If you were to ask me to compile a list of the things in life that bring me the greatest joy, the top two would be running and then movies and video games involving the flesh-hungry undead.
So imagine my delight when I learned of an event that would combine my top two passions: a 5K obstacle course where runners are chased by herds of people dressed as zombies clamoring for their brains (or, rather, a belt of red flags tied around participants’ waists).
I’ve often dreamed about how I might fare in the zombie apocalypse ever since I saw the first animated corpse slowly turn his onset-of-rigor-mortis neck in the 1996 PlayStation game Resident Evil, a totally creepy scene any video game fanatic can recall.
And now I could find out.
My sister Gina and I signed up this summer for the first-ever Run For Your Lives event scheduled for this past Saturday in Darlington, Md. What better way to get into the Halloween spirit?
More than 7,000 others also signed up for the race, which was broken into half-hour waves of runners.
Being a first-time event, there were some snags along the way. When we arrived, we had to wait three hours in a four-mile line of cars just to park our Dodge Neon in a muddy field, which put a damper on the day. And organizers decided to forgo a cool race tee for a generic shirt. So now I can’t broadcast my zombie love at the gym.
But all was forgiven once I entered the event.
Most everyone there was between the ages of 20 and 35 with many who appeared as if they had been to more protests than 5k runs.
“It looked like Occupy Elm Street,” my fiancé, Grant, later quipped.
Aside from that, the people who had just finished the race looked, to put it bluntly, disgusting. One guy was wearing only a mud-caked pair of boxer briefs and some people were actually bleeding.
I couldn’t wait to start.
The first obstacle were two haystacks, not exactly the most difficult mountain to scale. But when you get to the top of that hill, oh boy, there are about 30 zombies waiting for you at the bottom. Some were your traditional, slow-moving members of the undead, but some had no trouble chasing runners, if only for a few feet. The worst part was not knowing which ones would only stumble around and which ones could run at full speed.
I sprinted through the horde, losing a flag and my sister en route. I stopped in a safe area, embarrassed that I was so out of breath less than five minutes into a 5k. I found Gina, who had lost two flags.
Things weren’t looking good for team Chinese.
We made it through the next few obstacles unscathed, that is, until we entered an especially slippery and treacherous hay maze that caused one dude to belly flop in the mud.
After I got out I looked at my belt. I was down to one flag.
I should mention that one of the greatest parts was the camaraderie that the runners showed each other during the race. We stayed in small packs to rush the hordes and warned the others if there was a zombie on our trail. In a weird way, it was heartwarming to see a total stranger pull my little sister away seconds before a member of the walking dead lurched for her final flag.
At the top of a steep, muddy mountain a group of runners made a pact to all run through the upcoming horde at the same time, with Gina and me at the front. But when we took off, the two of us realized there was nobody behind us.
I don’t think I would have run any faster in those moments had there been real zombies on my trail. Gina and I made it to the other side with our single flags intact.
After a few more obstacles, including running through a tub of frigid, muddy water, we could see the end was near.
We made it to the finish line, badly damaged but alive. I was muddy, tired, sore and yes, bleeding.
But at least I know that when the zombies come, I’ll be ready.