5Ks that are so fun you’ll forget you hate running

Running 3.1 miles? In a row? And I have to pay for this privilege? If you don’t run regularly, the idea of running a 5K probably sounds like the worst. But even people who may not like running under normal circumstances are participating in a new crop of 5Ks across the country that make running seem less boring, and a lot more fun.

Like a 5K you run while getting splattered with paint, or one you run through foam-filled slip ‘n’ slides, or another you run at night through a glow-in-the-dark course. And if none of those seem like enough motivation, you could always run from zombies.

“We’ve definitely seen this emerge as a trend,” says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. “I think people are really gravitating to them just because they’re really fun.” She says her own mother-in-law recently ran in one of the zombie runs (called Run For Your Lives), even though she’s never been interested in running a regular 5K before.

These are not races for “serious runners” — they’re not even called “races,” but “events” or “festivals,” and most of them aren’t timed. But Matthews says they’re great reminders that exercise doesn’t have to be dull and joyless, and running doesn’t always have to be quite so serious. Fitness can even be fun, something that’s all too easy to forget.

“They’re encouraging people to explore fun, unique ways to be active and be fit. It’s really letting people change their mentality on what, quote, ‘exercise’ has to be,” Matthews says. “It really shows when you make physical activity fun, and when you do make it social … I think you really start to see people realize that, yeah, being active is something I enjoy doing.”

And with some training, almost anyone can walk or run 3.1 miles, Matthews says.

“A 5K, being 3.1 miles, is a really attainable distance for most people,” she says. A training program like the popular Couch to 5K, which takes nine weeks to complete, is a good place to start, she says. “It’s always good to allow yourself time to really build up to that, especially if you haven’t been regularly physically active for a while.”

Here’s a look at some of these runs happening all across the country:

1. The Color Run is sort of a 5K-Holi Festival hybrid: You run 3.1 miles while people throw powdered paint at you, and by the time you reach the finish line, you look like this guy:

HANOVER, GERMANY - JULY 07: A partcipiant covered in colored powder during the Color Run at the Hanover Fairgrounds on July 7, 2013 in Hanover, Germa...
A partcipiant covered in colored powder during the Color Run at the Hanover Fairgrounds on July 7, 2013 in Hanover, Germany. Alexander Koerner / Today

Last year – the Color Run’s first year – more than 600,000 people ran the Color Run in 50 U.S. cities and three international cities. This year, the event is expanding to more than 120 cities in the U.S. and 30 cities internationally. And there at least a half-dozen similar events: Color Me Rad, Color Mob 5K, Color in Motion, The Graffiti Run, Color Fun Fest, Run or Dye.

2. If that idea seems too messy for you, you might try the Foam Fest 5K or the Bubble Run, which leave runners looking like they’ve taken a trip through the Wonka Wash.

Bubble Run

3. Or there’s the Electric Run, which — with its glow-in-the-dark course and black lights — seems a little less of a race, more of a rave. Celebrities like Seth Rogen and Vanessa Hudgens have run this one, if that makes a difference to you. (There’s also the Firefly Run and no less than three runs with “neon” in their name: the Neon Run, the Neon Night Run and the Neon Splash Dash.)

Electric Run

4. There’s also a zombie run, because of course there is. Participants can register as runners or zombies (who get to chase the runners) in the Run For Your Lives obstacle course race, which is happening in 21 locations this year.

Run For Your Livves