Autumn once again brings that time. That time where I break out the running shoes and sweats. That time where the undead rise to block my running path. That time were I end up with more mud in my sports bra then I ever care to admit. For another Run For Your Lives, zombie 5k had come. For those of you who missed last years antics, I ran a 5k that involved being chased by zombies. By zombies I mean average Joes that enjoy dressing up like the undead and grabbing and innocent runners, like myself. It was a physically challenging event for me considering it was my first 5k but memorable and extremely rewarding when I crossed the finish line. So I decided to go back this year and to it all again.
The new year brought me a new partner in crime by the name of Colleen. Colleen has been a close gal pal of mine for many years. Her dry sense of humor and take no crap attitude made us instant friends when we first met. She was the one who originally pointed out the Run For Your Lives 5k to me. Unfortunately, due to an ankle injury, she had to bow out of the race last year. This year she told me she was running with me come Hell or high water. And she did.
The track was moved a good two hours from us this year, now located at the Glenn Helen Raceway, an epic dirt bike race trail. So Colleen and I headed out at Oh-My-God ‘O Clock in the morning to get registered on time. My husband had to bow out of coming with us to take photos due to his old ankle injury acting up. After he gave me a sleepy kiss good bye followed by a groggy “Don’t let them get your brains, honey.” I left him in bed snoring.
After a long drive we made it to Glenn Helen and began the process of registration. I had to admit, this year the process of getting registered and on site was far more organized than last year. Last year I spent a good hour in line . But we zipped through registration, picking up our numbers and flag belts. The belts are part of the game. Each runner wears three velcro flags on a belt, much like what you’d see in flag football. A flag represents a “life’ which the zombies have to grab from you. When you’re out of flags, you’re out of lives and you cross the finish line “infected.” This year, runners were given an opportunity buy more lives to keep you in the game longer. The proceeds went to a children’s charity. Colleen was generous enough to pick up a purple extra life flag for both of us.
As we waited for our run time to come, we watched a local DJ play a round of musical chairs and trivia games with other runners. I watched, muttering the answer to every trivia question under my breath before the contestants could say them. Colleen tried to push me onto the stage saying “Come on! You know more about zombie movies than half these yahoos here!” but I was feeling bizarrely shy that morning. That, and the coffee had yet to kick in.
Eventually when the countdown to race time began and we were herded into a narrow cement tunnel. I remember last year being rather nervous and shaky at this time, not sure what was in store for me. Now, after one race under my belt, I seasoned veteran. I had this coolness about me. A coolness that said “this is going to be scary, but I totally got this,” Oh yeah. I’m a bad mama jama. Last year I finished the race with no flags. This year I was determined to finish as a survivor. Beside us were a small team of men in fatigues, bandanas tied around their heads a ‘la Rambo. On the back of their vests the words “Zombie Annihilation Squad” were stenciled in black. When the starting horn blew, the squad leader threw his hands up and shouted. “No one lives forever, boys!” and ran, the rest of his team hooting and hollering loudly as they followed after him. I loved them all almost instantly.
Colleen and I took off into a raging cloud of dust that the runners before us kicked up. We coughed and sputtered up all sorts of lovely chunk but powered through it, dodged a few zombies that were hiding in the dust (Thank GOD for sunglasses!) and approached our first obstacle. One large hurdle sat between us and the rest of the path to victory. Colleen is tall, strong, and wiry. She slipped right over the hurdle with the grace of a dolphin. I am not so much. Being curvy has its benefits but getting over hurdles with ease is not one of them. I slung one leg over, an almost victory cut short by my other leg deciding it was perfectly happy staying right where it was. So there I was, one leg over a hurdle, the other planted firmly in the dirt, with other much more svelte, athletic runners vaulting over like gazelles. I was the misplaced Walrus on the Serengeti. It took me a moment, but I did notice the handrail above my head. I snagged a hold of it and hauled my other leg over, and promptly did a header into the dirt. But I did make it over the hurdle! The rest would be a cakewalk! Well, that’s what I told myself as I barreled down the dirt path to keep up with the crowd. But the reality of this years race was the obstacles were going to kick my butt far harder than the zombies. Luckily, there were no more hurdles at least.
As we walked, Colleen and I I talked about how different the terrain was from last year. We joked with other runners and make funny comments. A blonde young woman caught part of our conversation and laughed joining in on comparing this track to last years. Turned out she was not only a runner last year but also played a zombie on an alternate race day as well. Her name was Danni and was running the race alone do to her partner not feeling well. So we decided to team up. Viola! Instant allies! Another race, another new friend. See? zombies do bring people together.
