Monday, October 24, 2011


The zombie 5K was this weekend in Baltimore, and I am proud to announce that I survived. Well, actually I didn't, I died. But I lived through it. I'll explain in a minute.

My training can best be described as "half-assed". Actually, half-assed may be a slight exaggeration. Quarter-assed is a bit more like it. As you may remember from previous posts, I HATE running. And while I started out with the best of intentions, no amount of progress in my abilities was enough to convince me that I liked it. In fact, I think it made me hate running even more. I started to rationalize reasons why I didn't really have to train. "I had dance class on Tuesday, that should count." "I totally did cardio-kickboxing for 10 whole minutes, that's exactly the same as running for 20 minutes." The last couple weeks I didn't bother to train at all, telling myself even more lies: "The adrenaline of being chased will carry me through it." "I should just sit on the couch all week - I need to conserve my energy."

Despite the nagging feeling that I was woefully under-prepared, I was getting very excited. A few days before the race the organizers sent out a tantalizing e-mail. There would be mud, red dye, strobe lights and four feet of standing water. We should "use our best judgement" in the event we had a seizure disorder, or an allergy to latex. Oh, and could we also print out and sign this wavier indicating that we understood we might potentially die? It was starting to sound awesome.

Race day came, and H-town and I got up at the ass crack of dawn to drive out to the race site. There were actually three of us who would be running together: me, with my half- to quarter-assed training, H-Town, who also hates running but had trained diligently, and Callie, who is a maniac and does this sort of running shit all the time. We discussed our training regimens and reactions to it on the shuttle from the parking lot to the race site. I reported my reaction the same way I always do: I am never, EVER running anywhere ever again.

Callie, H-Town and me, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.

On arrival at the actual race site, we got our race packets, put on our numbers and our flag belts and got in line to check our bags. Each of us was in a different line, but we all had a similar experience of being given tips by people who had already completed the race. We already knew there were two kinds of zombies - "theatrical" zombies who were for show, and "athletic" zombies who would chase you and take your flags (this was the zombies' job. If you finished the race with none of your flags left, you were dead, and weren't eligible to win a prize). We were advised to look out for zombies who looked theatrical, but would turn around and chase you after you'd passed. We were also given advice for the "four feet of water" we'd been warned about, namely that it was way more than four feet deep, it was very cold, and we should grab the ropes to pull ourselves across rather than try to swim it. We all met up at the starting line and compared our notes. And then the race started.

We were not prepared.

Our various levels of training made no difference as we quickly realized that no one had actually trained properly at all. Running at a steady pace on relatively level, always dry, usually concrete surfaces is in no way at all adequate preparations for running through the woods up and down ridiculously steep hills, the surface of which had been reduced to a muddy slop, while being chased by zombies. In hindsight we should have been practicing running up and down various inclines and a fuck ton of suicide sprints.

We first realized this when we encountered our first obstacle - giant piles of hay we had to climb over. We reached the top and looked down to find a sea of zombies waiting for us on the other side who were sprinting after people trying to get their flags.

Holy Fuck.

 This would become a theme - go through some arduous task like climbing up a cargo net or clawing your way up a muddy hill, and face the waiting zombies on the other side/at the top. Also, for something that had been billed as a 5K run, there wasn't really a whole lot of actual running. Sprinting away from the zombies used up most of your energy so that when you did get to a zombie-free straightaway, you were usually too spent to run it. Which really didn't matter anyway because those sections were almost all so incredibly muddy you couldn't possibly have run through them without constantly falling. Still, it was pretty cool and we were having a ton of fun.


