Warrior Dash Toronto

Running races in Toronto for those bored with the 10k

Are you into running but looking for extra flavour? Not into running but want a fun reason to break a sweat? Novelty runs are providing experienced and beginner runners with a clever twist on the traditional run.

One such run is the US-based Run Or Dye. Established last October, the series has already attracted over 50,000 participants over five runs and more are scheduled this summer. It's also expanding to Canada with a run in Ottawa this August. Other stops - including Toronto - are in the works for fall.

Content Development Director Katie Langston says Run or Dye is inspired by similar novelty runs as well as Holi, the Hindu religious festival, which includes the throwing of powdered dye as a way to celebrate life. "Our motto is to live life in full colour."

Along every kilometre of its 5K course is a dye station. Runners at showered with coloured powder. The run culminates in a full-blown colour explosion at the dye festival, which includes a live DJ. "There is something about the experience of being covered in colour that awakens the joyful part inside of you," says Langston.

Toronto is a city fit for runners, providing enthusiasts with plenty of running events - of various lengths - within and near the GTA throughout the year.

Novelty runs are helping attract a non-running demographic, says Langston. "One overwhelming thing we hear from participants is how much fun they have exercising. A huge group of our participants are first timers."

The social aspect contributes to the popularity of novelty runs, says Langston. "People, for the most part, run in groups. These runs build community and camaraderie. It helps transform something like running, which is often times a chore, into something that is a delight."

Similar in style to Run or Dye, but cut by a different cloth, the Color Me Rad 5K run promises participants they will end up "looking like a kindergarten art glass gone wrong" by the time they have been obliterated by color bombs. This June 22 and 23 run at Downsview Park is sold out.

Another popular type of novelty run is the obstacle course that combines endurance test with physical challenges. Two weeks ago, the 16k Tough Mudder put hundreds of participants through a grueling ringer.

Alex Li participated in Tough Mudder with colleagues as a team building exercise. "Some obstacles are more psychological than physical, such as walk the plank, cage crawl and electroshock therapy," he says.

The obstacles are selling points for participants like Li. "It's a matter of breaking free of the norm and doing something different, challenging, and borderline insane."

Similar to Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash - taking place July 20 at Horseshoe Valley Resort, an hour drive outside Toronto - offers a 5.5K course. "Participants tackle the Battleground, cross the finish line and become Warrior," says rep Kendra Alley. "We welcome all athletic abilities. It is an event for everyone...to challenge themselves, be active and get muddy."

The Dash's dozen or so obstacles include jumping over the "Warrior Roast" fire pit, crawling through the "Trenches," and "Storming Normandy." Seasoned warriors are promised never-before-seen obstacles.

The social aspect is also key in the Dash. Participants are encouraged to dress in team costumes. Previous runs have seen racers in Viking and superhero costumes. Warriors are rewarded with a celebratory feast, including a Beer Alley.

The sky, it seems, is the limit for novelty runs. Who knows, we could one day see an Angry Birds-themed obstacle run, a laser tag mashup run, or perhaps a Legoland course.

For horror folks clamouring for zombies, it's been done already. Last year, the 5K Run For Your Lives series stopped by Toronto, presenting runners with an obstacle course infested with the undead. Organizers are skipping Toronto in 2013, but many are hoping the run infects our city again next year.

"We're going to continue to see a proliferation of different types of (novelty) runs," predicts Langston. "It'll be interesting to see which ideas stick and which ideas don't. But I do think that this is a trend that is not going away for a good while."

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