Editor’s Note: We love zombies and make it our mission to seek out as much zombie-themed madness as we possibly can. Somehow, though, none of us had ever experienced a Zombie 5k in person. To fix this, we decided to send our intrepid intern to Florida to see just how much blood, sweat and tears were involved.
By Margot Allemand
The Zombie Run, which is organized by Darren and Missy Dietsch, was held in Largo, Florida, 30 minutes east of Tampa. The Floridian couple is not a beginner in organizing events, as a matter of fact, they started organizing runs six years ago and have now it’s a family business. Often helped by their young children and friends, they have kept their business local for practical reasons.
Although they do not organize runs outside of Florida, they still offer a wide range of locations to satisfy as many runners and zombie lovers as possible. Outside of the Zombie Run in Largo, they also organize events in Tampa, Orlando and Sarasota.
They held their first 5k zombie run back in 2012 at a time when people were getting ready for a possible apocalypse and The Walking Dead phenomenon was just starting. Darren, being a zombie fan, and Missy, being an avid runner, had the idea of combining two things they loved into one fun event.
“What’s the number one rule in a zombie apocalypse? Cardio! I once joked that I was sure he would run if he was being chased by zombies,” Missy said. “He was sure he would be able to get away from them, if that ever happened.”
That first event was a success with about 1000 participants, and they were not the only one. At the time many zombie related events were happening all around the country. Although those events slowly died out, due to lack of organization or potential real zombie threats, Darren and Missy have kept their events running and have now organized their 15th 5k zombie run.
Upon my arrival on the site, it felt like the organizers had made a deal with the undead already. The event, which started at 8 a.m. with check in, was filled with fog that added some dramatic effect. Once on the site, I could see why Missy and Darren had kept the run going, as I walked into one playful atmosphere.
Participants were slowly getting ready, with a long line of people waiting to get turned into zombies patiently waiting their turns. While nobody was harmed in the making of those scary zombies, makeup artists were definitely kept busy.
Mike Digital, a makeup artist who was present at the event, was one of the busiest. He has specialized in zombie makeup for seven years and an airbrush artist for over 20 years. Drawing on this experience, Digital was able to bring the death out of the most lively participants.
Even though Missy Dietsch admitted that the runs have gotten smaller, the crowd was still having fun, whether they were socializing, going to the blood splatter station, or stretching before the beginning of the run. The 200 participants were definitely excited as the run got closer and closer.
“We are committed to hosting great events for however many people want to join us, and we want 200 people to have the same great experience as 2,000 people,” Missy said.
While most people were from Florida, a little northern accent caught my attention. In fact, Cindy and her family at traveled all the way from Montréal, Canada for the race. Like a lot of participants she had been to the event the year before and loved the concept.
The event, which gathered running enthusiasts and zombie lovers of all ages, created a very diverse group of both runners and new undeads. From the goal-oriented runner Sunny and her friend Brandon who made a scary zombie impression, to Anne and Angela, two friends who were just hoping to stay alive through it all, participants all had different motives.
The zombie run, though playful with a little element of surprise, is safe for people from all ages. As a matter of fact, runners are allowed to walk, run, stop after one lap or to do the whole 5k. On the other hand, zombies are allowed to scare them. To do so they are allowed to hide, crawl, run or walk.
The runs are basically a mix of a 5k and a flag football game. The runners have belts and three flags symbolizing their lives, and zombies’ goal is to steal their lives. To keep the fun going, runners are allowed to get extra flags and special stations during their run.
“It’s just pure adrenaline and totally fun,” Missy said. “We have to be extra careful that people understand the fun nature of the event – and we give the zombies instructions to be careful to not to get too aggressive.”
As the run was about to start, Braden (a 9-year-old brain eater accompanied by his family and Sugey an high schooler who came with her friends before they got turned into zombies) were slowly getting dropped at different locations and getting ready to scare runners.
Although dogs are not officially allowed to participate, runners were stretching under the vigilant gaze of Lola the only zombie dog present at the event. Once the run started runners each had their own way of braving the zombies, some thought sprinting was the best approach, others tried to talk to the zombies first in desperate hope to be spared.
While most runners had a similar approach, some got pretty creative. There was the one who just dropped her flags so the zombies wouldn’t even try to attack her and the man yelling “look at the cute baby over there” in an attempt to make a diversion.
Every participant received a medal at the end of the race along with a 5k Zombie Run shirt. For more information about the next race and how to register, check their website www.the5kzombierun.com. And if you can not make it to Florida, you can always register as a virtual runner and get a tee shirt and a medal sent to you.