Using Miles & Points to Attend the Happiest 5K on the Planet

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If you’re like me, persuading yourself to exercise is rare feat.

The Color Run is a 5K designed to distract you from the fact that you’re doing something healthy for your body.  You’re having too much fun to realize that running actually blows.

The festivities are similar to the Hindu festival of Holi, where the countries of India and Nepal spend a joyous day throwing, dumping, and smearing each other with brightly colored powder called gulal.

One of the biggest draws of the Color Run is that it’s not timed.  There’s no giant clock waiting to mock you at the finish line.  Folks bring their little kids to run with them and play in the color.  And nobody is on the hunt for a personal record.

Throwing Color After Crossing the Finish Line

Sarah and I traveled from Cincinnati to Chicago for this event.  And we can’t wait for the next one!

Chicago Color Run

The Color Run is an international event that tours all over the US and several other countries, like Australia, Chile, Denmark, Iceland, and Indonesia.  Wherever you live, the Color Run is bound to take place somewhere nearby.  We missed the Color Run when it came to Cincinnati, so we decided to take an easy 55-minute flight to Chicago and run theirs!

We had a couple of options for receiving our Color Run packet.  Either pay extra to have it mailed to your door, or pick it up at the race.  We chose the latter.  Our packet came with an official white Color Run shirt, bib number, stickers, tattoos, and a packet of color to use at our own discretion.  The registration and packet cost ~$35.

It’s important to wear as much white as possible for this run!  Your body is a pristine canvas to be painted by the imaginative minds of those wielding color.

We arrived at 6:00 am to pick up our packets and wandered around the starting line for a long while.

There Were Plenty of Photo Opportunities Before the Race

Before the run, there were several vendors and activities around the lot.  The Color Run assembles a stage where they conduct the after-run party.  And they led a pre-run yoga session to help loosen folks up.

We spent a while visiting the sea of drink stations.  There was a Sparkling Ice stand, a kombucha stand, spiked tonic water, and lots more.  And everything was free!

Swimming Pools Filled With Kombucha

The starting line is meant to be a party in itself, but I wasn’t impressed.  They blared loud music, and the fella with the megaphone at the front of the crowd tossed down free swag to clamoring runners from his lofty platform.

He wasn’t the most athletic guy, so he couldn’t throw very far.  The runners directly under him were carrying armloads of stuff.

Pre-Race “Party”

Thousands of participants attend the Color Run, so the staff releases runners in waves, with perhaps 5 minutes in between.  I understood the wisdom of this during the run when I saw how unbelievably narrow our path was.  It became often clogged.

The heat index was 100+ degrees the day of the run, and it zapped our energy.  We were both exhausted, but too proud to actually say so.  But I reasoned that the faster we run, the less we get for our money, so we spent a fair bit of time walking.

The Views Were Beautiful!  Much of the Run Was Toward the Glimmering Chicago Skyline, and on the Bike Path Along the Lakefront

Every thousand yards or so appears a “color station,” where less-than-enthusiastic young people throw powdered color at you from a squeeze bottle.  Each station is dedicated its own color.

Pro Tip:  You have to make a specific request if you want paint in your face.

There were also bubble machines and (allegedly) foam machines, though I didn’t see any.

Bubble Machines Near the Finish Line

At the end of the race, if you don’t have a tie-dye face, you didn’t try hard enough.

You’re Awarded Much-Deserved Color Run Medals at the Finish Line

At the finish line was a stand with free cookies.  So yeah, it was a pretty good day.

We headed to the stage, where the Color Run troops were giving away tons of free shirts, shorts, and color packets.  They conducted a group color throw every ~10 minutes.  It’s one of the most beautiful sights you can imagine.

Use Your Color Packets to Paint the Sky

The camaraderie that the Color Run sparks is very unique.  Everyone becomes friends at the Color Run.  Flinging paint and getting dirty and singing and dancing makes you feel young again.  Young like back when you were in kindergarten, and making friends was effortless.

While I was flinging purple at Sarah, I suddenly found myself shrouded in a cloud of red.  I turned around to find a perfect stranger dumping color all over my head.  So I of course retaliated.

The Aftermath of a Group Color Throw

We stayed for several color throws.  The color is very pretty, but it hangs in the air, and it doesn’t smell great.  And when it begins to irritate your eyeballs, there’s NOTHING you can do.  Every inch of your skin and clothes is covered in powder, and wiping your eyes would only exacerbate the issue.

By the fourth throw, we were about ready to call it a day.

In my previous experience, standing near the exits are Color Run staff with leaf blowers.  They blow the excess powder off your skin and clothes, so you’re less messy on the drive home.  I couldn’t locate the leaf blowers this time, which proved catastrophic for the interior of my rental car.

You Can Do It, Too

This is my second Color Run, and I plan to keep at them as long as they’re around.  I’m itching to run some of the other themed 5K races out there, too, such as:

The Foam Glow Looks DOPE

Even if your hometown doesn’t host a fun themed run, hopping around the US for practically free is very easy!  Short flights to fun events take very few miles & points.

For example, it cost me 6,000 Delta miles one-way to reach Cincinnati from Chicago.  And ~4,000 Southwest points one-way to fly back from Chicago to Cincinnati.

Folks interested in short hops should collect the following miles & points.

1.   Southwest Points

Apply Here:   Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Apply Here:   Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

When you redeem Southwest points for flights, the price is tied to the cost of the ticket.  So when Southwest has a flight sale, that means you pay fewer points!

You can often find super cheap short-haul flights on Southwest (~3,000 points one-way) because they’re continually publishing sales.  So having a stash of Southwest points is an unbelievable help for quick jaunts around the US.

The Chase Southwest Plus card currently comes with a bonus of 40,000 Southwest points after meeting minimum spending requirements.

You can also consider applying for a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning credit card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Because you can transfer your points directly to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which you can convert into Southwest points) after meeting minimum spending requirements.

2.   British Airways Avios Points

Apply Here:   British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Flights in North America on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines can be a great deal using British Airways Avios Points. That’s because any flight under 1,150 miles costs 15,000 British Airways Avios round-trip!

For example, a short round-trip flight from Washington, DC, to New York will cost just 15,000 British Airways Avios points.

The Chase British Airways Card currently comes with up to 100,000 British Airways Avios points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements.  You could use those points for up to 13 short one-way flights in the US!

The information for the British Airways Visa card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

3.   American Airlines Miles

Apply Here:   Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Any one-way flights in the US (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada that are 500 miles or less cost 7,500 American Airlines miles.  For example, if you’re flying from Austin to Dallas, you’ll pay just 7,500 American Airlines miles each way. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Citi American Airlines Platinum Select comes with 60,000 American Airlines miles after meeting minimum spending requirements.  That’s enough for 8 short one-way flights around the US.

Bottom Line

The Color Run in Chicago was super fun.  It was a reminder to me that miles & points are useful even to folks who seem unable to find the time to travel.  A quick weekend trip to a nearby city can be very memorable!

Miles & points are not exclusively for lie-flat seats across the ocean or extended vacations in Europe.  Diving into this hobby can enrich anyone’s life, even if they don’t desire to explore faraway lands.  I had a blast using them for a free 55 minute flight, for crying out sakes!

Let me know of any fun domestic activities I should spend my points to attend!

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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