The water obstacle was to swim across a pond. There were two ropes stretched across it to help in pulling yourself along. We scrambled down the embankment and stepped into water up to our waists. It was stunningly cold, but seemed manageable. For five seconds, until we took another step. We all found ourselves submerged to the neck in 40 degree pond water. There is no way to grasp exactly how cold that is without actually doing it. The shock of the cold hit me like an anvil to the chest. FUCKING HOLY HAIRY NUN TESTICLES, I thought, but didn't say, because I was too stunned to speak. The bottom of the pond was nowhere to be found. We pulled ourselves along the rope hand over completely numb hand, urged along by H-Town, who was the only one with the ability to speak and was channeling her inner Dory - with Tourettes- all the way across. "JUST KEEP FUCKING SWIMMING!" she screamed. "FUCK YOU, NEMO!" I had a sudden moment of clarity remembering the text of the waiver I had signed - I could actually for real die in water that cold if I didn't get out of it as quickly as possible.

Somehow we all managed to get across to the other side and pull ourselves up the steep embankment. With two miles to go we were now cold, tired and soaking wet. Additionally, my saturated hoodie added another 10 pounds of weight for me to try and run with. We got to a very steep downhill that I almost ended up tumbling down, only to be faced at the bottom of it with an even steeper and higher hill that we would need to climb, which was also a river of mud. Climbing it took just about everything out of me, so when the zombie who had been sitting on the ground giving people high fives as they came over the hill suddenly jumped up and snatched away my last flag I barely even reacted. It actually turned out to be more fun once we had no flags left to worry about (it's not like we had any shot of coming in the top 3 anyway). We started deliberately messing with the zombies, trying to hug them and get them to high five us. We also did our good deed for the day and started running interference for the runners who did still have flags, blocking the zombies from being able to reach them, or tricking them into thinking we still had a flag on us somewhere.

The end was now in sight. Cold, wet, exhausted, filthy, lungs on fire, we could see the finish line (chain link fence that you had to crawl, or as H-Town did, slide under), and Callie led the way for the three of us, who were all determined to finish the race actually running. We babbled to one another excitedly while we got our medals, developing the strategies that would have been a lot more useful to us if we'd thought of them during the race. We grabbed our bags so that we could change into the clean and dry clothing we had brought, pausing first to have our photo taken together while we were still a hot mess, and giving the photographer and her friend who had yet to run all the advice we could think of. The shoes we ran in were all destroyed and we threw them away with great ceremony. Then we went off in search of the free beer we had been promised and something to eat.

The beer was like the nectar of heaven. The cheeseburgers H-Town and I procured were the most delicious either of us had ever had in our lives and we ate the crap out of them. We said goodbye to Callie, who is insane and was teaching a yoga class later in the day, and decided to head down near the course to watch some of the next wave. We stood near the first obstacle, the giant piles of hay, with a number of other people who had also finished the race, and watched as the next wave crested the hay and headed into the sea of zombies. We'd been through it before and knew that the direction they needed to run wasn't readily apparent, so the entire spectator gallery began shouting at them and pointing "To the right! THE RIGHT! Head for the trees! Go towards THE TREES!" After the wave passed by us, we went to the section between the maze and the downhill, where a ton of zombies waited in ambush all the way down the hill. Again, we used our knowledge to help the runners. "Wait for a group! Go in a group! There's too many of them, you'll never make it by yourself! Everyone go together and overwhelm them!" Most people took our advice, and a few of them even gathered around a leader who would get them all geared up Braveheart style and then all together make a break for the zombie gauntlet shouting guttural war cries. One who didn't was a guy dressed up as Superman, who actually did manage to get past them all without losing any of his flags, although one of the more enterprising zombies managed to steal his cape.

We drove home in absolute exhaustion, extremely pleased with ourselves for choosing an early heat when we noticed the traffic backed up for miles along the two lane road that led to the race (the traffic turned out to be a  huge problem and quite a few people unfortunately didn't get to run). We got home and spent 15 minutes excitedly relaying to H-Town's lovely wife all the details of our adventure before passing out.

I hate running, you guys. I really, really mean it. But there's just something about being chased by zombies. So despite the fact that I still swear I will never run again, when H-Town turned to me on Sunday afternoon just after we came home from dinner and suggested that we might want to sign up for the zombie run next year in Indianapolis  I agreed that we were kidding ourselves if we thought there was any chance that we won't.

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