I don't even know how I heard about the Run For Your Lives zombie 5K obstacle courses a couple of months ago.
All I knew was - there is an event where you have to run from zombies! That literally sounded like the coolest thing on earth to me. I checked out the website and was super intrigued, even though the $70+USD entry fee seemed outrageous to me. I was also apprehensive of the fact that there was no large Charity attachment to these runs, and only a link to the Red Cross at the bottom of the page, next to the sponsors. No mention of actual contribution amount or any charitable efforts. I feel like if you're gonna charge this much money for an entry fee, some of it should be for a good cause, right?
But I had just started training with Personal Trainer Nick and the March 3rd 2012 Atlanta run was a perfect benchmark goal to work toward. It was before the busy convention season, when every weekend would mean traveling to another city for me, and truly, I adore zombies.
So I signed up for the run, and after fees and taxes my transaction total was $92.95.
Insert "Rocky"-esque montage of me running, hiking in the mountains and weight lifting. LOL.
This morning my friends and I made the trek out to the Atlanta run. Ok, they call it the "Atlanta" event, but it was actually held in Union Point, GA, a tiny town 2 and a half HOURS drive from Atlanta!! Last night we had Thunderstorms (and a tornado) in GA and it rained through the night and for most of the day today. We got up at 5am, left ATL at 6:15 and finally made it to the event lot at 8:45 where we were greeted with smart-ass signs demanding $10 for parking. By the time we walked to the Registration area and signed in, our sneakers and legs were already covered in mud. It would be one of those messy days but we were ready to take on the MUD!!!
Upon walking into the main Safe Zone compound, we noticed immediately that there was no set up for runners to stretch (it was so muddy you couldn't stretch), no central water stations, and in fact the Staff made us throw out our drinks when we arrived! It was disappointing to see that this event is not focused on athleticism at all.
Also, Brian was awesome and came along to drive us to the event, and to take photos of us. He had to pay $35 just to get a wristband and be a Spectator. On a miserable rainy day, that was no fun for him.
So our team - TrainerNick, Tanner and I, filed into this tunnel with about 100 (?) runners and waited for them to open the gate to our Wave at 10am. As we shot out of the gate, it was cold and raining. The mud was ankle deep and slippery as heck, and the suction each step made so strong that it could pull off your shoe. Fitness wise, I loved the challenge and enjoyed the jog, having to balance myself, trying not to slide and working against the suction. Definitely a great work out.
Until the zombies tried to take your flags lol.
See, each runner got 3 flags on a waist band, and the zombies tried to rip those off. They are not allowed to touch you, just rip the flags. If you lost all your flags, you didn't "survive" and wouldn't get a time award at the end. The rule is, runners can't touch the zombies, and zombies can't touch runners. Think - Haunted House scare rules.
First off, it is hard to evade a zombie in the mud. I originally imagined that the undead would come up BEHIND you at certain stations and make you run faster.. that seems to make sense when the advertisement is "Run From Undead". But this morning, at various points there would be 5 - 8 zombies blocking the path, and runners had to dart PAST them. In the slippery mud, that is frigging hard. I managed to lose the first flag at the first obstacle: Climbing several large bales of hay.
After that I saved my energy by walking or lightly jogging between obstacles and sprinting past the zombies. Other bootcamp type obstacles included: water filled mud pond with logs that you hard to hurdle, large tires to climb/jump on, hurdles, mud pool up to your waist to wade through, climbing a net, climbing a wall then sliding down the other side etc. AND A LAKE TO SWIM THROUGH. I do not have any photos of the main portion of the course since Brian had to stay behind in the camp and was awaiting us at the Finish Line for photos. But let me say, these obstacles were legit, a lot of fun, and sometimes a bit scary. I cursed a lot when we came to the lake lol. They had a guide rope but the water was deep enough that you truly had to swim, and it was ICE cold and brown from mud. I think most everyone regretted getting into the lake instead of using the optional walking path, but I felt like I paid a lot of money for this experience so I wanted all of it. One nice thing about the lake was it did wash off a lot of the mud accumulation on my body and shoes lol.
