Runners of all skill levels will face a sensory assault Saturday when they dash into the clouds of colored dust swirling around the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Not only will the cornstarch being hurled at them by "flavor fairies" smell like fruit and candy — it will taste that way, too.
The first-ever Flavor Run was born of two goals for John McMahan of Running for Brews. First, he had always wanted to put on his own race. For years, he'd been setting up running clubs as restaurants and bars around the country to grow the running for fitness movement.
When he participated in the Color Run in St. Petersburg in 2012, a thought occurred to him.
"It was so fun and I thought it would be great if the cornstarch tasted good too," he said.
With the idea in mind, his second goal was to get food labs and scientists to develop a cornstarch that would wash off easily but also had flavor and aroma.
"We just recently decided to add a tiny bit of natural sugar to the mixture," he said. "But it won't be sticky at all."
The flavors — banana, watermelon, blueberry, orange, strawberry and grape — will be tossed by the handful by volunteers along the 5K route and 1-mile fun run route. More than 1,000 pounds of the flavored powder will be on hand. As the course winds into a wooded area on the fairgrounds, people dressed in tutus called flavor fairies will dish out the heaviest dose. McMahan will also be along the course, blasting runners with a fire extinguisher full of flavor.
"I'm so excited about it," he said. "I can't wait to get out there."
The cornstarch was tested in April in an unofficial test run through downtown Tampa. Some of the guinea pigs ran the race with orange slices wedged in their mouths as they were pelted. McMahan said the response overwhelmingly positive.
"It was after that we decided to move forward with planning the race," he said.
Even though the green cornstarch tastes like a Watermelon Jolly Rancher, McMahan isn't advocating for people to run with their mouths open.
"The real flavor comes at the end," he said.
At the end, finishers will get a medal (with a reversible piece in the center) and fresh fruit provided by Whole Foods.
"There will be fresh, cut-up fruit at the finish line," said Luciana Salame, a spokeswoman for the grocery chain's Florida locations. "It's a part of a commitment to community outreach by getting involved in activities that promote healthy living and a healthy lifestyle."
It's all designed to bring the maximum amount of fun for social runners and families.
Registration opened in June and by mid-July more than 1,400 people has signed up to try it out.
"We have a really good relationship with local race directors and running clubs," McMahan said. "We're getting a lot of support."
The relationships grew the project from just a race to an entire event focused on supporting local businesses and charities.
Healthy lifestyle and environmentally conscious vendors will be set up in an area called the Flavor Zone with children's activities and a yoga class, and cover band The Paper Stanleys will play live to entertain spectators and finishers. Fair food and craft beer will also be available.
If things go off without a hitch, expect to be smelling a mixture of candy and sweat in the breezes of other cities in the future.
"Our plan is to go to Orlando and then Jacksonville," McMahan said. "We don't have dates yet, but the planning is in progress."