🇨🇳 happiest5k - Color Run in Shenzhen

November 15th, 2016

The Color Run calls itself "the happiest 5k on the planet." Aside from strangers aggressively throwing colored powder in my hair, at my face, and towards my camera, I'd have to say they are probably correct.


I took a train to Shenzhen on Friday afternoon and stayed at a capsule hostel. The hostel was a little difficult to find. The booking app had me get off at the wrong station and I spent a quarter of an hour walking around what was very clearly a residential area. I slipped into a lot of parked cars hoping I could find my way to the pinpoint on the map. The guard booth was empty so I just walked past. The lot was fenced in and with no lights, I am pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be there. The guard was at his post when I went back to the gate, but I'm fairly certain I slipped past unnoticed on my way out.

I found a different guard, one that didn't speak much English. I showed him my phone and he had me show my phone to a guy who was driving out of the parking lot. This man was able to put in the correct address. Back to the metro line.

The capsule hostel was on the third floor, but down on the sidewalk I once again found myself lost in Shenzhen. I walked up and down the street a couple times, then took a deep breath and called the hostel. I dislike talking to strangers on the phone. A lady answers in Chinese. My shoulders droop. I'm tired, it's been a long day, I don't want to be lost, I just want to go to sleep.

"I'm sorry, I don't speak any Chinese..." I say.

"Oh, Hello. Is this Philip?" Hope rises in my chest as the speaker not only switches to English, but calls me by name.

I tell her I think I am lost. She asks if she can add me on WeChat and I say yes. She hangs up and it occurs to me that my WeChat is probably setup with my US number. She won't know that one, but I know her number. I add her as a contact using the number I just called.

It turns out I'm just down the street and after exchanging a couple messages, a voice message, and some photos, a man (presumably her husband and owner of the hostel) is able to come down and find me standing on the corner. He leads me around through the back gate and up an elevator to the front desk where I check in.

The capsules are smaller than the ones I stayed at in Japan. They are stacked two high and eight of them fit in the room. Each is about a meter tall, a meter deep, and two meters long. I am able to stretch out and still had an inch or two of space between my head and feet and the walls. Some of the capsules have the entrance on the end. Mine has the entrance on the side. The sounds of traffic and almost continuous honking waft through the third floor window of our room well past midnight. I slowly drift off to sleep.

32 Seconds of audio from my hostel room.

The Color Run

The Color Run was held at Universaide, which, best I can tell, is a sports center on the east side of Shenzhen. There's two large arenas made up pointy dark green spikes. I think one is an indoor stadium and the other is an outdoor stadium. The run takes place outdoors and around the grounds of this complex.

The day is broken up into two events, one run in the morning and one in the afternoon. Waves of runners start at short intervals. "Post-Race Color Throw Parties" take place at the finish line every 15 or so minutes. I'm registered for the afternoon run, but I'm planning to take photos during the morning one, before I get all covered in powder.

It takes about an hour and a half for me to find Universaide. From my hostel I need to transfer metro lines twice and the sports complex is about a half mile or so from the metro station which shares it's name. There's no signs leading the way and I'm led only by a vague intuition and the map on my phone.

Even at the venue, I feel lost. The corner where I arrive is having some sort of car show. Lots of band new white and black cars are parked under tents and men in business suits chat here and there. I need to be on the other side of whatever this is. I'm not sure how to get to that point, so I go straight through. No one stops me, even as I walk up a stairs and past a taped off area around the arena. Security guards are posted at almost almost comically frequent intervals. They don't seem to care that I'm now walking along the running route, though I stay to the far side, away from the runners.

When I finally find the checkin booth, I check in and get my welcome package. I put my new white shirt on over the blue athletic one I'm wearing and drop my bag off at the bag drop. I walk back towards the event, going through a line of portable metal detectors and xray machines.

Wandering around the finish line and the stage in my unblemished white Color Run shirt paints me as a target. Several devious participants throw colored powder in my hair and at my back as I walk past. I try to keep my camera clear of the dust and take to the edges, away from most of the action.

They have DJs for the event, but they only play three songs. They play Flotando, Work from Home, and Timber in a loop, only pausing to play some background beats as the two event MCs talk. They are both young and good looking asians, though I wouldn't peg them as athletes. A troupe of five athletic people take the stage, two men and three women. They begin to do choreographed dances and some of the crowd follows their lead.

Photographers run around, some shielding their cameras with plastic bags, others, like me, just taking their chances. Drones fly over head and swoop down to get photos. A large collection of security guards, stand behind the stage. Over a dozen stand watch to the sides and there's many more standing watch around the perimeter of the event.

At noon things start to wind down and I go to pickup my bag. I walk to the McDonald's which happens to be right at the "real" entrance to this venue. Everyone else goes there too, but the service is relatively quick, considering the crowd. I sit on the curb and wolf my food down. It's almost 1:00pm and I'm planning to run at 2:00pm. I'd rather not be eating lunch right now, but I won't have the energy if I don't.

Back at the event I've shaken out my shirt and it looks pretty white again. The dancers from earlier jump up on platforms and lead the large crowd through some warmup stretches, which include miming machine gun fire at each other when the song samples rapid gun shots. It feels out of place to me. We line up at the starting point and at the signal, off we go.

The day is hot and humid. My itch to run had waned off slightly since the morning when it was more cloudy. The afternoon sun beat down and I did my best to set a pace I could maintain. I'm not going to lie, I've gone running maybe three times since getting to China. I was running three times a week before I left, but the weather here and the early sunset has made regular running less appealing to me.

I kept up a pretty good effort for the first mile. I used my fitbit to track my progress, the poor thing coated in sweat and colored dust. I didn't have the energy I needed to keep up my pacing, especially in the heat and I slowed to a walk. I alternated between walking and running for most of the slight incline of the second mile.

Some people caught up to me and encouraged me to keep running, so I started running along side them. I found myself running with another westerner at the end of the race. She had just started teaching English at an immersion school. We chatted for a few minutes as we finished the race together.

The full run was closer to a 3.5 or 4k, rather than a true 5k. Another vocal runner commented on that and my fitbit confirmed it. I don't think anyone minded, especially with the heat.

After spending a few minutes drinking water and sitting in the shade on a concrete bench, I grabbed my camera and went back to taking photos.

As a westerner with a big bushy beard, I was quite noticeable. Throughout the day I was asked many times if people could take a photo with me. The Chinese people are so adorable. "Can we get photo?" They would ask. "So handsom, so handsom," a few of the young women commented. That might be all the english they knew.

I always said yes, but told them I wanted a photo with them too. While they had their friends snap photos of us together I'd whip out my iPhone and get a selfie for my own collection. (See Selfies with Strangers for a visual representation of this paragraph. :) My favorite selfie was when someone threw powder directly in my face as I snapped the image. The timing was wonderful and any discomfort was well worth the final image.