Tuesday, May 8, 2012

After the Zombie Apocalypse

This past weekend, I ran the Run for Your Lives zombie 5K obstacle course. The race served a couple purposes for me: 1) it was a good motivation to get back into running on a semi-regular basis and 2) it served as a good hook to raise money for vaccine research. Just to recap, I was raising money for the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Specifically, they have two projects that caught my attention: creating an improved cholera vaccine and developing a laser-based vaccine adjuvant. My goal was to raise $3,000, and toward that end, I issued a challenge that if I hit $2,000 by race day, I'd double my personal donation. I'll come back to this later.

First, the race.

The day was cool, perfect for running. Clouds crowded the sky, gradually yielding to the sun as the day went on. After signing my life away, I got my runner pack, which included runner's bib and flag belt:

All suited up.
Then there was nothing to do but wait for my wave. People milled about the safe zone, listening to the live music, eating and drinking. A trio of shirtless gents with sharpie abs and "Team Edward" on their backs played frisbee. Oh, and these three were out and about:

Such a lovely trio.
Eventually, it was time to enter the starting chutes. Runners in each wave were divided up by speed. Those who ran a 9-minute or faster mile were "Appetizers". Runners with a 9-12-minute mile were "Entrees". Anyone slower than 12-minute miles were "Desserts".

My 9-10-minute mile in practice made me an entree.
Of course, they had to keep us runners from enthusiastically bursting forth into the zombie infested danger zone, so the ends of the chutes were blocked, allowing the guardsman to let us forth one group at a time:

Protecting us from the zombies or the zombies from us?
And then it was time. The chutes filled with sanitizing smoke, rendering the outside world impossible to see. Even as close as I was to the front, the smoke completely obscured the exit, blocking all light. We surged forth, momentarily dazzled by the sudden light after the darkness of the tunnels. The first obstacle lay before us:

We have to run up that?
The picture really doesn't do the hill justice. Those three ridges at the bottom were nearly vertical and almost entirely mud. Previous runners' footprints formed precarious ladders up the three- to four-foot inclines. By the middle of the hill, many of us had given up on running, opting instead to walk the rest of the way to the top and conserve our energy for the zombies just around the bend, the first of which seemed quite eager to meet us:

There were about a dozen zombies scattered about the open expanse before us. All we had to do was get past them. Like antelope racing across the savannah, harangued by lions, we sprinted across the ground, hoping we would make it without losing one of our precious life flags. Trying to run with much of my energy sapped from the hill, I pressed ahead, eyes cast down and mind focused on just moving my legs. With lots of people and zombies about, probably not the best approach, since a lack of focus on what lies ahead means that when a runner just ahead of you is getting attacked, you might not have a whole lot of time to avoid a collision. Of course, gentleman that I am, even after accidentally barreling into one of the walking dead, I had to make sure she was okay.

Uh oh. Hmm...you need a hand, Miss Zombie?
Coming to my senses and realizing that offering my hand to a ravenous flesh-eater is probably not the wisest of moves, I race on. The path winds about, littered with the undead, and the ground is varies between spongy; thin, slick layers of mud; thick, wet cement-like mud; and flooded with brown, muddy water. There really wasn't so much running as slogging along. My shoes were, perhaps, not the best for the terrain; the mud insisted on taking hold and pulling at the heels. At one point, I actually did lose a shoe and needed both hands to pull it free of the muck and mire.

The zombies came in two varieties: stumblers and chasers. The stumblers, as their name implies, just sort of shuffled about, only snatching at the flags of runners who happened to stray too close, which we often had little choice but to do, with trees frequently closing in to constrict the path. More often than not, a well-timed hip swivel was enough to evade their grasping hands, but now and then, the path was so narrow that even that was insufficient.

Chasers were another matter entirely. Though small in number, they could spell the doom of any runner whose scent they caught. Fast and relentless, they were right out of 28 Days Later or Resident Evil. I managed to avoid one chaser, myself. Somewhere past the second mile, I watched in horror as a fellow runner easily passed a cluster of stumblers, only to have a kilt-clad chaser spring up from a rock and hound him to a distant bend in the path, taking the last of his life.

From there, there were still two obstacles to pass: a small slide at the top of a scaffold, leading down to a pool of cold water:

Cold water, cool air, slight breeze. Great combo!

followed by a giant slip and slide down the hill:

Whee! Whee whee whee!
into another pool of cold, muddy water. Now, the cold water in those two pools wouldn't have been so bad if in between soakings there hadn't been about a 40-minute wait in a long line of runners.

A little hypothermia never hurt anyone, right?
After the first dunking, we were all feeling the chill, with uncontrollable shivers and tooth chattering galore. It was either hypothermia or the effects of the zombie infection setting in. At any rate, after the final slide, it was a short mud-skating down the rest of the hill:

And under the electrified fence:

Water and electricity...what a combo!
In the end, I made it to the finish line, sore, tired and muddy, but happy:

The Grateful Dead
Unfortunately, I had actually died about halfway through the course, my last flag plucked away as I squelched my way past a stumbler, joining the roughly 80% who also turned zombie. It was tough, one of the most physically exhausting things I've ever done, but it was all for a good cause.

Speaking of which, my total fundraising through the weekend did not, unfortunately, hit $2,000. I came close, though, at just under $1,700. For a 5K, that's actually really good (they usually draw in about $750). So, I'm happy with the results. If you would still like to support the research, you can still make a gift. It won't count toward that challenge I made, but I'd still really appreciate it, and I know the researchers at VIC would, too. Don't let me have died in vain.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats!

    It's sad to see that Jake will go to great lengths to bother people even at these races... Because that IS Jake up there in the clown suit, right?


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