No offense to year-long residents of Darlington Maryland, but your town has an innate creepiness about it that proves the perfect place to hold a zombie mud run. It didn’t take that much imagination for me to picture Darlington as the epicenter of a zombie apocolypes.
We drove into Darlington early Saturday morning for the Run for Your Lives Zombie 5k. My friend had registered us for the 8:30 wave. We had stayed 10 minutes away in Aberdeen MD, a small, hyper-franchized town right off of 95.
The countryside in northeastern Maryland is very picturesque; lots of rolling hills, gorgeous homes, and vistas of the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay. That being said, there’s also decidedly backwoods vibe going on. As we approached Camp Ramblewood, the resort where the race was being held, I realized that we’d stopped in the area for food the night before on our drive from Lancaster to Aberdeen. The general store we stopped at was in the middle of a very dark nowhere, and for the lack of a better word, had a very Appalachian feel. As my friend wisely pointed out, if a place makes me feel like I might get Deliveranced, that means it’s really out there. Remember, I grew up in Northeast PA. I’m used to rural bars, no cell reception, and traffic being held up by tractors. It takes a lot to impress me in that regards, and that general store made an impression.
My GPS indicated that we were getting close to the race, when we rounded a bend and I nearly rear ended a Subaru. A line of cars sat unmoving to at least the next bend in the road. After a couple of minutes a fleet of school buses passed us on the other side of the road and traffic continued. We crawled to where a dirt road intersecting the asphalt we traveled on. Cars were being diverted and several cop cars, lights flashing, sat directing traffic, adding to the mystique that something terrible might have been happening in the small town. We’d learned through perusal of the website earlier that parking was not on sight. We’d park and take a bus to the race, however, we took advantage of a local man’s entraprenurial skills and paid $10.00 to park in his yard. From where we parked we had about a half mile walk to the starting line. We went down the aforementioned dirt road, the weather gloomy, and two abandoned barns being the road’s only other residents. Once we made it to Camp Ramblewood (doesn’t that sound like the setting of an 80’s era slasher film), a sleep away camp used for private functions, the eerie vibe that had pervaded the morning was gone. It didn’t come back. Even though it’s theme is “Zombie 5k”, Run for Your Lives is anything but grim.
Once we entered the registration area, I realized why the website had recommended that we arrive 2 hours prior to our start time. It was around 8:15 and the place was swarmed. Later that day, we learned that over 20,000 were registered for the race between Saturday and Sunday, which is really impressive for an event in only its second year. The registration was broken up alphabetically by last name. Once again, coming at the beginning of the alphabet has its benefits, our line was shortest. We registered and received our race packets. This included a numbered tag, a really nice dri-fit tee shirt, and a flag football belt. Each racer is fitted with three flags. The “zombies” try and steal it from you and you “win” if you have at least one at the end. “Health packs” of extra flags were said to be strategically placed along the course, but we didn’t encounter any.
They also provide you with a time chip if you wish to compete. Racers are broken into age groups and the fastest from each receives prizes in a reward ceremony at the end of the day. Since we were racing at 8:30 (we ended up moving our time back to 9) and wanted to be in Baltimore, where we were staying for Halloween, by 2 or 3, we opted not to even put our time chips on. This seemed to be the general consensus. It wasn’t about “winning” but running with your friends.
Run for Your Lives also gives prizes for the best costumes. The costumes where funny. Most seemed to be just matching tee shirts (we wore lime green tee shirts which helped us find each other after getting separated during parts of the race) but some people went all out. Our favorites where a group of teletubbies (watching teletubbies fall down while getting chased by zombies doesn’t get old) and a group dressed as fast food icons..
The start and finish lines of the race are situated on either sides of a small festival. There was a main stage with a DJ and live entertainment scheduled well into the night, a bevy of food stands, beer stand, and an “Apocalypse Bar” (where you could get customized “zombie” themed cocktails), as well as bean bags, games, and several stands devoted to sponsors like the American Red Cross (get it, b/c it’s a blood bank?). This was known as the “Apocalypse Party” and the website urged runners to stay and enjoy the festivities after the race. Camping at the race was an option (and probably a smart option being that the alcohol started flowing early and you were in the middle of no where).
