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Color Run returns to Anchorage, competing with local charity fun run

Tegan Hanlon
About 15,000 people participated in the first-ever Anchorage Color Run on June 15, 2013, and the race is set to return to the city on Saturday. Meanwhile, a local nonprofit is hosting its own fun run, which stands to raise much more money for charity. Loren Holmes photo

Anchorage runners chasing down a race Saturday have a choice to make: Get colored in cornstarch or caked in mud.

The city will host both The Color Run, a worldwide for-profit footrace marketed as the “happiest 5K on the planet” and the locally-organized Anchorage Community Mental Health Services Race for Recovery, a race of the same distance but over slippery obstacles and through muddy swamps.

Sweating in either race comes with an entry fee. In the case of The Color Run, some of that money goes to a local charity, while the much-smaller Race for Recovery stands to give a lot more. Organizers originally planned the fun runs for different weekends, but a scheduling conflict bumped the date of The Color Run to Saturday and left the races vying for participants.

Jennifer Smerud, director of the Race for Recovery, said she hopes the double-booking won’t shrink the mud run’s turnout, though she conceded the race will likely bring in less money than last year and threaten plans for a new playground.

In 2013, about 1,250 adults and children who participated in the Race for Recovery raised nearly $60,000 to help fund services for adults with severe mental illness. This year, Smerud said, organizers had aimed for $5,000 more.

That $65,000 would cover costs for the purchase and installation of a playground at Little Tykes Therapeutic Services -- a preschool program that works with 20 children between the ages of 2 and 5 who have experienced complex trauma. The new playground, which resembles a scaled-down version of the jungle gym in Cuddy Family Midtown Park, would replace a downtrodden sandbox.

“The play area and going outside is sometimes a break from some really intensive therapy. So we want to give them that release,” Smerud said. “This is an actual opportunity to put in some actual equipment.”

Children can run the Race for Recovery’s 2-kilometer dash for $10 and adults can tackle the 5-kilometer trail for $45. Since corporate sponsors and donors cover most of the cost to put on the race in Bicentennial Park -- a price that hovers between $15,000 and $20,000 -- all race entry fees funnel directly to Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, Smerud said.

Prices for The Color Run are comparable. Participants pay between $40 and $55, depending on the date of registration and participation as a team or individual, to run (or walk) the loop from the Sullivan Arena to the Delaney Park Strip.

The Utah-based management company that organizes The Color Run does not have corporate underwriters, so some of the entry fees must cover fixed costs. Chad Evans, a race director with The Color Run, said he could not discuss those costs or the company's profits.

"We keep all those numbers private," Evans said. He added that "there's a very long list of items" that the company must pay for to put on the run, though he would not delve into what items make up that list.

"It's way more than what people think," he said.

Local entities providing services for The Color Run on Saturday revealed some of the costs:

• Joe Wooden, the general manager of the Sullivan Arena, said The Color Run will pay a $6,000 bill to rent out the grounds as a staging area for the race.
• Park fees will run race organizers roughly $3,000 and they must agree to a $1-million-per-incident insurance policy, said Elizabeth Stanley, principal administrative officer with the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department.
• Municipal permitting comes in at $665, which includes the price of a traffic plan review, noise permit and a review by the police department, according to Shane Locke, engineering technician with the city's Public Works Department.  
• Eighteen police officers and two supervisors will staff the Saturday run. Each will work about six hours at a rate of $132 per hour. That's $15,840 in costs, said Dani Myren, a spokesperson with the Anchorage Police Department.

To make the cornstarch colors fly at every kilometer, a crew of about 30 flew into Anchorage with Evans. Evans also hired 20 local employees and will rely heavily on nearly 250 volunteers provided by the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska.

In exchange for their services, the Boys and Girls Club receives part of The Color Run’s proceeds based on its involvement in race promotion and volunteer recruitment, said Jennifer Brown, director of development and communications at the nonprofit.

"We just had such a great experience last year," Brown said. "It was a ton of fun for our staff, our volunteers and everybody who ran. It was a great opportunity to be in the spotlight with such a huge phenomenon."

Last year, Brown told Alaska Dispatch that she expected between $5,000 and $10,000 from the 2013 race, which more than 15,000 people showed up to run. On Tuesday, she would not say how much the nonprofit actually received.

"The Color Run has asked us to keep that dollar amount confidential," Brown said. "I suspect some people may think the amount isn’t enough and might get upset about it, but we never question it, whether it's from ConocoPhillips or Jane Doe. We just accept the donation and say, 'Thank you very much.'"

Boys and Girls Club of Alaska also hosts its own 5K race in Mountain View each year. All of the proceeds go to the neighborhood's Boys and Girls Club. Runners in that race raised $10,000 in May, Brown said.

According to The Color Run's website, the company has donated more than $3 million to charities since its founding in 2012 and has hosted more than 200 races.

Registration remains open for both The Color Run and the Race for Recovery.