Regarding the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K obstacle run held about 80 miles east of Atlanta, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
First the good news. The runners, those that survived as well as those who were dinner, seemed to have an overwhelmingly good time at the event. I’ll provide some feedback from participants a bit later in the post, but overall the event ran smoothly.
Now, the bad news. I wasn’t able to run in the event. This was a combination of some serious pain in my left calf (most likely caused from improper preparation and training on my part) and a horrible head cold. Given that I’m not a runner, I have to take partial blame for not giving myself enough time to adequately prepare for this 5k, but next year… oh, yeah… I plan on being ready for it.
Still, I had a blast covering the event, even given the day’s weather. Rainy, cold, and muddy. And when I say muddy, I mean shoe-sucking, fall-on-your-#@S slippery mud. I think the first clue that runners were in for a real workout was simply getting from the parking lots to the registration area — as you can see in one of the photos I took on Saturday, registrants were up to their ankles in red mud. I lost track of the number of people I’d see stop dead in their tracks to pull out a stuck shoe. One runner even finished the race barefoot which I thought was crazy until I inquired and was told she’d lost one shoe deep in the mud stew and, after five minutes of stomping around didn’t locate the lost footwear. She had to take the other off to complete the race. Still, she was laughing as she crossed the line, minus three flags meaning she was infected and doomed to join the shambling undead.
The race was performed in waves, with a wave of runners (200 or more runners per wave, is my estimate) starting every 30 minutes. I stuck around the finish line to talk to runners as they came in. The mud was having an obviously negative effect on the runners as I estimate I only saw 3 or 4 survivors (one or more flags still attached) come across the Finish line for 2 different waves. Given that zombies came in slow and fast varieties, the mud must have slowed down the runners considerably, reducing the number of surviving runners and significantly increasing the infected runners. There’s a lesson here — if a zombie apocalypse is upon you, don’t try making a run for the grocery store during or after a heavy rain.
I had a great time getting some a behind-the-scene look at the Zombification area. Held in a barn(!), the volunteers who had paid $25 to be a zombie were put in an assembly line and run through a handful of makeup artists who worked on the clothing, the face makeup, and the blood/gore application (a sprayer connected to a bucket of blood as well as buckets of goop that I just don’t want to know about). After the zombification was completed, the zombies were assigned to one of the dozen various obstacles locations.
Speaking of obstacle locations, I was only able to get a look at three of them — the mud was so bad and so risky to walk across that a few of us covering the event were politely asked to not continue hiking our way any further into the event’s course because it was so dangerous to walk outside the runner’s lane that was roped off. After spending 30 minutes hiking just 1/4 mile into the course, I joined a fellow media member and we turned around to return to the start and finish line area because we just couldn’t proceed any further.
The obstacles we did get to cover, however, were definitely fun looking — one of them was a giant angled wall that the runners would have to first climb on one side and then slide down the other… directly into a narrow choke-point filled with slow moving zombies. Given that the runner’s lane was maybe only 20 feet wide and filled with zombies, there wasn’t much hope of getting through it without losing a flag unless you somehow managed to run with a large group of 20 or more runners and even then… it was luck of the draw.
Another obstacle had the runners sliding down a slick mud pit into a pool of deep water (cold, I’ll bet) before climbing out directly into the path of a couple of fast moving zombies. Because only a few runners at a time could slide down and exit the water pit at a time, the fast moving zombies had plenty of time to look for flags and target those runners who hadn’t already lost all their flags. It was fun watching (and listening to the screams) of the runners who, after leaving the water pit, would see the apparently slow-moving zombie suddenly kick in the speed and come barreling right at them. Funny for observers… probably not so much for the runner.
Cold water showers waited at the end of the race for runners to rinse off (as best they could — Georgia red clay is pretty much impossible to completely wash out and I threw out my socks after two bleachings. My black shoes now have a slightly blood colored tinge to them that will hopefully disappear after a few more washings). Then it was off to get your medal — one for any runner holding on to at least one flag… and another for victims of the plague who lost all three flags.
I watched my 11am wave begin to gather and then start the run. I really wanted to participate, but watching the runners leave the gates and basically running at 1/4 speed because the mud was so thick and deep that they would sink up to their ankles… well, maybe I’m not so upset.
I asked a variety of runners after the race to give me their thoughts on the race, and here’s a handful of the comments I received:
Judy No-Intestines (infected) — hated the mud, loved the obstacles, definitely plans on participating next year.
Robbie Speed-Demon (survivor, 1 flag left) — enjoyed the race, but felt the waves were too crowded given the muddy conditions. Also plans on running next year.
Will Missing-Ear (infected) — wants the race moved to summer in Georgia for warmer weather, less chance of rain (I second this one). Plans on running next year.
J.J. Zombie-Bait (infected) — hated the rain/mud, felt there were too many zombies in the choke-points to even have a chance of surviving, Not running next year if during rainy season.
Courtney Missing-Leg (infected) — frequent runner, felt event was too cold/wet to run properly given obstacles/zombies, too many zombies, enjoyed the obstacles. Not sure about next year.
A few dozen more folks that I spoke with all had similar comments, but the general consensus was that the zombie run idea was great… most I think just didn’t like one or more of the conditions (rainy, muddy, cold). I did hear complaints from many finishers who really had hoped to survive but didn’t see how it was possible given how many zombies they threw into each obstacle. Since I didn’t get to run the event, I can’t comment on this other than to add that, for me, running something like this is so that you can have the bragging rights of surviving a zombie uprising. I will say that the choke-point obstacle I mentioned above where the runners would slide down directly into the path of 40 or 50 zombies was a no-win scenario, really. I watched that obstacles for 20 minutes or so and never saw any runners get by it without losing their flags. Maybe something for the event organizers to consider: next year, reduce the number of zombie volunteers to give runners a real chance at surviving the apocalypse? (That, or run with a group and pull a Shane — sacrifice a slow team member so another team member can survive.)
I think the Run for Your Lives event has a real future (ignoring the bleak zombie-infested landscape, of course)… even with the nasty weather we had and the ankle-deep mud, I seemed to see smiles all around. If you ran in the Georgia race, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the race. And I’d really love to hear from any runners who participate in other RFYL events around the country — email me and let me know what you think of your locations and obstacles, and I’m also interested in survival rates for non-rainy, non-muddy days.
You can find information on the Atlanta race as well as other cities where the event will be happening at the Run for Your Lives website.