The run continued. The track this year was far more hilly than the year before, full of steep hills, very low valleys, and tons of rocky terrain that made me wish I wore knee and elbow pads. We approached the steep decline of a dusty hill. One runner dashed past us and tumbled butt over tea kettle down it, landing on his face. Luckily we was not injured and he jumped back to his feet and walked the rest of the length. Colleen and I exchanged skeptical looks after witnessing that.
“Butts,” We both said in unison.
The three of us sat down on our behinds and crab walked out way slowly down the hill. Crab walking is a dang good upper arm workout. I found this out from the insane burn I was feeling in my biceps. Unfortunately, Crab walking is also not something I would recommend doing down a steep hill. I found this out when my left hand slipped out from under me. After that it was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! I skidded down the hill on my bottom at break neck speed before a handsome gentleman broke my fall but simply being in my way. He was also crab walking his way down the hill. Well, he was until I slammed into him. My legs were now wrapped around his butt and the two of us careened down together, screaming, until landing in a pile of arms and legs at the bottom of the hill. Part of me thinks that story should end with the phrase “And that’s how I met your father, kids,”. Luckily my bobsled partner was polite and amused enough to laugh. We dusted each other off and he went on his merry way. From that point on, Colleen referred to that as The Lap Dance Incident of 2013.
We barreled through quite a few obstacles; mud puddles, tall hills, and of course, many other undead that jumped on our path. I was quick to dodge but my speed wasn’t nearly as great as last year and I ended up losing two of my four closely guarded flags. I still had two lives left though and I was going to keep them! We also ended up with quite a few tunnels to crawl through. Nothing too horrible, until we came to the amazing shrinking tunnel. It looked innocent enough. I was able to walk through with just my head slightly bent. Then I had to crouch, then bend at the waist, then get on my hands and knees. Before I knew it, I was belly crawling through. I’m not a claustrophobic person. Sometimes I enjoy curling up in tight spaces. But I had a line of people crawling in front of me, and a line of people crawling behind me while the tunnel walls started to shrink. That is when I decided I will never go spelunking, ever. To keep myself from panicking I started to sing show tunes and discuss the lovely shape of Colleen’s hinder. Then we came to an abrupt stop. Apparently, the girl in front of Colleen had a panic attack and decided to stop moving. All I heard in my head was “Don’t Panic Don’t Panic... Wait, we stopped. PANIC!” I took a deep breath and said in my best fake chipper voice:
“What’s the hold up?”
“She stopped.” Colleen called to me over her shoulder.
I sighed then called to the girl in front of Colleen. “Hon. There are a whole line of people back here who want to get out as bad as you do. Just keep crawling. We’re almost there.”
The line moved again a bit more but as soon as I saw the light ahead it stopped again. After a letting loose a long string of curse words, I muttered to Colleen, “She stopped again, didn’t she?”
“Yeah.” Colleen sighed. We waited, as the air grew stale and the walls started to close in tighter. I started to sweat. Then with a grunt Colleen said “Sorry lady. No time for this.” And pushed the girl out on her belly into the sunlight. we all fell out of the end of the tunnel like toothpaste being squeezed from a tube. As soon as we hit the dirt, Collen and I jumped to our feet, and kept moving. From behind us I heard the girl Colleen pushed give a shaky yet happy “Thank you!” shout to us.
We then hit zombie territory, vast empty spaces full of the lumbering undead. The track was dusty and that dust was getting deep into my lungs. My long lost asthma condition reared its ugly head after years of laying dormant and I found myself running out of breath more that usual as I dodged and ducked. Luckily for me, the zombies this year were far less aggressive. When they saw a runner struggling, they politely backed off of them, chasing after the quicker more able bodied runners. Pretty much the complete opposite of what would happen in any horror film ever written. So while I lost a another flag, I managed to stumble through with my purple extra life flag intact. I still had a chance to survive.
The closer we grew to the end of the race, the bigger the obstacles became. First there was the barbed wire. You had to step over this wire through mud to continue the track. Colleen, Danni, and I waded through the wet, knee deep sludge, striding over the twisted wire and cackling the entire time, perhaps out of amusement, perhaps out of delirium. I tend to lean towards both. The capris I wore soon became long pants due to the weight of the muddy water soaking the cotton fabric. In fact, I almost ended up dropping trow right there as they slipped down my hips. This only made me laugh harder and I ended up losing my balance, tangling my pant leg up in the last row of barbed wire. Before I could even shout for help to my two partners I heard a masculine voice say “Woman in distress!”. I turned to see the fatigued dressed squad leader from the beginning of the race come barreling at me, leaping over the wire. He stopped beside me, untangled my pant leg, then with a salute when running off into the dust after his zombie squad. Did I mention I loved those guys?
