Alternative title: “How I survived my first Zombie Apocalypse.”
I still remember the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. I couldn’t tell you exactly how old I was, but I’m guessing around the age of 5 or 6, just old enough to be permanently scarred by the thought of zombies (thank you, MTV). From that moment on, I spent many a night wide awake, picturing zombies quietly shuffling down the dark street, with my bedroom (and my brains) as their destination.
Great memories, huh?
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the people at Run For Your Lives, a 5K obstacle course race that involves countless zombies chasing after you, trying to steal your flags (which I assume, represent your brains. Or you life?) OK, perhaps not real zombies, but fellow runners covered in fake blood, with Hollywood-quality zombie make up. Terrifying none the less. RFYL asked if Geoff and I would come out to one of their races to run and write a review. My inner child shuddered in fear, but my bada$$ exterior thought that I should suck it up and run, you know, for the sake of
journalism social media. As it turned out, there would be a race in New Hampshire on a weekend that we were actually free, so I said yes.
Now, all stories of childhood trauma aside, my expectations for this race were somewhat indifferent. I knew the race had been around for a few years, so they must be doing something right, but I thought the concept itself was going to be somewhat, well, lame. Running from people in costume, how fun could that be?
Turns out, it could be a blast. My meager expectations couldn’t have been more wrong.
(side note: if you are here simply for the cut-and-dry details, check out this review I wrote for New England Spahtens. If you are here for stories of how I hilariously survived the Zombie Apocalypse, continue reading)
But back to the beginning.
Geoff and I arrived onsite at the venue, Liquid Planet Water Park in Candia NH, which is also the location of Haunted Acres, one of those terrifying outdoor haunted forest walks you see around Halloween, that I absolutely refuse to attend, out of sheer terror. RFYL was kind enough to give us a press parking pass, so we were able to park in the VIP lot onsite (normally a $20 fee. Parking offsite I believe was free, and RFYL provided shuttle buses). We checked in, were handed a bib and a flag belt (though no timing chip, this was a non competitive race), and headed into the venue.
The venue itself was very typical of an obstacle course race: merchandise vendors, food vendors, a large stage with an emcee & DJ (though this stage had a HUGE video screen, playing actual music videos, I thought that was a nice touch), plenty of port-a-potties (with hand washing stations outside, another bonus), changing tents, bag check (FREE), beer tent, and a few places for zombie photo ops. There was also large tent off to the side where those participants who chose to be zombies were transformed by a makeup crew.
We did our pre-race routines of food, shoe change, bag check, porta potty, pre-mud-pic, etc, and headed over towards the start.
|This is my ” I don’t wanna run from the scary zombies” face. And yes, I picked out my race outfit in the dark.|
After a HILARIOUS speech from the emcee about how not to punch a zombie even though they scared the poop out of you by jumping out from behind a tree on the course, we were instructed to line up in a chain-link fenced in corral. We were to run in the first heat of the day. Though there were about 70 or 80 of us in the corral, the man at the starting line informed us that we would go out in waves of 20 at a time, with just a few minutes in between each wave, to spread us out. (Again, this was not a competitive race). I, along with Geoff and one other guy, were the very first to run off after the countdown.
But after just a few yards, I knew already that this wouldn’t be like any other race. You see, all of us were hesitantly jogging, unsure of what was ahead and exactly when these zombies were going to start jumping out at us. For once, nobody wanted to be first. We rounded a few corners and entered the Haunted Acres, which absolutely contributed to the creepy zombie apocalypse atmosphere. Broken down cars, abandoned houses, my heart was already in my throat just WAITING for the first person to jump out at me. I shrieked a little as I passed a “dead” man in a coffin (turns out he wasn’t real).
|(the GoPro pics came out incredibly blurry. Can’t blame Geoff, he was running for his life, after all.)|
Eventually, after about a half mile or so, we rounded a corner that opened up into a field, and there they were, just waiting for us. The Zombies.
Being the very first people to run the course for the day, the zombies were vicious and out for blood (well, not literally, I hope). All I remember was running as fast as I could, dipping, dodging, and getting punched (kicked?) in the quad. It could have been a zombie, it could have been another runner, and it very likely could have been my own doing, but by the time I cleared that first field my right leg was throbbing, and I was down one flag. This wasn’t going to be good.
|Again, blurry GoPro still shot. Only three of us in this photo are runners. Everyone else a Zombie.|
Now, another thing to note is that when I reached the other side of that first field, I was EXHAUSTED. Sprinting from people, combined with that natural “fight or flight” reaction has my heart rate soaring. But there was only a few seconds to catch my breath, for there were plenty more zombies to come.
