Participants at the Color Run in Kansas City this summer show off their powder-covered attire (and skin) after running the 5K.

You must be fast if you’re one of the 5,000 participants in the Color Run this Sunday at National Harbor. There’s no clock on the 5K course, but the event’s D.C. debut sold out in four hours, says race director Eric King.

That’s a record even for this quickly growing series, which kicked off in January and will land in 50 cities this year. What’s driving its popularity is also what gives the event its name: all that color.

King and friends bring along a rainbow of powder that gets tossed on the runners at each kilometer mark, eventually covering their clothes, hair and skin with designs that look like the work of a particularly cheerful Jackson Pollock. (The scene also resembles the Hindu festival of Holi.)

The concept is similar to the mud runs that have become trendy over the past few years, only less intimidating — and less difficult.

“People are more leery of jumping into a mud-filled pond than having nontoxic powder thrown at them,” King says. “It’s not delicious, but it won’t harm you.” After experimenting with flour and a few other substances, the organizers settled on using cornstarch mixed with food coloring.

The photos and videos of smiling hordes, wearing an inordinate number of tutus and often flipping out — literally — as they dash through clouds of color, have caused a social media sensation. The events live up to the hype, King promises.

At the start of the race, participants are expected to follow just one rule: Wear a white T-shirt.

“It’s a sea of white,” King says. “It’s like they’re all on the same team.” With music to pump them up, they dash off to that first color zone, where anything goes. “People are rolling on the ground and doing somersaults or whatever. Lots of people make snow angels.”

It’s because of this lingering that Color Run organizers decided not to focus on the clock.

“The goal is to have a good time more than getting a personal best time,” he says. “When a stroller is in front of you, instead of being an obstacle, the mom pushing it is a friend running with you.” And rather than a standard finish line, the race ends in a color festival, where even more powder is released.

So how do the organizers clean all the stuff up? As quickly as possible, with vacuum trucks, brooms and power washers. Participants need to take care of their own powder removal, which requires some serious scrubbing.

“Like sand when you’re at the beach, it will get into every crevice you can imagine,” King says.

When it comes to clothes, however, King says people usually want to hold onto as much color as possible as a reminder of the run. His suggested method is to douse your shirt in vinegar, iron it, let it dry completely and then wash it. (“It gets a tie-dye look,” he says.)

The other option is just to do the Color Run again. It’s back at National Harbor — and also already sold out — on Oct. 21. And King vows to return next year with an expanded schedule, including a stop in Baltimore.

If you can’t wait, spectators are welcome Sunday, especially ones willing to volunteer with a broom.


The amount, in pounds, of cornstarch that will be used at each of the color stations at Sunday’s Color Run.