But I do want to talk about the unpleasant portion of the race, which was asshole zombies. See, instead of hiring a horde of zombies, Run For Your Lives simply allows anyone to register as a zombie, for an entry fee of $25, You heard me - even the zombies had to PAY to be part of the event. And anyone off the street could do it - they throw you in a barn, go over some rules quickly, give you 5 minutes (!) for makeup and send you out to chase runners. Of course, 90% of all the zombies were great sports and played their part well. Some were slower and creepy, and some were aggressive and sprinted after you. If you think about it, the zombies have time to rest between sprints and grabs while the runners are exhausted from dealing with the obstacles and conditions. I realized halfway through the run that it would be very very hard to keep even 1 flag, due to the sheer number of zombies (350) and length/difficulty of the course. I don't think ANYONE in our Wave made it to the Finish Line with a flag. What ruined the fun for me was the zombie in a dark suit in the grassy field who broke character to yell taunts at the runners (such as "I'm gonna get that tough one! That one's mine!"), and TACKLE people to the ground. He came after me and shoved me down into the brush, and while I'm still on the ground, this guy if kneeling OVER ME saying "Oh no big deal, I bit it a couple of times.", then before I could even stand up, he rips my flag off with a condescending "Thanks!"
His behavior was rude and uncalled for, and against the rules. This guy clearly was there just to bully people and he had a skirt of flags to prove it. People like this asshole take the fun out of the run and I didn't pay $93 plus $10 parking and drove over 2 hours to be tackled down and taunted. And I was not the only one. My team and I witnessed other runners getting tackled, pushed and run down. I think when the organization planned this run, they did not establish enough rules for runner-zombie interaction. Yes, in a real zombie apocalypse, the undead would sprint after you relentlessly (if you go by Dawn of the Dead or Zombieland), BUT the Living would also not just be running away, careful not to touch the zombies.... they would have an arsenal of WEAPONS to KILL the zombies with!!! That is where I think the organizers failed to take into account. If we can't defend ourselves against zombies in this game, they should not be able to full on run after us, especially when the obstacles already tire out the runners. I really would have loved to have seen zombie ambushes or sneak attacks, like hiding behind bushes, trees, camouflaged areas, instead of simply having zombies block your way.
Aside from that, I enjoyed the physical aspect of this course a lot. Brian caught some truly great shots of the final hill slide and mud pond before the Finish line. Here is my end of run:
Brian also got these awesome shots of TrainerNick, Tanner and these other guys coming down for the last part:
The mud turned me orange after the run:
To sum up this event, the best thing I got out of it is a genuine interest to do more obstacle course races and mud runs. The fitness aspect of these things is off the chain! I loved every minute of being outdoors, running and climbing and swimming and getting muddy all the while lol.
I also loved the idea of a zombie themed run. In the case of Run For Your Lives though, they failed at providing an event worth the ticket price. I ended up enjoying the obstacles and the run itself a lot more than dealing with the "zombies". They didn't scare me (and I am easily scared!!!) - once I lost the flags there was no incentive to run from them, and they didn't bother to come after you anymore. The exhilaration of running from zombies only lasted for the first few minutes, then it became dealing with humans in bad special effects makeup acting like bullies.
The absolute WORST part about Run For Your Lives is the overpriced entry fees for runners, zombies AND watchers, and the fact that none of it is supporting a Charity. I spoke to one of the main organizers, Megan, after the race, and she swore they donate to the Red Cross. But she also admitted that the Red Cross didn't show up to the race. That to me translated into the Red Cross not being supported enough to warrant an excursion to this zombie race. Neither on the Run For Your Lives website nor at the race are any tangible information on the Red Cross or HOW it is supported. There is also no sense of rallying the participants to be charitable, no booths or advertisements to raise awareness or allow for donations.
Run For Your Lives is a pure For Profit event organized by Reed Street Productions, who pocket the tremendous monetary intake without giving back to the community. The set up of the Safe Zone was sloppy, with no thought or care provided to the athletes. It's just an overpriced party disguised as an athletic event.
For most people, that is enough. But for me, I definitely didn't get $145 worth of zombie themed entertainment out of it. I am proud of myself and my team for having completed the obstacle course despite the miserable conditions, and I got a great work out. But I will not support Run For Your Lives or Reed Productions anymore. I will not participate in this race again. I would rather sign up for a charity driven race for $45 and donate $100 to another cause.
There are many charity races out there, for those who are interested. if you have to pay and you have to run, why not do it to help others and raise awareness? For example, coming up is the Turtle Trot at Tybee Island, a 5K Beach run Fundraiser benefiting the Sea Turtle Project. There is also the Dirty Girl Mud Run, which raises awareness for breast cancer and a portion of the sign up fee is donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. For Georgians, there is the Run Georgia website which lists all the races in the State and if they support a charity. I definitely will be signing up for more runs in the future. And I think there are a lot of better options for less money benefiting a greater cause than Run For Your Lives.