Next came the pile of large tires to hike over. By now, the tired were streaked over with slick mud from the previous runners and people were sliding and slipping all over the place. Colleen hopped up onto the first tire then started to slide. On reflex I threw my hands out and caught her by the...butt. Then with a firm heave, I pushed her back into place. She turned, looked at me, and we both burst into hysterical laughter. The rest of our conversations continued in this vein:
“Dang Colleen. For a Mother of two, you have a fantastic butt!”
“You oughta know. You got two heaping handfuls of it!”
“Seriously girl! Do you work out?”
“Chasing after two children builds muscle tone!”
We did a lot of belly crawling after that. Belly crawling under faux electrical wire, belly crawling through mud slicks, I spent more time on my belly than I do while sleeping. And every time I had to belly crawl, I ended up behind the same guy. I thank my lucky stars I decided to wear pants that day and not something like micro shorts. If I did, that poor guy would have been subjected to a view that only my gynecologist is privileged to.
The final leg of zombies were what I like to call the Motivational Zombies. Trust me. Its exactly what it sounds like. These group of undead were an interesting combo. We had the ones that were cheering us on, wanting high fives from the runners, and even wanting hugs (though that one did steal flags if you went in for a hug, I noticed.). They were closely grouped to the zombies that were willing to chase you down for one of your precious flags, moaning and grabbing at you as you dashed by. We rapidly ran through the hoards approaching what could be best described as a dumpster full of water. It really wasn’t a dumpster but it looked like one and we had to swim across the length of it to make it to freedom. The three of us shimmied up the makeshift ladder and dove in. Thank God I didn’t give myself time to remember how tired I was by then. If I thought about it, I probably would have sank to the bottom.
When we fished ourselves out, we were close to the finish line. I was just about to throw up my hands and give a victory hoot when I looked down to my mud spattered belt. I did not see any flags. The cry withered in my throat and I sighed, rather disappointed I didn’t make it across the line as a survivor. But I still pressed on. The finish line was crossed by, you guessed it, belly crawling under a chain linked fence. By now I was exhausted, wet, and my hip was throbbing from falling off that first hurdle at the beginning of the race. But I made it this far. I was crossing that finish line. I crouched down on my belly and wiggled my butt under the fence. For a moment there, I was stuck. I felt my behind catch on the chain link and my arms were so tired, I could barely pull myself another inch. Colleen came to my rescue. She snagged both of my forearms and with a hard yank, she pulled me across the line into safety. We made it. We made it through that track in 45 minutes even!
I looked up, spitting out chunks of dirt that somehow wedged itself between my teeth. The volunteers from the run waited there, medals in hand. Half said survivor, the other said infected.
“Did you survive?” A volunteer asked Colleen with a smile.
She held up her two flags triumphantly and said ‘Hell yeah!” as they handed her a medal.
“Did YOU survive?” another volunteer asked me. I let out a sigh as I started to stand up.
“I don’t think…” I started. As soon as I straightened up,I felt something flutter out from under my shirt. There, across my shoe, was my purple extra life flag. Apparently during the previous belly crawl, it had snuck up under my shirt and stuck to my wet, muddy, belly. A flag never looked so beautiful to me.
“Why yes! Yes, I DID survive!” I said with a grin. They handed me a medal with the word survivor emblazoned across it in bright red letters. I wore it all day.
I did it.
I Survived the zombie Apocalypse.
After taking some photos with our friend Danni and her amazing tricked out zombie trick (complete with severed head chained to the back). We hosed ourselves off headed back home.Colleen was sold on the entire experience. Our entire conversation was nothing but chatter about how awesome the race was. I gazed at my medal the entire time home, giddy with the accomplishment.
This was my second year participating in Run For Your Lives. So far, every time I’ve ran in this 5k, I walked or in this case, limped away with a serious feelings of accomplishment. Last year people told me I was crazy. That I couldn’t run such an intense 5k due to my asthma, my being somewhat overweight, out of shape, and so on. But I did. I crossed that finish line. This year those same people told me they couldn’t believe I was going to do it again and how hard it was to keep a flag. But I did. I did it faster, better, and walked away as a survivor. Now when I start getting down on myself I remember back to these 5ks and tell myself. “Girl, you can do anything. After all, you outran zombies.”