2013-07-12 / Front Page

Colorful characters

City hosts ‘happiest 5k on the planet’
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


After the Color Run in South Portland Sunday, July 8, runners formed a crowd in front of a stage near the finish line for a dance party. Organizers played music from the stage, sprayed water and tossed color packets into the crowd, which participants opened and tossed into the air. (Jack Flagler photo) After the Color Run in South Portland Sunday, July 8, runners formed a crowd in front of a stage near the finish line for a dance party. Organizers played music from the stage, sprayed water and tossed color packets into the crowd, which participants opened and tossed into the air. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, July 7, thousands of people in white T-shirts walked toward Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, creating a line of white along either side of Broadway framing the row of cars inching toward the college campus.

A few hours later, the sea of white had turned to a rainbow of color, as participants in the Color Run walked away from SMCC’s campus, their clothing, sunglasses, headbands and skin splattered pink, yellow, orange and blue, and nearly everyone smiling.

The Color Run bills itself as “the happiest 5k on the planet,” a laid-back and low-pressure run focusing not on competition, but on having a good time. The traveling event includes a 5k run with “color stations” set up along the course, where volunteers spray a non-toxic, washable colored powder onto participants as they pass through.

After the race, participants gathered at a stage near the finish line for a dance party. Two race organizers served as master of ceremonies to pump up the crowd as music played from the stage and crowd members, some perched on each other’s shoulders, sprayed packets of color into the air.

The Color Run will stop in more than 100 cities across the United States this year, but this year’s event marked the first time the race has ever visited Maine. The 5,000 slots available quickly sold out with participants from all over the state.

Michelle Preston of Windham came with a group of 14 family members and friends to the event. Preston, unlike many of the participants, is a relatively experienced runner, but she said the Color Run doesn’t compare to other races.

“We run all the time but this is so different, it was so much fun,” Preston said.

The Preston group drove into the race just after 6 a.m., two hours before the scheduled start of the race, and said they did not encounter too much traffic. However, as race time approached, vehicle traffic backed up farther, at one point extending all the way down Broadway onto the Casco Bay Bridge.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the traffic issue was at the forefront of discussions between city staff and race organizers about how to improve the event next year. While some locals approached the campus through Cottage Road, people from out of town all came through the Broadway corridor, which stretches through the city east to Casco Bay. The backup on Broadway caused some drivers to park as far away as Mahoney Middle School and walk, leaving some parking spaces open on campus.

To help relieve pre-race traffic, Gailey said there have been discussions about satellite parking lots available in places like South Portland High School and city hall, where participants could park and then take a shuttle to the race. The TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race in Cape Elizabeth offers a similar arrangement.

Although next year’s race could use some “small tweaks,” Gailey said overall he thought the event was a major success for South Portland. He ran Sunday in his first road race, along with his son Max, 12.

“I think the atmosphere around the race, the knowledge I wasn’t being timed, and my time wouldn’t be in the newspaper, made it pretty relaxing. We had a good time at the after-race event, it was a really good community event,” Gailey said.

Race organizers distributed information to neighbors about the race, and Gailey said the nearby property owners were extremely accommodating and understanding. However, a few noise complaint calls did come in to police dispatch from nearby islands in Casco Bay, from as far away as Cousins Island in Yarmouth.

To rectify those issues, race organizers are considering a later start next year, starting music at 8 a.m. and the race at 9 a.m. Because of the overall success of the event, race officials may also consider raising the participant limit from 5,000 to 6,000.

“Every year we improve a little bit. Every year we’re going to learn,” said Councilor Jerry Jalbert Sunday.

He had attended the event as a spectator to watch and cheer on a few city staff members, including Gailey, Human Resources Director Don Brewer and Deputy Finance Director Kristie Bradbury.

The city council delayed its approval of the road closures for an extra week this spring to hash out some of their concerns with race officials and representatives of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, the race’s charity partner. In each city the Color Run visits, a portion of the race proceeds are donated to a local charity.

Jalbert said signature events like the Color Run are important in building the character of a community like South Portland.

“Everyone’s having fun, they’re enthusiastic, everyone gets to see our community, and folks are having a blast,” Jalbert said.

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