The Color Run, Köln, 21st July 2013

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In my time I've been quite a sporty person. At school I played hockey in the winter months, cricket in the summer months and pretty much all year round I fenced. In the army sport is pretty much on the menu most days so I played squash and hockey for fun and did a lot of circuit training and running around in the mud at five o'clock in the morning dressed like a tree, more often than not as part of a team carrying a log. And at some point I discovered running for fun, more specifically the 10km Volkslauf type of running - Sunday fun runs with a keg of beer for the largest team entered.

These days my sporting activities are mostly restricted to a bit of fair-weather cycling and thrice-weekly trips to the gym to attack the cross trainer, the rowing machine and sometimes the treadmill.

So when one of my (much younger) colleagues suggested that we take part in a 5km fun run on the 21st July, in Köln, I just said "oh yeah, let me know when to pay you" and didn't think much about it. About a month ago I got a short email saying that I should transfer EUR 26 and look at the website for the run so I'd know what I was letting myself in for.

That sounded a bit odd for a fun run so I had a look. It turns out that what I had signed myself up for was The Color Run (yes, yes, I know. But it is an American thing and I'm not in the UK so we have to live without the U) The extortionate entry fee turned out to be the cheapest version - registration is done in waves, the cheapest way is to register as a team of at least four people, as soon as possible. The first 25% of registrations get the cheapest price, the next 25% pay a little more, etc etc. There are restricted places and the top fee is EUR 40 so it pays to find some like minded people and book early.

Once registered runners receive a confirmation with a one-time use code. We could have collected our race packs starting from Thursday 18th July, but Köln is a fair hike for all of us so we decided to meet up at the registration booth at 8:30am on the Sunday. That meant that I had to be up at 6am. On a Sunday. It had been very hot for the whole of July, it hadn't rained since the 4th July, so I took the precaution of purchasing my first pair of running shorts and inflicted my lilly white lallys on an unsuspecting train-riding public.

My husband came along to be Bag Watcher and Photographer In Chief - although there was a sort of left luggage tent for people who didn't have anyone to do that for them. The race packs were handed out: a white Reebok shirt with the Color Run logo on the front, a headband, the race number (which seemed to have been allocated in a random way - I was very happy that mine started with 42), pins, a wristband and some flyers offering money off Reebok and L'Oreal products (main sponsors of the event). Oh yes, there was also a bag of colour powder.

It is a fact of my ex-military life that I carry a load of stuff around with me. All the time. And more often than not people laugh at me for the useless rubbish I schlepp around. But when we unpacked our t-shirts the cry went up from the female members of the Kimchi Runners - for that was our team name - that we needed scissors to customise the men's shirts. HA! I carry a little Swiss Army Knife, with scissors, and a Swisscard, with scissors. They are tiny but the race was scheduled to begin at 11am so we started hacking away at sleeves and necklines.

As a commercial enterpise The Color Run has a few tricks up its sleeve. It has merchandise. Actually it's Merchandise. We ignored the socks and kitted ourselves out with neon green tutus. Even the sole male Kimchi Runner. A lot of photographs were taken, and friendly "hellos" and high-fives exchanged with complete strangers.

About an hour before the start we headed off to the start. Now it's a fact of life that if you do weekend activities with workmates it the element of cat-herding increases along with the number of people taking part. My friend, M, and I are pretty keen on doing things and not faffing around. The male colleague, and the other two women are the kind that drift around without much of a plan. They wanted to queue for the loo, but then the queue was too long and they wanted to go to the start. But there was no shade so they wanted to go back. Then they needed the loo again. Then it was time for a smoke.

M and I picked a spot reasonably near the start and waited, coralled with other Color Runners. More runners arrived. We chatted with the people around us. More runners arrived. As far back as the eye could see runners were gathering for the race.

While we were waiting for the race to start we discussed the fact that in Germany this run is actually supposed to be called Farbenlauf - there is a run that has taken place in Köln every year since 2009, in the same place as the Color Run would take place, to raise funds for AIDS projects. Despite an injunction against The Color Run not to use the name, there wasn't much evidence of it being called the Farbenlauf. To be honest I don't think anyone taking part on Sunday seemed particularly bothered.

The waiting started to get a little hot and a little boring. There was a DJ at the start who got us doing Mexican waves, high-fives with the people standing around us and some warm up exercises that seemed to consist of pretending to pick cherries off a tree. Every pleasure cruiser that passed our location was waved at, those who replied with a blast of their foghorn received a mighty cheer in return. A couple of lads in a canoe nearly capsised when they became the object of much shouting and waving, and one smaller boat decided to turn around and go back the way it had come rather than run the Color Run gauntlet.

As the start time came closer two beefy fellows turned up with what looked like a skipping rope, and stretched it accross the start area a few people behind us. A sensible precaution as it turned out - the run was actually started in two waves so that there wasn't too much of a crush. And then finally, the countdown came, the airhorn did its stuff and off we ran, about 4,000 people in the first lot, at a very slow trot.

Pretty soon we were at the first colour area, yellow this time. Unfortunately the volunteers who were throwing the coloured powder around (actually squirting it at us from large squeezy bottles) didn't really know what they were doing and so we didn't get much in the way of colour. But there was a lot of whooping and hollering and good natured high-fiving a we shuffled through.

Once we got through to the other side, M and I started off at a trot again - but soon realised we'd lost our team mates. Seeing the throng behind us we decided to push on and catch up wit them at the end. At this point I'll describe the route. If you're familiar with Köln - we once had a German meet there - there's a sort of long, thin peninsula along the bank of the Rhine, joined to the city near the chocolate museum by a bridges. From there the route took us along the Rhine for about 1,200 metres then doubled back on itself back nearly as far as the start, before doubling back again for the final run down to the finish. Along the way, despite the advertised "many drink stops" I only saw one table with volunteers desperately pouring water into plastic cups, but since I don't tend to drink on short runs it wasn't too much of a torture to go without.

It was very hot, around 30°C that felt more like 40°C. Everything was hot and sticky which meant that as we passed through the green and blue colour bombing zones it stuck with a vengence.

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