Date: August 24, 2013
Distance: 5k-ish (2.83 miles)
Pace: 23:05 min/mile
Finish Time: 1:05:16
Overall Place: N/A — Infected
The Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K was both nothing like I expected and everything I wanted it to be. It was scary, intimidating, frustrating, painful and pushed my physical and emotional limits. And it was pretty fucking awesome.
Fair warning: lots of photos and some foul language in this very long race recap. (And if you want a little extra atmosphere, open this video in another tab and listen to it. They played this song about a million times during the event, and now it’s stuck in my head. Sure, the video is more Muppet Fight Club than zombie apocalypse, but it’s still fitting…)
When I originally signed up for the zombie run, I imagined it being like any other 5k ‘fun run’ but with some zombies chasing the pack and occasionally jumping out from along the edge of the course. Fun, right?
I should have done my research, because I was not prepared for climbing over wood barriers, under barbed wire, through mud and tunnels and muddy tunnels, and doing a belly-crawl through a smoke-filled tent with electrified wires hanging down, as the people ahead of me scream as they get zapped. And then there were the goddamn hills, worse than anything I ran during the San Francisco Half Marathon.
But let’s back up, shall we? The Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K series has about 20 events per year, all over the United States (with one Canadian event this year, near Toronto on September 28). On August 24, the zombie virus spread to the Pacific Northwest, and we headed south of Seattle to fight it. It’s an untimed event; instead of racing against the clock, you run the course while trying to avoid the zombies who want to grab your red flags that represent your human life. Make it to the safe zone with at least one flag intact, and you’ve survived. Lose all three, you’re infected.
We arrived at the race site (an off-road vehicle park outside of Olympia) around 8am, plenty of time to get parked, pick up our race bibs and flag belts, and get ready for the 9am wave. The event was a little lacking on information and instructions, and all of a sudden they yelled Go! and so we took off down a chute and into the forest.
Honestly, the next hour was a blur. That’s right, it took us more than an hour to complete a 5K course. (According to my Garmin — which was securely wrapped in a Ziploc bag before I duct-taped it to my wrist — the course actually measured 4.5K or so. Check out the Garmin splits and course map here.)
I remember hills, lots of hills with loose gravel that made it difficult to get any traction, and then steep downhills with deep ruts in the course from the dirt bikes, and then holy crap there are zombies ahead of us and shrieking and dodging and then you’d get to a quiet stretch and everyone was already so exhausted that the run became more of a zombie death march. I kept checking my watch and whining “What the fuck, we’re only three-quarters of a mile in?!?”
Scattered throughout the forest section of the course, we came across a few non-zombie obstacles — wooden barriers (similar to Czech hedgehogs but made of wood) to be climbed over, barbed wire-covered muddy pools to crawl through… but this was just warming us up.
Around the two-thirds mark, we left the forest and entered the zombie wasteland — an open dirt field with rolling hills and various terrors. By this point, I was already infected — zombies had grabbed all three of my red flags. My husband still had one flag left, and I was determined to protect him. Human shield time!
The zombie wasteland featured some aggressive zombie motherfuckers. We teamed up with other runners, and organized a defensive strategy — infecteds up front as bait, luring the zombies to one side while keeping the still-alive runners as safe as we could. (Limited success — we lost a lot of good people out there.)
And then there was the smokehouse. This terrified me more than anything else during the event. A big tent with graffiti scrawled across the side, smoke spilling out the seams, screams coming from inside. We crawled under the flap, belly scraping across the dirt. There was just enough light in that first moment to see the tail-ends of wires hanging down, just inches from the ground. Inferring from context (and the shrieks), we figured out pretty quickly that they were electrified. (Context wasn’t enough for my husband, who grabbed the wire ‘just to see’ and promptly got zapped.) I kept as low as I could, pulling myself along the ground, scraping knees and elbows and ripping my race bib to shreds, pausing every few inches to try to make out a wire-free path. I’m sure it didn’t take as long to clear the smokehouse as it seemed, because it seemed like an eternity. But then there was light! I reached the far end of the tent and scurried under the flap and back into the wasteland.
