Sunday, October 28, 2012

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” ― Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 459:

You may have noticed, Blogland, how quiet I've been over here... Here's the thing: SHIN SPLINT. Holy Pain in the Leg, Batman. Long story short, I wore a crappy pair of old sneakers one day and BAM. Set of an inflammation that every runner dreads - shin splints. I'm pretty sure there was/is a tiny gnome stabbing a knife into my shin every time I try to flex my foot, run, squat or otherwise engage the front of my leg (you'd be suprised at how often you do this). Admittedly, I had quite an internal temper-tantrum about being "benched" again and not able to run for (possibly) WEEKS. Thanks to this injury, I've had to back out of the half marathon I was schedule to run in a week or so, and I'm just crossing my fingers that I'm going to be okay to run by the time the Fenway Spartan comes up. Ugh. BUT, I'm following doctor's orders and treatments and I've got my head back in line so I'll be doing what I CAN do, not focusing on all the things I can't.

SO, per the Doc's clearance and the fact that the pain in my leg had receded, I decided to try a local Zombie 5K with my long-time (and upcoming Spartan!) friend, Tim in honor of his birthday. Because really, who doesn't want to get chases by Zombies on their birthday?

My inital impression of this run was that it was definitely the first-time attempt at organizing and event like this. Having experienced many of the more established organizations that put on mud runs and races, the Zombie Run group has a little ways left to go; BUT, as I said, I hear it was their first year, so I'm happy to cut them some slack on the little things (like getting your t-shirt prior the the race, not having a bag check, and having to go find the waiver table, when you are automatically directed to registration FIRST, but can't register without a waiver....).

We were funneled into our 11:30 wave and provided our belts and flags. Our flags were our "lives" and the goal was not to lose them to the Zombie hordes (seems easy enough, right?). Our group was given a briefing at this time at the rules (No. Please do not punch the Zombie if he pops out and scares you...) and then corralled to await our start time.

When it was time to go, we were walked as a group by all the Spectators, which felt a little bit like Gladiators parading to the arena. We were here to do battle with Zombies, who knows if we'd come out alive. Releasing us to the race, we ran through some empty pathways on the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds (which, Zombie Run made a good point, is a little creepy when it's not filled with people and rides, etc.).

Before we saw any Zombies, we did see a crab-apple tree, that many people were picking up apples from. You see, we were told that an Apple was the "secret botanical" that could bring us across the finish line "Alive" even if we had lost all our flags. However, I'm pretty sure that this incidental crab-apple tree was not exactly what the organizers had intended (we later learned that there was actual big pretty apples to be had later on...). I did grab my crab apple and off Tim and I went, with our tiny apple safety nets tucked away in our spandex - just in case.

At this point, I have to admit, I was feeling the fact that I hadn't been able to run for 2 weeks prior to this. I had gotten over this god awful respiratory cold and what not, and I still wasn't feeling 100% on the running, but I was keeping up with the masses and all seemed to be well.

Our course took us on a cool detour through a big empty building, where the Zombie make up was being applied. Incidentally, Zombie Run, you get a HUGE A+, gold star on the presentation of the Zombies. Nightmare VT (who did the make up), did an exceptional job, in my opinion.

Warm up over... it was down to business, all of a sudden. We were funneled through a flat field, littered with zombies and big barrels to further obstruct our path. Further, the only way out was through a reallllllllyyyy small opening, gaurded by not one, but TWO zombies.

It is worth noting, as we dived into the fray, that there are actually two kinds of Zombies to be encountered.... slow zombies, who are basically stationary, or slow shuffling, reaching obstacles and Fast Zombies (think Zombie Land!), who are running you down.

Losing my first flag in the bottleneck gate, I encountered my first Fast Moving Zombie (FMZ), who seemed to come out of no where and set his undead gaze on me, only. And FMZ lived up to his name and was a SPEEDY mo' fo. We Zigged, we Zagged and I ran my little tail off, trying to not only out run and out maneuver him, but to avoid the Slow Moving Zombies (SMZ) that swayed and reached like seaweed in an ocean current.

Finally out running FMZ, suddenly thankful for all that Sprint work that the GT had assigned me, I walked in the empty grassy area and attempted to catch my breath. It seems that I had VASTLY underestimated the psychological response to being concertedly chased. Not only do you run faster than you thought, motivated by crazy adrenaline and a desire to save yourself, but you go completely tunnel vision on moving forward and getting away. I may have forgotten about my team-mate, Tim, in the craziness and spun around to make sure he'd come out the other side. Tim jogged over, smiling and energized and hopped up on adrenaline and on we trotted.

Right about here... maybe 1/2 mile into the roughly 5K race, the pain in my leg started to make itself known as a bit of a dull ache. Nothing I couldn't power through. Slow jog and on the lookout for the undead, we pressed on.

While this wasn't billed as an "obstacle" race per se, we did encounter a couple along our way. There was a series of three hay bale pyramids to get up and over, each time a little higher and with many zombies waiting to snatch your precious flags on the other side. Thankfully the majority of them were SMZ. I made it out of these alive (thanks to my Spartan perspective on attacking obstacles)... but lost my second flag to a FMZ masquerading as a SMZ until my unsuspecting self passed a little to close. It was interesting, the hay bales were not a hard obstacle, but the anticipation of the Zombie chase on either side of them definitely provided an additional level of heart-pumping action to keep them interesting.

