Anchorage — "The happiest 5-K on the planet" is coming to Anchorage on Saturday, so don't be grumpy when you try to drive or park downtown that morning and discover you can't.
A field of 15,000 is signed up for the 5-kilometer Color Run, a nationwide running series that has drawn huge crowds since its inaugural event in January 2012.
Expect a colorful scene as runners get sprayed with powdered paint along the course, which begins and ends at Sullivan Arena and circles the Delaney Park Strip. And prepare for significant downtown road closures and world-class competition for limited parking downtown and Midtown near the places where shuttle buses will run.
A fun run with no ticking clock and "color stations" at every kilometer where volunteers douse participants in colorful powdered paint, the Color Run will mark one of the largest gatherings in Anchorage history.
It's no match for the 40,000 who watched Pope John Paul II say Mass on the Park Strip in 1981. But it's almost two times bigger than the nightly crowds of 8,700 that watched UCLA play in the 1997 Great Alaska Shootout or the crowds of 7,000 that have participated in the last three Alaska Run for Women races.
"I'm not uber-excited that there's 15,000 participating," participant Charity Maldonado said as she stood in line to pick up her bib Thursday evening at the Sports Authority. "But we'll go with the flow."
The event begins at 8 a.m. Runners will start in waves of 700 to 1,000, with a group leaving every three minutes.
From 7:30 a.m. to noon, numerous streets between the Park Strip and Sullivan will be closed. A Street will be closed from Ninth Avenue to Fireweed Lane, and neither cars nor pedestrians will be able to cross Ninth or 10th avenues -- the streets that border the Park Strip -- between A and I streets.
Only limited parking will be available at Sullivan, and most of that will be for handicapped drivers. Some spots are being blocked off for the Anchorage Pet Expo, which is expected to draw 6,000 or more for an all-day event that begins at 10 a.m., Expo spokeswoman Autumn Boston said.
The Color Run is touted as the happiest 5-K on the planet because the object is to have fun and finish looking like a rainbow. Organizers rely on social media and word of mouth to attract participants.
"It's colorful and it looks fun," Aurora Sidney-Ando said Thursday at the Sports Authority. "It's my first organized run. I saw some pictures online and I think it looks pretty inspiring. I heard it was sold out."
Anchorage's 15,000 participants paid anywhere from $35 to $50 to participate, with the majority paying $50.
The Color Run, a for-profit business headquartered in Utah, will make a donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southcentral Alaska, but organizers in town for the race wouldn't say how much will be donated. A call to the Boys & Girls Clubs was not immediately returned.
The Anchorage event was a sellout by Thursday, race director Sean DeGrey of Utah said.
"I'm always surprised at what we're able to do, but we figured we'd be in the 10,000-plus range because Anchorage is a running community," he said.
Participation was capped at 15,000 because organizers didn't know what kind of turnout to expect, and they needed to ship the powdered paint to Anchorage two months ago. They decided on enough paint for 15,000 people, said Chad Evans, another race organizer in town for the event.
Some of that paint is in 50-gallon barrels. Barrels containing one of four colors -- pink, yellow, orange and blue -- will be at each of four color stations along the course and will be sprayed on each participant.
Additionally, each runner receives a six-ounce packet of powdered paint with their bibs. As runners pour into the finish line, they participate in a series of "color fests" -- every 15 minutes, the latest group of finishers toss the multi-colored powder in the sky to create a rainbow-colored dust cloud.
"A lot of the people on our team are doing bandannas on their faces or dust masks," said Jackie Keller, who is on a team with coworkers from the Chariot Group.
Evans said the Color Run sent a team of about 30 to Anchorage to organize the race, including members of a cleanup crew who will sweep paint powder -- made from corn starch -- from streets and the Sullivan parking lot as soon as the event concludes late Saturday morning. City sweepers will help, but the Color Run does the first sweep and follows the city sweepers with blowers.
"Nothing goes into sewer or drain systems," said Evans. "We're doing what we call a full extraction."
"It happens literally after the last runner goes through the color zone. The roads can't reopen until after we clean. If we have a color zone on A Street and cars are driving (before cleanup), those cars will carry it forever on their tires. It turns a color zone from 50 feet long to a mile long."
The paint is water soluble, although runners get instructions on how to make the paint permanent on their T-shirt. Evans said the Color Run has yet to encounter problems created by the paint.
Whether the crowd creates a problem remains to be seen. Thursday's bib pickup provided a sneak preview -- more than 6,500 people picked up bibs, and while lines inside the Sports Authority moved steadily, traffic outside was heavy.
Keller and Steven Hill drove north on Old Seward Highway to get there and said traffic was backed up all the way to 76th Street. They finally parked at the Papa John's, between 82nd and 83rd, and walked the rest of the way.
Hill works at Able Body Shop in Midtown, near a shuttle stop, and he got a call at work Thursday from someone asking if they could park in the shop's lot Saturday morning. First-come, first-serve, he said, although respect spots that are reserved.
"I work there, so I can just leave a cone in my spot," he said.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.