I don’t remember the play by play details, as I typically do when I have hours to kill in a marathon. Plus, the whole “avoiding the zombies” thing prevented me from pre-writing this blog post in my head, as I so often do when I race (am I the only one who does that?) Thankfully, the GoPro reminded me of how I lost the second flag….when I ran right into a zombie who practically bear hugged me in a shed. (Geoff had lost all three of his flags before the first mile was even over.)
The physical “obstacles” were somewhat limited, though I went into this race realizing that the biggest obstacle of all would be the zombies. And as already mentioned, they were by far the most difficult obstacle. This was one giant fartlek workout, I crossed the anaerobic threshold time and time again during this race, and often had to stop (when I assumed I was “safe”) to catch my breath and let my heart rate drop a little. The kicker was, you never knew what the zombies were going to do. Some just stood there, looking intimidating (one guy put his face right up to my ear and hissed at me, it gave me chills). Some would dive for your flags, but not chase you. Others would chase you for a few yards, and some would chase you for what felt like a few minutes.
But for those of you who are obstacle savvy and really want to know, we encountered a lot of traditional obstacles, like multiple sets of walls (approximately 4 foot, both “overs” and “throughs”), tube crawls, webbing/entanglement, large hay bales that had to be scaled, nets to crawl under, and of course, countless zombies. In addition to the race obstacles, as mentioned above, there were many buildings and bridges that were a part of the Haunted Acres that we ran through.
The terrain itself, once we ventured out of the Haunted Acres, was beautiful. A few hills that made everyone stop and walk, followed by gorgeous single track that ran along a sparkling river bank. Of course, the view was intermittantly broken up by zombies jumping out from behind trees, but I took in the view while I could.
Eventually we came around a corner to big white tent that was filled with smoke.
Crap. I had forgotten about this obstacle.
You see, friends, I’ve had this phobia in the obstacle course racing world for a while now: electrocution.
It doesn’t seem fun, it doesn’t seem funny, it just seems stupid. And I can assure you I’m calling it stupid simply because the thought of being electrocuted terrifies me. It is indeed, one of the reasons I’ve avoided running a Tough Mudder. And when we ran down the hill into a clearing and saw that smoke filled tent, I immediately remembered when I had read would be inside: live wires.
Reluctantly, I followed Geoff towards the tent, and when the staff member told us we had to get on our knees and crawl through, I did. Thankfully, we were the only two in the tent at the time, and I managed to weave my way like a ninja through row after row of those wires. I didn’t get zapped. When we emerged from the tent, the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see where I was going. I just KNEW this is where the zombies would be waiting for us, but as it turns out, we were only the second and third person that had made it this far through the course, and the zombies weren’t placed there yet (later we would return to take pictures, and watch people stumble out of that tent right into the arms of waiting zombies.)
|Left: grinning Heather who survived electrocution. Right: the view in the tent, smoke & wires.|
Another minefield of zombies lay ahead, with hay bales to be jumped over. At this point, I knew we were nearing the finish, and believe it or not, I had one flag left. I was now determined to keep it at all costs. Another half mile out and back through a field, under an 18 wheeler, and then we approached a tire wall leading straight into a tank of blood. OK it was warm, red, water, but gross none the less.
As we exited the water, we saw ahead one last area, maybe the size of half of a football field, left to cross before the finish line. Except, of course, it was littered with zombies. And I made a break for it (please note Geoff’s hilarious commentary):
The very last obstacle of the day was an incredibly low chain link fence crawl that at the very end was lined with live wires. The dreaded live wires. And this time: I got zapped. I’m not sure if the voltage was mega low or my adrenaline through the roof, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected (or at all, for that matter). As I emerged on the other side, I kept running, only to be stopped by a staff member telling me to go the other way….to the medals and t-shirts.
I had one flag left, and I was handed a “Survivor” medal and a tech t shirt. Geoff emerged seconds behind me, and with no flags left, was handed an “Infected” medal.
Though clearly not a race, I was pretty stoked with myself for being the first female to make it to the “safety” zone, and also the first person of the day to claim a “survivor” medal. I proceeded to rub it in Geoff’s face for a while, muahahaha.
We spent the next hour or so wandering the after-party, enjoying our one-free-beer-per-racer, as well as heading back out on the course to take some photos. The ENTIRE time we kept thanking volunteers and staff, telling them how much fun we had. Both of us couldn’t get over how hard, and hilariously (yet, somewhat terrifyingly) fun this race was.
(Side note: During the after party, when they actually played “Thriller” on the large video screen, and a group of zombies gathered in front of the stage, I became giddy with anticipation of a flash mob with the actual music video dance moves. You all know the ones I’m talking about. Alas, they didn’t. Next year, RFYL, you’ve gotta arrange that!)
|Photo-bombed by the living…|
* Run For Your Lives provided us with free race registration, however, all opinions expressed are my own.