After that, it’s another blur of running up hills and down hills and away from zombies. Poor hubby lost his final flag just as we left the wasteland and were approaching the final obstacles. There was only one obstacle I skipped — the blood pit. Not due to an aversion to jumping into a vat of unknown goo, but because by that point my legs and arms were like Jell-O and I couldn’t balance myself enough to climb up the tractor tires to reach the pit. But I crawled through one last barrier and reached the Safe Zone, receiving a lovely “Infected” medal for my efforts.
Time to hit the showers! Not sure why I thought a cold-water outdoor shower was a good idea, but it was refreshing, if completely ineffectual at removing any of the mud and grime. Pretty sure my Lululemon shorts are toast.
After a quick snack and a few moments watching other runners tackle the obstacles, we got ready to head over to the Zombie Transformation Center, where a team of professional makeup artists and special effects technicians (i.e. guys who ripped our clothes and threw handfuls of blood at us) prepared us for an afternoon shift as zombies.
[Quick sidebar: a few weeks ago, I came up with a backstory for my zombie bride character. Unbeknownst to her, her fiancé was bitten by a zombie stripper during his bachelor party, but didn’t succumb to his injuries right away. He made it through the ceremony, and turned just as it was time to remove the bride’s garter… with his teeth. Bitey-bitey.]
So many creative zombies! There were your everyday people who had the misfortune of being infected and becoming zombies, plus the typical early front-line victims (soldiers, medical personnel, et cetera), but there were also zombie Mario and Luigi (and Princess Peach!), zombie Mozart, zombie Santa Claus, and two zombie Dick in a Box guys. Zombie fans are committed. Or should be committed. One of the two…
[A second quick sidebar: I’m so fucking proud of my husband for his kick-ass costume as zombie Goose from Top Gun, especially the effort he put into making the bloody stump as cool and disgusting as possible. We had so many people ask to take his photo, and I watched many more spot him, do a double-take and say “Awesome!” Plus the arm stump was largely comprised of gummy worms, licorice and gummy bacon (strawberry-flavoured!) so I was able to gross out lots of people by nibbling on his stump.]
We were positioned in Zone 5, about a third of the way through the course. I had signed up as a ‘chaser’ zombie, meaning I could run after racers, while my husband was a ‘stumbler’, a traditional slow zombie who shambled after the runners but couldn’t cover as much ground.
I enjoyed being a zombie, but wish we had signed up for a morning shift; I think a lot of the keeners who really got into the spirit of the event came earlier in the day. We ended up with a fair number of people who seemed like they’d been dragged there by family and weren’t really into it and didn’t make any effort to run through the zone. It’s considerably less fun chasing someone who isn’t freaking out and screaming.
Overall, this was a super-fun weekend. There were a few organizational issues (the promised free camping and free beer for being a zombie were cancelled shortly before the event), but the weather was perfect and everyone was in great spirits.
It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that night and I started to rinse off the blood and mud that I realized how banged up I had gotten during the day. Cuts and scratches and bruises and welts, everywhere. My muscles are still sore in surprising places. And holy crap, zombie gore is tough to remove! I went through my entire supply of cotton wipes at the hotel and still had some stubborn blood splatters around my eyes and neck. I’m just glad the Canadian border guard let us back into the country, looking like we did.
Official race photos were just posted on Facebook, and this spectator posted some amazing shots to Flickr. I also spotted some familiar faces on Instagram:
According to the website, the Seattle zombie outbreak infected 2,775 poor souls, with just 694 survivors.
Now that the zombie apocalypse is over, it’s time to refocus on training for fall races. In September, I’ll be running the inaugural Vancouver Eastside 10K. Will I see you there?