As the mercury drops and a light drizzle starts to fall at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the emcee of the Spark Run can't stop reminding us of how much fun we're about to have.
"This is not your ordinary night!" he shouts from the top of the scaffolding that overlooks the starting line, as house music blares from the speakers. "This is legendary status! This is epic status!"
"I really hope it doesn't pour," says the girl in front of me. "I'm not dressed for that." She's wearing a sports bra, running tights and a Colorado flag.
See also: The Spark Run with Kaskade
We've gathered here in Commerce City for the first stop of the Spark Run, a touring event entering the fun-run craze by mixing a light-up, dance-themed race with performances by Kaskade and other electronic artists. The Spark Run sweats superlatives: Its organizers bill it as "the ultimate nighttime 5K run/walk," a "sensory voyage like no other" that ends with the "ultimate afterparty." The people here have paid fifty dollars for the privilege -- more than double the ticket price for Kaskade's show at NORAD later tonight.
There are some impediments to our good time, however, including the rain, a heavy cloud bank massing on the horizon and a delay that's kept us standing here in the evening chill about half an hour beyond the scheduled start time.
The crowd gathered in the starting chute is remarkably tame compared to the usual scene at either an EDM concert or a fun run. There are the fixtures -- a couple of teenage girls in fuzzy boots and spirit hoods on the rave side, a handful of tutu-wearing athletes on the fun-run side, and some hero in a sequined stormtrooper helmet straddling the line -- but for the most part, everyone's dressed for a workout, but with more glow necklaces. Little kids abound; next to me, a potbellied man in a plain T-shirt and black Nike running shorts pushes his princess-dress-bedecked daughters in a jogging stroller.
There's another notable absence that bears mentioning: For an EDM event, there are very few drugs here. None of the people heading out of the gate with me are rolling, at least not obviously -- pretty normal for a fun run, yeah, but surprising for one that's supposed to end in an EDM show. I see a few puffs of smoke at the starting line, and a lot more at the end, but that's it.
The map for the Spark Run laid out the course of landmarks with tantalizing names, but not much detail. First, we'll wind through the "Flickr Forest," then round the "Kaskade Corner," run through the "Interactive Sparkway," and finally make our way through the "Graffiti District" to the finish.
Is the Spark Run worth the cost of admission? We ponder the question on the next page. As it turns out, the run isn't exactly a non-stop extravaganza of light and sound. The Flickr Forest is genuinely cool, taking runners between strips of glowing pylons that resemble giant, inflatable octopus tentacles, then through a tunnel of giant blow-up arches that pulse with multicolored light as beats pump through the speakers.
The rest is underwhelming. The Kaskade Korner is a sign spelling the artist's name. Further along, there's a tiny stage with five people dancing against a painted backdrop. At one point, we run past what appears to be a bubble machine from a kids' birthday party. But for the most part, we're just running in the dark, listening as the music from different spots on the course mingles in the distance.
That's not to say that there aren't moments when it all comes together. At one point the course takes us through the stadium, winding around the pitch and onto the upper level. From the top, the runners below look like fireflies, a giant, flickering line of glow sticks and light-up toys against the dark.
The Ultimate Afterparty takes place on an AstroTurfed kids' soccer field, with a mobile stage set up in one corner. By the time Kaskade comes on, the crowd of runners, now somewhat reduced, is too tired and cold to do much more than bob a little bit.
But if the designers of the course pulled their punches, Kaskade doesn't: He plays to the little group clustered on the field like he's playing to a festival crowd, studding his set with big drops and egging them on through the microphone as the weather gets worse. By the time "Raining" comes on, it's actually raining, but my fellow runners have come to life, dancing and hoisting each other (and, for a couple parents still hanging on, their children) up on their shoulders.
So was the Spark Run worth it? If you're a runner looking for something to do on a Friday night, you could do worse than this. Yes, it's a money grab, just like every commercial costumed run on the market. With that said, $50 is on par for fun runs like this, and with a performance by Kaskade thrown in, that price actually seems like a deal. (Registration for the Denver Neon Run, which has a similar premise, is $60 day of, while the Firefly Run, another night run taking place at Dick's, costs $40 in advance.)
But if you're just into the music and lights, save your money and just take a friend to the club to see Kaskade instead.
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