I died too quickly in the zombie apocalypse. It was the last, fatal bite I remember most clearly: I had just zigzagged to safety through a grove of lurching undead. As I slowed to bask in my success, I felt the gruesome rip of Velcro at my hip — and it was over.
>> PHOTOS: "Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K" <<
At least I didn't die alone. In the company of more than 6300 athletic nerds, I had traveled to Amesbury, Massachusetts, to LARP out the zombie apocalypse at an event known as Run for Your Lives. The 5K race through the forest combined a hectic woodland obstacle course with a survival game against the grabbing hands of actors dressed like zombies.
The rules were simple: slop through moats, crawl under electrified fences, and plunge down mudslides, without giving up three belted flags to the legions of walking dead stationed throughout. Does gym-class boot camp mean I might stand a chance when a bumbling scientist breaks the wrong vial? Do choreographed kickbox moves mean that I'll be a well-oiled escape machine, boomstick on my shoulder as my motorcycle roars away to the Safe Zone? I wanted to see.
The Run for Your Lives organizers suggested, in the weeks before the event, that we practice moves like squats and lunges to prepare. While jogging down the Esplanade one day, I slipped onto the grassy patch beside the road, and slalomed a bit between the trees, discreetly, I hoped, pretending they were zombies. I felt a rush, and my sprints shaved three minutes off my usual time.
Race day was cool and overcast. We parked offsite at a nearby greyhound track and lined up for the bus to the course. Our line grew quiet as a bus pulled up and unloaded a round of earlier runners. Every eye watched the door for hints of what lay ahead. Runners tumbled out disheveled and muddy. Some limped.
A short drive later, we pulled into Amesbury Sports Park, where the main building was transformed into a zombie staging area. Newly minted zombies in fresh makeup milled around the porch; one sat on the edge facing us, idly swinging his legs. I realized the returning runners we'd seen earlier were actually the cleaned-up version: fresh off the trail, survivors were dazed and drenched head-to-toe in slick, brown mud. By now, thousands had tramped through the already-muddy trail, and less than a mile of solid ground remained; we were about to trudge for our lives, rather than run. We lined up according to our personal estimated times: "Appetizers," "Entrees," or my choice, "Desserts," for those anticipating a 12-minute-or-more mile, including obstacles. Then we ascended a steep hill, where our decomposing foes made their first swipes for us.
Zombie fashion focused on the stopped-in-their-tracks look: interrupted in their daily lives, the undead still sported their wedding-day finery, or bathrobes and foam rollers. There was a kilted Scotsman with a brutal head wound, a hollow-eyed pregnant zombie, and, of course, the ever-repulsive zombie clown. In the middle of fields, they groaned, grappled, and sometimes gave chase.