Run For Your Lives took place this past weekend in Pittsburgh. When the zombified 5k obstacle race was first announced in January, I decided that I was going to take part in it and had my mind set on surviving the course. This isn't your average 5K obstacle course, as there are dozens of zombies spread throughout the course that attempt to knock you out of the race by pulling all of the three flags you run with.
I'm always pretty active and work out regularly, but cardio has never been my strong suit and I've never run a race in the past. Over the last few months I made sure to hit the gym, eat healthy, and increase my running to get ready for the event. By the time the race started, I wasn't worried about the actual distance. However, I really underestimated how challenging it would be to get away from the zombies.
In Pittsburgh, approximately 5400 people raced and only 1100 came out as survivors, so this isn't an easy course. Someone who worked the event mentioned to me that an active duty Drill Sergeant went through the course expecting to win and was taken out by zombies right before hitting the finish line. I also witnessed people losing all three of their flags to zombies within the first mile of the course.
You could be a regular marathon runner and still lose the race, so this isn't as much about the timing as it is about the strategy of making it past the zombies. For example, there's one area where you have to work your way out of a muddy trench and run past six zombies. One or two people would have been killed, so ten of us got together and rushed the zombies.
Things were going really well for the first mile. I had two flags remaining and it was pretty easy for me to dodge the zombies with a group of us. Unfortunately, a single obstacle changed the whole course of the race for me. They had built a slide you can see in the video below and it was really just a thin tarp on dirt. Due to the the water or just the lay of the land, the slide was uneven and I heard that a number of people were bruised or hurt going down. In my case, I hit a couple of bumps on the slide at the wrong angle and was unable to walk after.
I'm usually pretty pain tolerant and people who are close to me know that it takes a lot for me to give in to anything. In this case, I was really hurt and dropped as soon as I got off the slide. Some of the staff rushed over and were calling an EMT. I wasn't able to move and I couldn't get up on my own, and couldn't believe that after flying through the first mile, I wasn't going to be able to make it. I had the attitude that I'd treat this like a real zombie outbreak and wouldn't let myself give up.
I told the staff to pass on the EMT and just get me up on my feet. My wife was also participating in the race, and we now looked like Shane and Otis as I held onto her while walking for the first 200 yards. Then we ran into six more zombies... She had one flag left and I had two, and it was obvious that injured or not, we had to fight our way to win. Someone earlier told me that zombies had no problem taking the flags off a young girl who pulled both calf muscles and limped to the end, so I knew they weren't going to go easy on me.
Running and jumping like I did before wasn't going to work for me and neither was running with a group, so it was time for a new strategy. I let my wife go first, so that she could run past the zombies and survive. Then I decided to see if I could fake out the zombies. Of course, actual people are playing the part of the zombie, but it was funny to see that they actually had zombie mentality. I'd move all the way to the right and they'd all follow. When they got close enough, I'd use every ounce of strength and bounce to the left side of the course, staying along the edges, and keeping the side of my hip without a flag facing the zombies to protect the flags I had left. I'm sure I looked like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, limping around and grunting, but it worked and I made it past my first wave of zombies. The bigger problem was that I still had two miles of this to go...
On mile two I lost another flag to a teenage zombie that was determined to take me out. My wife and I had a much more difficult time getting past the zombies than the average person, because we were running past them one at a time instead of a group. The obstacles were pretty easy and I was actually using them as time to rest and re-gain my strength for the next zombie wave.
With one flag left each, we were treating these flags like they were a child we had to save from hungry zombies. Honestly, I don't know how I had the strength to limp past 2 miles worth of zombies, but we were nearing the end. It also was always in the back of my mind that we were getting close to the spot that the Drill Sergeant didn't make it through...
This final setup was made to knock out survivors. There was a narrow bit of the course, with water pouring over it. At this point it was a huge mud puddle and it was impossible to run over or dodge through and guarding it was an "infected zombie". This guy wasn't your "Night of the Living Dead" zombie and he was allowed to sprint after people to grab their flags. I watched one guy who looked to be in decent shape try to make it on his own and he lost all his flags.
The problem was that on top of the infected sprinting zombie, there were another 5 zombies in front of him, trying to catch people before the final obstacle. Another guy tried to run it on his own and got picked off by the infected zombie, but my wife used this opportunity to run through. So did the other five people next to us, which left me waiting back trying to figure out how I was going to make it out alive.
Thankfully, there was always a steady stream of runners, so I waited for the next group, mustered my strength and we all went together. I waited back a little bit, until the infected zombie found his target and used the opportunity to stay along the edges and run past the only zombie in my way. At that point it was smooth sailing to the finish line, but I didn't know that. All we had to deal with was a tunnel to crawl through and an electrified fence to crawl under. However, I was still keeping an eye on my flag and the area next to me waiting for a zombie to jump out at any time.
Injuries and all, my wife and I were among the lucky survivors at Pittsburgh's Run For Your Lives and we'd both do this again in a heartbeat. For zombie fans, this is a great opportunity to test your zombie survival skills or you can sign up as a zombie and attack humans all day long. What I really enjoyed about this course is that they don't just hand out medals and it's really designed in a way that most people won't survive. For those that do, you have this great sense of accomplishment and it's one of those things that people will always remember. It's also a great way to meet up with new people and we made plenty of friends along the way.
We'll definitely be giving this a try again next year and we hope to see you there. There are five more events taking place this year and you can learn more about them at: http://runforyourlives.com/
Take a look at pictures from the event below. We've also included POV footage from the event to give you an idea of how the course was designed.