One of the more innovative, and surprising, trends in recent years is “extreme exercise.” I’m not talking about the latest home fitness trend, like Tae-Bo or P90X, but large-scale, social gatherings where the main attraction is actually exercise. In this case, I’m talking about Run For Your Lives, a 5-kilometer run/walk with dozens of zombies shambling about the course, attempting to catch the runners brave enough to pass by.
Run For Your Lives is only one year old, yet has been run in cities across the entire country. Among other obstacle courses such as Warrior Dash, Urban Hero, Muddy Buddy, and Spartan Race, Run For Your Lives may be the most unique. By adding live opponents, the race becomes much more personal and exciting.
In a normal race, the goal is to go fast. Each other runner is the competition. In a zombie obstacle race, your mental state is totally reversed. Your competition now becomes your best chance to succeed. You will purposefully slow down and try to join a big mob because you quickly learn the best defense against zombies is hoping they go after someone else.
Racers are given a belt with 3 flags dangling from it, representing life. If you make it through the course with any flags left, you survived. If the zombies on the course take all 3 flags, you are a casualty (but still get to finish the course). After being released from a caged starting area, racers immediately faced a large hill, sapping our energy for the first “zombie zone” at the top. When racers would see these zombie-infested areas, they would generally hang back until they had a large group, which would then charge en masse at high speed toward the zombies, scattering left and right, hoping to confuse them enough that you can slip by. It’s exhilarating–you get a genuine rush of adrenaline as you bob and weave past them. Often one will lock onto you and it takes everything you have to escape them. For anybody that’s ever wanted to pretend they’re an NFL running back, I have to think this is similar. You wait for an opening, turn on the speed, and burst through the gap. Once past the zombies, there’s generally a slowdown as people catch their breath and look for other members of their group to see who survived. On several occasions, I cleared the zombies and stopped to look for my friend…only to discover I was halfway through the zombie zone and the rest were now bearing down on me!
For their part, the zombies had a wide range of effort. Some would simply groan and swipe at you halfheartedly. Others would chase you down from behind until you got out of the zombie zone or hide off to the side for a sneak attack. Complicating matters, many runners wore bloody costumes, and when the mayhem started, it became more difficult to tell who was a zombie and who was on your side. In those chaotic moments, you just wanted to get away from EVERYONE. Call it battle panic, or the fog of war–in those moments you’re pretty much relying on instinct alone.
So the emotional component was a success. How about the physical aspect? It was billed as an obstacle race, and for a while, the only obstacles were zombies and the big hill. I was kind of disappointed at first. In the second half, the obstacles finally came. First was one of several mud pits, ensuring waterlogged feet and grainy shoes for the rest of the course. There was a maze, where you peeked around every corner to be sure the coast was clear, and a shed with dangling electric wires to crawl under–the zaps when people got shocked were surprisingly loud. The final stretch included the most elaborate obstacles; no surprise since it was the only part visible to spectators. A large slide into a muddy pool completely soaked you. A long, low tunnel forced you to crawl or slither. Last was an electric fence that you had to scoot under–no option to crawl here. You had to get down on your belly in the mud–lifting up even 6 inches would bring you in contact with the electricity. I made it through both electric obstacles unscathed, although I was certainly filthy.
Anticipating this, the organizers partnered with a charity to donate your shoes. Mine were already old before the race, and now they were coated in mud and water. So I said adios and hoped the charity could do something useful with them–probably shred them to make playground flooring. Then I plunged into the nearby lake (signs called it the Decontamination area) with hundreds of other survivors in a vain attempt to clean up.
As with most of these trendy runs, there is a big after-party with live music, food, a beer tent, and some activity booths presented by sponsors. It was a nice grassy area by the lake, although the music wasn’t really my style. There were quite a few tents set up to camp overnight. Enough racers had registered for “waves” to start every half hour from 8:00 am until 4:30 pm. About 14,000 runners participated over both days of the weekend. Participants ran the gamut from athletes to out of shape people who just wanted to enjoy the experience. And since the experience was absolutely not focused on finishing quickly, but more about the thrill of the chase, people of all skill levels could enjoy it. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie along the course. You felt like you were all in this together and everyone was there to have a good time.
Since I’ve had nothing but praise, why isn’t it a 10/10? There are a few minor complaints. It’s far away from LA–about an hour and a half, and that was speeding. I understand putting it in the wilderness halfway between LA and San Diego to get more runners. I’m not saying there is even a better option. But the fact is, it’s a long drive there. And even longer back, when you’re tired and muddy. Also, as an environmentalist, I have to wonder about the amount of waste this generates. As far as I could tell, each runner’s flag belt was thrown away afterwards, never to be used again! They had a huge bin collecting them, and I really hope I’m wrong. There was a ton of plastic cups at water stations and the beer tent, trashed clothes from the mud, and all the accompanying waste from an outdoor festival. The final problem is the financial. It’s expensive, and unlike many large-scale races, this one doesn’t donate part of the proceeds to a charity (that I could find). It’s just for profit. Your entry fee also gets you access to their after-party…but I doubt loud amateur bands and festival food add much value for many people.
And yet, I paid it, and I would do so again. It’s a lot of fun, and overall, that’s what I was hoping to get out of it. There is even the option to be a zombie if you’d rather be one of the villains. You pay less than half what the runners pay, and get a shirt, snacks, and your makeup will be done for you when you arrive. Pretty cool for those who don’t want to go through the course. Run For Your Lives is scheduled to be back in SoCal next September, and I will likely be running it again. I’d love to have a pack of friends to survive the Apocalypse with next year!
More information and pictures are available at www.runforyourlives.com