Imagine running through a 3-mile race filled with a dozen or more obstacles. Sounds pretty familiar if you’ve done a Warrior Dash, Spartan Sprint, or locally-organized obstacle race.
You’d find yourself moving over and under barriers, climbing cargo nets, crawling through tunnels or under barbed wire, running up steep hills, and maybe even leaping over fire.
Now add countless zombies — the undead scattered throughout the course, salivating for your brains, eager to make you one of them.
And now you have the increasingly popular Run For Your Lives obstacle course: a zombie-filled 5k with natural and man-made obstacles.
With more than 400,000 Facebook fans and 12,000+ Twitter followers, Run For Your Lives is cementing their unique niche in the sport of obstacle racing. RFYL has 12 events planned this year.
I’m signed up for the Boston-area race in Amesbury park on May 5 & 6, just a couple weeks away.
Here’s what I know about the race, what I expect, and how to prepare for it.
How To Finish Alive
According to runforyourlives.com, each participant is given a set number of flags (usually three) at the start of the race. Along the course, zombies will try to take these away from you. You need to finish with at least one of the flags in order to survive as a human.
If you cross the finish line without a flag, you are considered a zombie. But even if you lose all three, you can still finish among the living by getting a health bonus pack in a safe zone area.
Once you finish the race, you get a medal and tee. You’re also granted access to the Apocalypse party to celebrate your survival (or transformation) among friends (and zombies).
Who Should Try RFYL?
Overall, Run For Your Lives looks like a race that can be surprisingly challenging (given the zombie component) while being extremely fun.
I expect RFYL to be good for any of the following potential participants:
1. Those new to obstacle races. With 3 miles of 12 obstacles, Run For Your Lives represents one of the shorter mud runs with fewer obstacles, making it a great first race for beginners with some fitness base.
2. Those racing for fun. This doesn’t look like a super-competitive race as the emphasis is on surviving and sticking around for the Apocalypse Party.
3. An athlete/exerciser into The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, and anything zombie-related. You know who you are. And it’s okay if you race costumed up with survival gear.
The Zombie Obstacle Course
There are several good reviews online on Run For Your Lives, which I’ve highlighted towards the end of this post.
Based on what I’ve gathered from racer reviews, RFYL’s marketing media, and participant YouTube videos, we can expect the following from the terrain and obstacles:
- An intermittently hilly 5k run. There’s more than one way to finish the course, and you’re likely to pass by one or two forks where you’ll have a couple of options. Some routes will result in a longer (and maybe even hillier) way to the finish.
- Cargo net wall. As if climbing this isn’t challenging enough, you have to do it with zombies underneath, reaching for your flags.
- Stream/river. I’ve noticed participants either swimming or pulling themselves using guided ropes across a stream/river. This may concern some given recent events from the Original Mud Run held in Texas where one contestant’s body was found in the river, raising the question of not only the safety of mud runs, but particularly the water obstacles. This obstacle isn’t a given in all of RFYL’s courses, and there is always the option to walk around this obstacle.
- Bales of Hay. You may need to climb or walk around these in the course.
- Hay Maze. This looks like fun — you make your way through a maze of hay while encountering zombies throughout.
- Mud running. This is a no-brainer (no pun intended), but worth acknowledging. Running in the mud requires you to adjust your pace. This is not the place to start speeding up and risk turning an ankle or worse.
- Crawling. There may be one or two tunnels scattered throughout the race where you’ll have to get on all fours to get through.
- Dodge hanging “tripe.” You’ll run through dangling plastic replicas of tripe hanging overhead.
- Over-unders. These are a series of barriers where you dip under one and step or jump over another.
- Climbing a slanted wall & sliding down other side. I’ve seen in videos a sandwich-board type obstacle where you climb one side of a steep wall and slide down the other into either questionable mattresses or a soft pile of dirt.
- Stop & go sprints. You’ll need some agility and quickness to run past the zombies.
- Pool of red dye. This doesn’t look very deep — you just dive in and out while trying to avoid losing flags as there may be zombies surrounding the pool.
After doing some research from reviews, videos, and news stories online, I expect a few things:
- Pleasant and not-so pleasant surprises. I expect we’ll all be surprised on a few levels: 1) the fun obstacles, 2) the zombies and not knowing when they’ll appear, and 3) the screams from other participants may be more startling than the actual zombies.
- Finishing among the living seems harder than it sounds. In one review I read, race organizers reported about 21% of participants having “survived” the race as humans. Meaning 4 out of 5 obstacle racers crossed the finish line as fully transformed zombies.
- Fun. Because we’re all familiar with how amusing it is to get scared out of your wits…sometimes I still can’t even watch someone play a Resident Evil video game without getting startled.
But I may be wrong! We’ll see.