My sister was supposed to run with us but had to drop out due to an eye infection. She came along to watch and was unpleasantly suprised by a $40.00 “spectator fee.” That’s a little pricey to watch, but she seemed to have a good time, and got some really funny pictures of us.
They lined us up for the race in three black tunnels aptly labeled appetizer, entrée, and desert. I believe we were appetizers. Here, we waited for the gates at the end of the tunnel to open, releasing us to the race course.
The zombies came almost immediately, and they were faster than one imagines a zombie would be in real life.
We ran about 40 feet along a trail before it dissipated and opened into a field, literally filled with zombies. Anyone could volunteer to be a zombie for the race. The zombies are professionally made up and pretty impressive. Some of the zombies are in costumes,. There were brides, nuns, business men, pirates, and zombies in pajamas. Others are simply covered in gore. My personal favorite was a banana zombie.
The zombies lumber around, like zombies do, and once runners get close, they try to steal their flags. Some just lazily reach for you, while others sprint. Did I mention they’re fast?
Once a group of others runners descends on the field full of zombies they try and steal your flags. The fields of zombies varied in size. I’m terrible at estimating distances, but they weren’t small. We figured out that the best way to survive the hordes was to simply sprint, as fast as you can, and box the zombies out with your elbows to the best of your ability. I made it out of the first field unscathed. Well, if unscathed means having all my flags I was unscathed. My lungs weren’t. I was bent over breathing heavy. I wasn’t expecting to sprint. I also wasn’t expecting to laugh as hard as I did. Judging by the reactions around us, no one was expecting the zombies to be so quick, so there was a lot of screaming and screeching. I personally got a kick out of watching my buddy sprint, then stop, then sprint, then stop, then continue this process until the zombie in question left him alone.
For the most part, the zombies were contained to fields. A bulk of the run was through trails, and until the end of the race, they were pretty clear of zombies. The obstacles were a mixed bag. Sometimes they had zombies assaulting you, other times they left you alone. The obstacles were a mixed bag difficulty-wise as well, zombies notwithstanding. The ranged from jumping into a muddy pit or hurdling a wooden partition to getting shocked and dunked into freezing water.
Our first intense obstacle was an army crawl through a mud pit underneath a canopy of barbed wire. It wasn’t half assed or fake barbed wire. It was real. And, it could cut you, or your clothes if you weren’t careful. I spent the remainder of the race holding up my pants, my shorts’ drawstring a casualty of that part of the course.
A troop of zombies were waiting for us when we emerged from the barbed wire. As they chased us, I thought that I’d come to one of the dead ends used to confuse racers. All that was in front of me was a pond. I turned and saw a zombie coming for me and wasn’t sure where to go when I realized people were wading across the pond. It wasn’t a dead end. It was our next obstacle. I didn’t have much time to contemplate the depth or temperature of the water because while pivoting away from the zombie, who was now in flag grabbing distance, I gracefully fell into the pond. I don’t know if you’ve ever been swimming in October, but it isn’t pleasant. It’s cold. My body simultaneously froze, and was wide awake. I grabbed onto a rope and started yanking myself across. Next time, I’m straight up swimming.
Run for Your Life has twelve obstacles altogether. By far, the most fun was the slide towards the end of the race that dropped you into a pool of water, tricking you into thinking it was a last clean off before the finish. The race wasn’t done with us yet. We had one more mud crawl, this time under not barbed, but live, wires before the finish.
It took us alittle over an hour to finish the race. Like many contestants, we were walking any part that wasn’t an obstacle or dealt with zombies by the end. At the end of the race we collected our free beer and went to clean up. My sister had been watching so luckily we didn’t have to worry about picking up a checked bag. By that time lines for bags, and registration, were enormous.
The course provides changing areas as well as an ice cold public shower. It didn’t leave you feeling 100% clean or warm, but at least you were able to be dry and not completely caked in mud. We made our way to the Apocalypse party and had a few pre-noon beers and lunch before trekking down to Baltimore for the rest of our weekend.
Run For Your Lives heads back to PA (outside of Pittsburgh) on August 3, and will be back in Maryland sometime around Halloween 2013.