I mean, it may be any day. These could be my last words as a human and tomorrow I may be on your lawn, clawing at your door, wanting nothing more than to gnaw at your grey matter. That’s right, I was “bitten” by a “zombie.”
Hold the phone, don’t call the CDC. Put the shotgun down. These zombies were human volunteers in make up and costume and my brains were red flags. It was all part of the FIRST EVER “Run For Your Lives” 5K, zombie-infested, obstacle course race. Thousands of victims, I mean runners, descended on Darlington, Maryland to participate in an event that has already grown to 9 annual events from Baltimore to Texas, from Boston to Seattle. Nine crazy weekends in nine cities. Unofficial reports have the number of attendees at 10,000. Probably not far off.
This race/obstacle course/zombie nightmare…let’s just call it “The Event”, was sponsored by WARWEAR and Subaru and counted the American Red Cross as a charitable partner. The company mission: “To prepare you for a zombie apocalypse, and let you party like it’s the end of the world.”
While nervous runners passed military garbed race officials on their way into the dark starter’s tunnel, while mud-covered, wet and ragged remnants of human civilization crossed the chain link fence finish line, and while campers set up their tents and campsites, music, food and beer did the rest. Fifteen bands jammed all afternoon and into the evening. Food vendors offered Pit beef, pulled pork, warm sandwiches and other delicacies at reasonable prices. Deli slicers worked incessantly, providing fresh meat from the on site smokers/grills. The taps rarely stopped as beer became the medicine for aches and cramps, chills and laughs. This was like nothing I’d ever done before, not even when I was in the Army.
Now, this was organized as a legitimate race event. Runners wore a “bib” pinned to their chest, with a number. We had electronic chip timers in our shoes and times were posted after the race (not that many people were interested in their pace or overall time). The flags were important. This was your life. You started with three and if you finished with even one intact, you were a survivor. All others were doomed. Figuratively. Everyone walked away with a medal. Everyone walked away with bragging rights, having successfully navigated a course that sent runners and zombies alike to the hospital with everything from dislocated fingers to broken legs. Hence the pre race waiver.
I took the starting tunnel with my brother, Jimmy and our friend Ray. We were in the 1:30 p.m. wave, lined up and stretching. We talked about pacing and strategy, how we were going to stick together and how best to fend off the zombies. None of it would matter, it would all go to hell over the next hour.
It should be mentioned that the flags are exactly like flag football flags and there is to be no purposeful contact with the zombies. You can’t hit, kick, push, prod, shove or shiv the zombies. No weapons, no animals, only your legs and your wits.
The weather was beautiful and Darlington might have been lifted off a post card from a New England farming community. An eldritch forest bore witness to nervous runners chancing upon their first zombies on the root-riddled and muddy woodland trail. These were the slow ones, the groaners. They shuffled and groaned (hence the name, original, right?), and casually reached for flags. No worries, screen to the outside, use other bodies as an obstacle. Just keep moving. If only it had all been that easy.
There were twelve obstacles throughout the course. Some were more challenging than others, but combined they left you wet, muddy, sucking wind and at the mercy of the undead.
The first obstacle left me with a knee that looked like I’d been attacked by a badger. It’s still healing. We emerged from the woods into an open field. Hay bails had been arranged in a broad, tall, step-like pyramid. We picked our spots, ran up the one side and then descended into hell.
A sea of zombies awaited the wave of runners. They came at us like flesh hungry jackals, clawing for our flags, grabbing and chasing. The woodline was the only sanctuary. Once we reached that, they’d stop coming after us, content to wait for stragglers or the next wave. If you didn’t come with the main body of runners, you were doomed. Survival depended on collective navigation.
I hit the grass and spun away from a zombie, shot left and used two more runners as screens, darting in between a couple more of the living dead. Then, he saw me. His dead eyes locked on me and he sprinted at me. SPRINTED. This worm bait was quick! I threw it into extreme high gear and bolted. Right into some girl. We both hit the ground, hard. I don’t know if she made it, I couldn’t know. I was rolling as he came, grabbing tufts of grass where my flags had just been. No idea where the others had gone. I gained my feet and shot towards the woods. He was right behind me. I juked right and my feet tangled over one another, pitching me to the ground again. This time it was a rolling launch and I was up and running before he was able to gain any more ground. This was not a 5k race. There was no pacing. This was extreme wind sprints with apocalyptic complications.
I hit the woods with a flying leap, passing an undead gatekeeper and making it to momentary safety with all flags accounted for. Jim and Ray were waiting, wide-eyed and smiling. One obstacle down, all flags accounted for and enough energy burned to have run half the race already.
Too bad we had eleven more obstacles to go….
(To be continued in Part II)
Pictures reprinted from Run For Your Lives Facebook page. Please visit and “Like.” They don’t bite…often.