Training for the Apocalypse
If you’re a seasoned athlete or avid exerciser, this 5k obstacle race may not give you reason to tailor your training. If you’re new to a structured exercise program, then you may be more eager to integrate any relevant training tip!
Either way, it’s always better to over-prepare and customize your workouts than to under-prepare and assume any of your current fitness workouts will get in obstacle race-ready shape.
These are some training basics to keep in mind for the apocalypse:
- Running. It would be helpful to be able to run 3 miles. The Couch-to-5k program can help you get there. I’m not a runner, I don’t enjoy running all by itself, so when I have to run, I typically do the bare minimum distance. So I’ve been working running 2-3 days a week in my training calendar.
- Sport specific conditioning & strength. Running will help improve your endurance, but building up sport-specific conditioning and strength will help you get past obstacles. Since RFYL is designed for beginner-intermediate fitness levels, try this workout routine as a test and training prep for event day. I’ve been doing a similar, but longer circuit once or twice a week with a one or two days of strength.
- Agility. This will come in handy in efforts to escape zombies. There are several ways to improve agility, some of which require only your own bodyweight. You can also use traffic cones and an agility ladder. If you have small children or young nieces and nephews, you can play tag with them. I’ve been using this last option.
- Landing (from bales of hay, walls and cargo nets). To train for for this, be sure to keep good landing mechanics in mind when you do jump-based exercises and plyometrics such as squat or lunge jumps.
- Moving through water. Although guide ropes will be available, it may not hurt to brush up on your swimming skills if you don’t plan on skipping this obstacle. I’ll probably be skipping any water obstacle — I’m not a swimmer.
Here are a few reviews from participants that completed Run For Your Lives in Baltimore and Georgia. Included is a review from a contestant working for the CDC.
Review of Run For Your Lives Zombie 5k and Obstacle Course (Baltimore)
I love races of all kinds – triathlons, half marathons, 5Ks, etc. But I never thought that the hilliest, muddiest 5K I’d ever run in my life would also feature zombies chasing after me with vacant eyes and cheesy Halloween costumes…Regardless of whether you end up a zombie or not at the end of the race, you’re soaking wet, covered in red dye, and caked with mud. But chances are excellent you’re laughing your ass off too, because it’s a lot of fun.
Nixie’s Review of Run for Your Lives Zombie 5k (Baltimore)
If you want to test your athletic abilities, or in my case, just wanting to finish, this is the way to go…This ended up being a boot camp style hike/run filled with zombies.
Run for Your Lives Review (Georgia)
I joined 2500 runners, 500 zombies and many more spectators at the Run for Your Lives race held just outside of Atlanta in Union Point, Georgia. Proceeds from the race went to the American Red Cross and CDC set up a booth where we had the opportunity to talk with other zombie enthusiasts about how preparing for a zombie apocalypse would help them prepare for any disaster.
Run For Your Lives (Georgia)
This is a picture-based review — there are a lot of good photos that give you an idea of what to expect from the race.
Run For Your Lives in the News
NBC Sports: How to you make a 5k more interesting? Add zombies, of course
Basically what you’ve got here are people trying to complete a 5K course, with various zombies lurking behind trees, rocks and bushes, waiting to attack. A zombie eats a runner’s “brains” by grabbing flags on their belts…The Run For Your Lives series hits 12 U.S. states from May through Dec. 15.
Zombiepocalpyse is near, prepare yourself with the Run For Your Lives 5k
“We’re extremely thrilled to expand our race across the U.S. and into the New England area to test the survival skills of zombie and running enthusiasts, and first-time adventure racers alike,” said Ryan Hogan, managing member of Reed Street Productions and co-creator of Run For Your Lives. “We hope Bostonians and folks throughout New England are ready, and wicked excited to run for their lives in May.”
Zombie-themed business wins $17,500 at competition
Reed Street Productions, which hosts zombie-themed races in various locations and is based in Baltimore, won the grand prize at the competition along with an additional $2,500 through the contest’s “People’s Choice” Award.
Run for Your Lives first ever zombie obstacle race
Runners will navigate a series of 12 obstacles throughout the course while avoiding the zombies. Before the race, contestants will be given a belt with flags (like touch-footie) that represents health…Pulling, grabbing, pushing or striking of zombies and runners is not permitted.
Run For, Or Without, Your Life
What does the popularity of a zombie race say about us? This Outside online article attempts to answer this question.
To Some Runners, Zombies are a Killer Motivator
NPR covering Run For Your Lives…Some people run for charity; some run for their health. And some run because it’s the only way to escape the ravenous brain-eating zombies who chase them. No, that’s not a movie plot. It’s essentially the pitch for Run for Your Lives, a “zombie-infested 5K obstacle race” whose popularity has surprised even its organizers.
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