At zombie runs, staying ahead of walking dead is part of the fun


Zombie Run participants embark on a zombie-dodging quest. (Photo: courtesy The Zombie Run)

Elizabeth Raymond recently traveled from her home in New Mexico to Denver — and found herself chased by hordes of lurching, rotting living dead. But then, that’s what she was hoping for.

Fueled by TV hit “The Walking Dead” and other aspects of our zombie-loving culture, Raymond and others are seeking out zombie-themed running events. The scare adds to the appeal — think flag football crossed with haunted house. “It's a much more physical experience when you have people chasing you during a 5K. You're mad sprinting and much more hyper-vigilant than in a typical event,” Raymond said.

Raymond was looking for a fitness-oriented goal and had heard of other obstacle runs. “Once I heard about the zombie course, that was it, because, you know, zombies,” she said. She and some friends made a multi-day vacation of it, also visiting a beer festival while they were in town.

Running from the dead

In most zombie runs, zombies lurch for flags or balloons tied to runners. (Photo: courtesy Run for Your Lives)

In a typical zombie run, participants sign up in advance to be either runners or zombies. The zombies arrive early and decorate themselves with fake blood and guts, then chase runners through anything from city streets to a boot-camp-style obstacle course. The runs often end with big parties featuring snacks, drinks and DJs (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is a popular request).

Many of the runs are installments in nationwide series like The Zombie Run, which prides itself on Hollywood-quality makeup and atmosphere. Its next zombie chase is in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 26. Another nationwide outfit, Run for Your Lives, has big-name sponsors (including Xbox’s DeadRising3 game) and challenging obstacles such as pools of fake blood. It will hold its next race in New York City, also on Oct. 26.

Some cities seem made for such events. “New Orleans was huge. I think zombies are part of the culture…I think that might have had something to do with it,” said Randy Alexander, a spokesman for The Zombie Run.

October is an ideal month for zombie runs, not just because of the Halloween-ish scare factor but because in many parts of the country, the weather is cool and the tourism high season is over. It doesn’t hurt that “The Walking Dead” season premiere on Sunday drew record-high ratings. Zombies “seem to be having their moment, and they don’t seem to be going away,” Alexander said.

They're everywhere

A zombie in full makeup (Photo: courtesy The Zombie Run)

It's not just the traveling productions spreading the craze like a mutant virus across the country. Local organizers are getting into the zombie act, and some nonprofits even use them as fundraisers.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City had its annual “Night of the Running Dead” run last weekend. In its version, the “human” runners get a head start, while “undead” runners hit the same course a couple minutes later. While the race is at night and participants are encouraged to dress up, this run is not as scary as some. “No props will be allowed in during the race or at the event that could harm anyone (didn’t your mother teach you not to run with scissors?)” the website reads.

“It is a little strange to be running at night and turning to the person passing you and seeing a zombie covered in blood with their organs hanging out,” said Billy Lewis-Croft, who survived the run with brains intact. “I'm not a night runner, so I struggled, but trying to outrun the undead gives you a little motivation.”

Although all zombie runs are supposed to be family- friendly events with little physical contact, both runners and “zombies” can occasionally be a little too enthusiastic about playing their roles, leading to a more realistic melee atmosphere than organizers intend. A “zombie” complained after one event that runners, getting into the spirit of things (or maybe having found the zombies scarier than anticipated) shoved her aside in their attempts to escape.

A runner dives into the blood pit during a Run for Your Lives event. (Photo: courtesy Run for Your Lives)

“They were just hostile, had something to prove, and were stiff-arming and taking out as many zombies as they could,” fake zombie Autumn Brooks told a Denver TV station.

In general, though, these runs are non-competitive, focusing instead on having a good time. Under the FAQ section of the Zombie Run website, the answer to “Do I really have to run?” is “Hey—they’re your brains. If you’d rather walk, skip or sashay to your doom, please be our guest. There’s no clock. No winner. And if you’re not worried about your brains, chances are you don’t have all that much to lose.”

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