• Are we being sucked into a deceptive fun-run vortex? Are they getting more frequent and more annoying because they can include social media? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Why do we do fun runs and mud-soaked obstacle courses? Amal Awad explores her own chequered history and wonders if we’re just supremely bored.
By
Amal Awad

11 May 2016 - 11:15 AM  UPDATED 11 May 2016 - 11:15 AM

When the call for August’s City 2 Surf entries hit my inbox recently, I caught myself considering it for a few languid moments before the memory of my first and only attempt at running/walking/dawdling it came flooding back to me. At the time, I was about 18 kilograms heavier and I wore a headscarf. I felt compelled to prove that I could do it, and if it aided a charity of some kind, even better.

For most of the course, I was moving slow enough to see the stares directed my way, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to my scarf or because I looked like I was about to collapse as someone wearing a novelty outfit joyfully waddled past. When a bystander mimicked a bomb exploding as I hobbled towards Bondi Beach, I figured it was the former.

In hindsight, the most important thing to take away from the experience is that I didn’t die. And notwithstanding the idiotic bystander, there’s something sort of communal about shared misery. Still, it was years before I would dare attempt another ‘fun run’.

Fast-forward to those few years later, when I was a lot fitter and, sans headscarf, attempted The Color Run with co-workers. This global ‘fun run’ seems to take inspiration from the very colourful Indian festival holi by showering its participants with paint. Questionable cultural appropriation aside, it’s also a yearly event drenched in slogans like ‘The happiest 5km on the planet’. The whole concept was so happy, I thought we’d all self-combust with joy before we even left the start line. Craziness was the order of the day.

There’s something sort of communal about shared misery. Still, it was years before I would dare attempt another ‘fun run’.

Paint!

Instagram opps!

Happy-clappy feelings and beach balls … as 20,000 people wait for their turn!

Erm ... paint!

It was like an episode of Art Attack on crack.

I remember the sponsors (they do vitamins), because the name was everywhere, and they were mentioned every two minutes, and they were part of the event hashtag on Twitter. But I can’t remember where the charity dollars were going or what the actual point of it was beyond just having some fun – or rather, to show everyone on social media how much fun we were having.

Post-race, I watched the crowd heave and expand in colourful glory, while a club soundtrack pounded out of the speakers and people lost their minds throwing paint up towards the sky.

The race itself was pretty ordinary. Rather than run through a checkpoint, arms outstretched in victory as paint rained down your face, hair and clothes, you had to slow down, awkwardly manoeuvre yourself towards the people handling the paint and away from the Instagrammers, and not make it seem like your sole reason for competing was because you forget what it feels like to be five.

There was something that felt almost self-indulgent about the whole thing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was this nebulous, exciting concept in my head. To steal Bob Geldof’s famous book title about Live Aid, I just couldn’t help thinking: is that it?

There’s something every other month on the obstacle course/fun run/recreation-en-masse front. They’re usually fundraisers or tied to charities. But it seems to me that an event running off recreation and goodwill fumes should offer a little more than a good feeling and photo-opp-hashtag-promoting-the-promoter. #amiright?

Later that year, I approached the Warrior Dash, a 5km mud-soaked obstacle course from hell, like a child at a McDonald’s playpen. I was pretty sure I’d suck at it, but I felt adventurous and brave, because I was pushing my limits. And if there’s anything a fun run will achieve beyond charity dollars, it’s an inflated sense of self.

Like the City 2 Surf, I felt death stare me in the face, except this time it was sans headscarf and excess kilos, and it was from the top of a slippery, muddy plank. It was both disgusting and exhilarating at once. But I have no idea where the money went or what I was doing there.

Are we being sucked into a deceptive fun-run vortex? Are they getting more frequent and more annoying because they can include social media?

There’s usually a party at the end of these races, and that seems to have become the whole point. Warrior Dash, for example, descends into grimy hell as people get drunk, lose more clothing, and start to resemble the subjects of a cave painting. Add ridiculously loud music, and you’re kind of left wondering what you’re actually achieving, beyond a collection of fresh bruises, a medal and a complimentary furry warrior helmet.

Are we being sucked into a deceptive fun-run vortex? Are they getting more frequent and more annoying because they can include social media?

Maybe we should just call a mud-soaked spade a spade and say it’s a Warrior Dash/Piss-up. And if the Warrior Dash isn’t enough of a challenge, there’s the Tough Mudder, which seems to take inspiration from a military training guidebook, running 18-20km with harder obstacles, but judging from what I’ve heard, that one’s strictly for the cross-fit bunch. No paint involved.

I’m a changed woman now. I know my limitations, and I embrace them. And while it means I lose opportunities to enliven my sad social media feeds, I find the thrill of a solitary coffee and reading a book far outweighs the #happiness that comes with being showered with paint at the finish line.

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