Electric Run - part race, part street party - is coming to the city
Part race, part street party,the Electric Run is one of a new wave of social sporting events that push the envelope on fun, writes Jeanette Wang
You've probably heard of Hash House Harriers and their slogan, "A drinking club with a running problem." Recently, they have been joined in the world of simultaneous running and partying by another international group: ravers with a running problem.
Imagine thumping dance music, flickering strobe lights, laser beams, glow-in-the-dark sunglasses and thousands of neon-clad bodies, dancing, gyrating and shimmying through a five-kilometre fun run in the middle of the night.
By March or April next year you could be part of the street party that is Electric Run. CEO and founder Dan Hill says they're working on getting permits and finalising venues and event partners for the inaugural event in Hong Kong. There will likely be two events on consecutive nights, he says, with an estimated 40,000 participants.
"I'm confident we'll produce a show unlike anything [runners in Hong Kong] have seen," says Hill, who will be making his first trip to Hong Kong next month.
It's no mistake he calls it a show and not a race. Electric Run, says Hill, is a "world-class music and light show that also happens to be a running event".
"We really try to push the envelope in what a fun run could be," he says.
The event is part of a new wave of fun runs termed MOB - mud, obstacles, beer - events that are transforming the running world. The trend includes events such as The Color Run (also slated for Hong Kong next year), zombie runs and Tough Mudder.
"We coined the term MOB to describe events that are hyper social in nature and often team based: mud runs, obstacle courses, adventure races and so on," explains Sam Renouf, Asia-Pacific general manager at Active Network, a company that manages online registration for sports events and other activities.
He says the Spartan Race, an obstacle race which started in 2005 is believed to be the pioneering MOB event.
"It's all about the experience; this audience isn't concerned about the scenic nature of a course, but instead as a way to engage in a social experience with a group of friends. Most participate [in MOB events] with friends and encourage others to join in."
From 2011 to 2012, Active.com - home of the largest online endurance and race community - saw an increase of 72 per cent in searches for MOB-related events, Renouf says.
Active Network conducted a survey of MOB participants last year and found that the biggest reasons for joining such an event were the fun factor (86 per cent) and because it was new and different (72 per cent). Most participants were women (58 per cent) and split among ages 20 to 30 (43 per cent) and 40 to 50 (46 per cent). Nearly one in three respondents said they encouraged at least five friends to participate with them.
Two weekends ago, Kevin McDonnell took part in a five-kilometre mud and obstacle race called The Major Series in Britain and says it's interesting how such events are attracting many first-time racers. "It's definitely helping people like me who want a bit more to their race," he says.
Such events, says Hill, have been borne out of today's obsession with social media and cater to what he terms "the GoPro generation", referring to the popular high-definition personal camera which people use to film and broadcast their own sporting exploits.
"People want to be a hero," says Hill. "They don't want to spectate; they are really hungry for events where they can participate in social and visual ways."
Social media has also been a key driver of growth for these events. The Electric Run Hong Kong Facebook page, for example, was launched on October 11 and has garnered more than 5,000 likes without much promotion. The Color Run Hong Kong Facebook page has more than 10,000 likes.
This year, there were 32 Electric Run events across the US and Australia. Next year, Hill says there'll be 70 events in 30 countries. For the US events, they've partnered with DreamWorks animators, stage designers from Coachella (a US music and arts festival) and other artists to create a one-of-a-kind experience.
Participants are encouraged to be a part of the show by decorating themselves with glow sticks, neon clothes, LEDs or anything else their imagination can come up with. All ages are welcome and kids aged seven and under run free. The fun continues with a wild after-party.
The Hong Kong race will feature all of Electric Run's established stages, from "Electric Avenue" to "Rainbow Road". Unique to the race will be a music playlist created by musicians from Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.
Hill is not new to organising running events. In 2004 he founded the Ragnar Relay Series, a 300-kilometre relay-style team race which has about 100,000 participants across 15 separate events in the US.
But Electric Run and other fun runs - which are typically untimed and offer no rankings or prizes - are attracting more of a lifestyle rather than running crowd.
"What's happening with running is fascinating. It's not just runners any more, it's everyone," says Hill. "Our participants are more into music generally than running."
Travis Snyder had been a competitive runner obsessed with shaving seconds off his times. He co-founded the Red Rock Relay in the US, which is similar to Hill's Ragnar.
But he realised there was a need for non-competitive events for people to get fit and healthy and have fun. He started thinking of event ideas that would appear less threatening to the less active.
In January last year he started The Color Run series in the US. It has become hugely successful, growing from about 50 runs last year to more than 100 in at least 30 countries, including Singapore and China. Guangzhou is set to launch its run this weekend.
The five-kilometre event has waves of people released every 15 or 20 minutes. Participants are splattered with colour at every kilometre, and when it's over everyone looks like they have been tie-dyed.
Renouf says fun runs are building a new base in the running industry. The competitive market is very small, while the base continues to expand.
"While there will always be a market for more traditional endurance events for running, biking and swimming, we're seeing a new audience enter the market that can eventually graduate to more traditional endurance events," says Renouf.
Hill expects traditional races to continue to grow as more people are introduced to running through fun events. However, he says expectations of what a race should be will be higher.
"In the past people cared mainly about a pretty course and if the race started on time. Now they want to be entertained a little more, have better race T-shirts and so on. The events that can meet that challenge are those which will do really well," says Hill.
"That said, I don't see anything changing for races like the Hong Kong, Boston or London marathons. They're institutions. If anything, their participation base is going to keep growing."
But can MOB events be sustained once the novelty wears off?
Renouf thinks they will evolve to meet participants' demands, but the concept of providing a unique experience is going to be around for a while.
"Experience is the new luxury," Hill says.
"I think it's a bit like a Broadway play. Some events are going to have more likes than others; some you do just once and you're done."