Here's the point that I had a few complaints with Zombie Run... this first stage of the race was pretty good: more challenging than I'd expected and packed together at good distances (close enough to stay engaged, but far enough apart to be able to catch your breath). Once we got by that initial segment, though, things got a little thin. We had some long stretches (flat, thankfully), where there was nothing - no obstacle, no zombie - that were then followed by areas that funneled you into a TON of zombies that were impossible to get out of alive. Much to our dismay, Tim and I were out of flags by about the halfway point of the race.

At this point, I was frustrated at my body. The leg was really painful and I was speed-walking with a pronounced limp. After what - a mile and a half?! ARGH. We hit a out and back on a paved road, where we were promised water at the end of it. As I attempted to trot along it, I brought up short in my tracks, as the hard surface really exaggerated the shooting pain in my leg. No jogging. Just walking. Noted, Body. I would like to note, this was a decent distance out and back on this paved road that literally had zero point (no obstacles, no zombies), other than to add distance to the race. Where this was an untimed race, I'm not sure what the point of this was, Zombie Run? (again, you're forgiven, as this is your first organized race. A minor infraction.)

Power-Limping (I'll be damned if I would have a DNF on a tiny, flat 3K course!) on, we got to a cool point in the race - a station where you could earn a life back! All you had to do was take that paintball gun there and nail one of those zombies taunting you over there. With my three shots I racked up three epic misses, but Tim (an experienced paintballer) tagged one of those zombies right in the forehead, to win himself another flag.

As we went on, now with renewed purpose (the zombies TRY to get you if you have a flag... without a flag, you're not of much interest to them...), we hatched a game plan. I would run interference and we would do whatever possible to keep Tim "alive" with his flag. I ran at zombies, ducking and weaving and using my body as a block, trying to give Tim (who proved to be speedy and nimble!) any possible opening to get out of the groups unscathed. Having said that, it became clear to me that in these Zombie races, the bigger your team, the better. With me as the only blocker, it was near impossible to be everywhere that was needed to protect the flag-carrier. Next year, we need to roll into this race with an entourage at least 4-5 deep.

Meeting with some success, we were funneled into a corral, where we met the only other actual "obstacles" of the day: a large circle of downed farm gates, in various configurations, that required you to low-crawl through the mud to get through them. Here's my critique... I wasn't sure of the point. Basically, you came off the path, crawled (or rolled! Thank you Spartan Race for teaching me that!) under at least 15 of these things in a big circle, then went on your merry way. Without any officials to moderate this, we saw many racers just skip the extra effort and continue on the path. Not one to skip an obstacle, Tim and I did every single one and braved the Zombie again to push back out onto the course.

With our one precious flag still remaining, we hit the biggest challenge of the day: the Barn. Picture this: a U-shaped barn that you had to go through, infested with SMZ that wanted your flag. Bad. Here's where the big-team would've come in handy. Tim and I turned into our Ninja Alter-Ego's, and ducked and weaved and spun, but their numbers were just too many. In a valiant display of effort, we were ultimately thwarted - the LAST (!!!) Zombie managed to snag Tim's flag on the way out.

As we Limp-walk/trotted the rest of the uneventful course, we were comforted by the fact that we did still at least have our secret saviors: apples tucked away in our spandex! We'd be bringing ourselves home muddy and limping, but ALIVE!

Finish line in sight, I rallied and we ran over a tiny little Fire Jump, where I chose the Spartan Route - jumping over and landing square into the puddle on the side. SADLY, it appears the camera man was not there to capture that moment, as I'm thinking it would've made a cool picture. (As a side note - again, a product of it being their inaugural year - there definitely weren't enough photographers. The pictures that were taken seem to be very limited, compounded by a very expensive price tag. Eh.... C- on this part, Zombie Run.)

As we finished and pulled out our apples triumphantly, we were greeted with water and a pretty cool finish medal. To me, as a complete bling-'ho, I LOVE it when I get another medal to add to my collection. A muddy number and a T-shirt are nice... but a medal, that's some hardware (even if it's not of the highest quality). A+ in this area, Zombie Run... many other races of this level would've just stuck to the T-shirts. Good choice.

Tackling the last obstacle of every mud run, Tim and I laughed and joked while enduring the cold hose-off (which feels much colder at the end of October! Whoa!).

At the end of the day, there were WAY worse ways to spend a Saturday morning than having a fun little challenge with your BFF and earning a t-shirt and some race bling.

My official review of the race? Well, I'm going to give them another chance, and probably try it again next year, but there are definitely some areas that need improvement. Long stretches with nothing to do are not all that fun, when you're running a "Zombie Run". Conversely, having the Zombies grouped SO heavily at other areas that there is no WAY you can come out alive, also not so fun. Next year, I think spreading them out a little, and having more random areas for them to surprise attack, etc. might be a better strategy. Also, having a few more areas where you could earn/win back a flag would be cool, as the race turns into just a plain 5K pretty quickly when the Zombies are no longer interested in a runner without a flag! The pricing was a little steep for this years product.... but there was major potential here - a great location, AWESOME zombies, they got the t-shirts and medals right - so I think a similar price next year, with some adjustments to the strategy, would be reasonable for this kind of event. I think maybe I'd give this Zombie Run an overall grade of like a B-.

Personally, I had a pretty damn good time and am glad I checked it out. Ultimately, I must admit, I'm glad it turned out a bit easier than expected, as my leg was NOT at ALL happy with my efforts and I was in a whole lot of pain by the time we got in the car to head out.

But Zombies beware... Tim and I took notes this year, and will be tackling the next one with a strategy!

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