me Rad. “The Hare Krishnas in Utah have a color throw each year and we decided to mix it with running.”

The Fresno event originally had four starting times, beginning at 9 a.m., with waves of runners taking off five minutes apart. All four promptly sold out, so a fifth starting time was added at 1 p.m. Each wave of 500 runners will be greeted at several prearranged “Color Me Stations” along the course, where volunteers will shower them with powdered cornstarch that has been dyed blue, green, pink, purple or yellow.

Officials with the Ronald McDonald House hope the event can raise in the ballpark of $10,000, with the money going toward expanding the house to accommodate more families.

The idea for the Color Me Rad 5K came about when three friends were “sitting around between ski runs” last winter in Utah. All three — Matt Ward, Scott Crandall and John Malfatto — are avid runners, and have put on a 5K mud obstacle run called the Dirty Dash for the past three years.

Inspired by the yearly Holi Festival, they came up with the idea for an event that used bags of colored chalk as a variant to being covered from head-to-toe with mud.

“The Holi Festival here in Utah is huge,” Ward said. “Running is no fun, so we thought we’d make it fun by adding color to it.”

Holi is the festival of colors; a traditional Hindi holiday that began 5,000 years ago when Lord Krishna and his devotees threw crushed flower petals to celebrate the rebirth of spring. The flower petals have been replaced by bags of colored chalk, and each year roughly 30,000 people converge on Spanish Fork, Utah, to take part in the annual festival.

The run is family-friendly, with children participating alongside adult friends and family members. Runners arrive at the starting line dressed in white after receiving a pair of sunglasses and a race bib from the organizers. Bags of color will be handed out to those crossing the finish line, setting the stage for a grand finale of color fighting to take place.

“It’s non-competitive. It’s non-timed,” Ward said. “We participate with local charities, rather than the big nationwide charities.”

Hannah Johnson, marketing manager for Ronald McDonald House Central Valley, first became aware of Color Me Rad when the company offered a Groupon earlier in the year. After logging onto the company’s web site, Johnson noticed that their 5K runs benefit local charities, so she sent them a list of 25 reasons why they should choose Ronald McDonald House Central Valley.

She found out recently that Ronald McDonald House had been chosen for the Fresno event.
“It’s a great partnership,” Johnson said. “We are definitely very excited about it.”

Ronald McDonald House provides a “home away from home” for families who are attempting to cope with a range of burdens that come with having a seriously ill child. Parents do not have to sleep in hospital waiting rooms or pay for motel lodging. The Central Valley Ronald McDonald House serves nine counties throughout the Central Valley and provides comfort and support to thousands of families each year.

Johnson said that Color Me Rad’s events are a pleasant escape from reality, and Ronald McDonald House gives patients a few hours away from the hospital, so the missions of the two groups are similar. She hopes the association between the two organizations will continue.

“We think this might be a good connection going forward in other cities,” Johnson said.

Ronald McDonald House will benefit from the event in two ways. They will receive 15 percent of registration fees if entrants use a promo code available from the charity, and they will receive $50 for each volunteer.

Families who have stayed at Ronald McDonald House in the past will be participating wearing Ronald McDonald House shirts “so they’ll stand out,” Johnson said. The charity will also have special registrations for the event to give out.

“We have a ton of competitions coming up to win a free registration,” Johnson said.

Participants will quickly resemble human kaleidoscopes after being hit with a tsunami of color every five minutes or so. The Color Me Rad web site says the event has no age limit, and that “Everyone – young, small, old, foreign or domestic are welcome to participate.” Those under 18 must bring a waiver signed by a parent or guardian and children ages 7 and under can run free of charge. Pets are not allowed, however.

“We like to think of ourselves as being the gateway drug to running,” Ward said. “Everyone wants to have fun and be goofy, and we give them permission to do that.”

Ward said that he, Crandall and Malfatto knew each other from their years in the running community and they all had corporate jobs they hated. They made a decision to take their careers down a different path.

“It’s a pretty easy thing to sell when you’re selling happiness,” Ward said.