Zombie Evacuation… Only the Fittest will Survive!

“It all started six days ago… the meteor shower carried with it an infection so fierce that people started to, turn. We will be guiding you across challenging and un-secured terrain, to our safe house where you will then be transported to secure facilities. If you see any zombies do not engage them, I repeat DO NOT engage them. If you do you will be considered at risk of infection and will be shot on sight…”

And so it begins

The army sergeant’s speech was certainly an atmospheric start to the race, a race dubbed as “the most terrifying running journey” of a runner’s life.

Ever since first seeing the Zombie Evacuation Race via a link sent to me by a friend I was determined to sign up. With the growing popularity of zombie-apocalypse-style films and tv dramas over recent years, such as The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Days Later and Dead Set, it’s not surprising that an event like this would be started, and that it would be a massive hit. So me and a carefully selected group of six other willing “evacuees” signed up for the Cambridge event to be held on 27th October and decided on our team uniform for the race: camouflage tees and caps… well it was in a forest!

The race works in a “run for your lives” format, with survivors and infected being dictated by the decoration of race belts given to each participant. Each belt has three high-vis tags (or “lives”) that are attached by a strip of velcro. The intention of the zombies is to capture tags from the evacuees as they run by and if you are lucky enough to make it to the end of the race with at least one tag left then you are officially a survivor, if not then… well your guess is as good as mine! With my limited training and notorious clumsy nature I wasn’t hopeful.

The only thing more frightening than the zombies was the disclaimer

It was only upon setting off on our journey to the evacuation site that my friend Jo alerted me to the waiver we were due to sign in order to participate. An excerpt of which is included below just to help set the scene…

1. The risk of injury and/or death from the activities involved in the Zombie Evacuation Race and the Event is significant including, but not limited to the following: (i) drowning and cold water; (ii) near-drowning and cold water; (iii) sprains; (iv) strains; (v) fractures; (vi) heat and cold injuries; (vii) over-use syndrome; (viii) injuries involving vehicles and caused by electrocution; (ix) animal bites and/or stings; (x) contact with poisonous plants; (xi) accidents involving, but not limited to, paddling, climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, travel by boat, truck, car, encountering electrocution , or other convenience;(xii) heart attack and (xiii) the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death. While particular rules, equipment, and personal discipline may reduce this risk, the risk of death or serious injury does exist; 

Death? Drowning? Electrocution? Permanent paralysis? Oh LORD! What have I signed up to? But, being the brave bad-asses that we are, we continued on in our journey to the start of the race.

Our wave was due to start at 12pm, and after a long queue to register, and a bit of hanging around in the freezing cold and wind (anyone that lives in the Cambridge area will vouch for the fact that it is a very exposed part of the country!) we made our way to the start line with our “lives” attached to our race belts.

L-R: Jo, myself and Vicky, ready for battle!

And off we go

After the fear-instilling race briefing the start gun sounded and we were off down a dirt track, entering the unknown. Within seconds of starting a smoke bomb went off and there were screams ahead as what I can only assume were the first glimpses of the un-dead heading towards us. A few pushes and shoves were thrown as the first zombies limped and staggered past us.

We continued to run along a farming track for around 1/4 mile with smoke bombs and gunshots in the distance until we reached an opening disappearing into the first wooded section. Ducking under low branches, dodging brambles and nettles and leaping over fallen trees I would be mindful to enlighten the organisers to their underestimation of the “20 obstacles” listed on the web page! It wasn’t long before groans and cries were audible and the tension rose and as I checked over my shoulder I turned back round only to see a blood-spattered zombie with a half eaten hand dangling from her mouth… “RUUUUN!”

What was all the fuss? This is easy!

Having survived the first barrage of attacks I ran on feeling pretty proud of myself for clinging on to all three of my lives. Next came a couple of ~5ft walls to clamber over and a rubble path to negotiate and I turned to my friend and said “it’s been pretty easy so far… surely it’s going to get harder?” No sooner had I highlighted the ease of the race so far than a cloud of smoke with what appeared to be a horde of blood thirsty walkers came into view. We took a deep breath and made our way gingerly closer. Then came the 8ft wall. I somehow managed to drag myself over, dodging the infected woman waiting the other side and then all I heard was a strange ripping sound. I’d lost my first life! And it was taken by a small zombie-child, nooooo! Feeling slightly embarrassed by my earlier confidence I scampered off to tackle the next obstacle, dust myself off and carry on.

The following onslaught was all a bit of a blur… we had reached the “Royal Army Zombie Outbreak Response” missing medical team and their base was overrun with un-dead. I bobbed and weaved and pirouetted my way through the infested base while brain-eating ex-doctors and nurses lunged for me. The following 200m or so was strewn with abandoned army trucks, cargo nets filled with festering bodies with arms reaching through the gaps trying to catch me. I stopped to catch my breath at a slight clearing but quickly had to pick up speed again as an infected mechanic snarled at me, and then there I was in a sectioned off minefield with snapping scientists coming within inches of catching me. It was relentless!

Getting into character

Finally having cleared the thick of it there was just a slippery mud hill to climb before the final stages. An army recruit advised us at this point that if we covered ourselves in blood from the tubs they had and walked like a zombie then we would trick them and get through unscathed. I of course slathered myself in the stuff and proceeded to groan and shuffled along the clearing with my arms outstretched. I really started to get in the spirit of my act when two of the horrors started sniffing at me and breathing down my neck. Turning to gorge at them I suddenly became very aware of the photographer on the side of the course and realised I should probably try and look more ladylike!

The final stretch of the race saw about a dozen more zombies to dodge before we could crawl under the barbed wire barricades to reach the safe zone. I looked down and to my surprise saw I still had a single, flailing life left. I had survived!

“I’m a survivor!”

I proudly collected my “survivor” dog tag and race t-shirt, and made my way through to the holding area where we waited to be allowed to return to the race headquarters to show off our injuries/blood-smeared faces/dog tags. Out of our group of seven, only two of us made it through without infection.

Team “Harlow Zombie Killers”
L-R: Odette, Jo (and son, Matthew), Me, Zoe, Ciaran, Vicky and Holly

I made it! Now for the sensible part…

I have to say, this was a fantastic race, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. For a first-time event it was pretty well organised, especially considering the last-minute change of venue (unfortunately the army barracks where it was originally due to be held had been sold off). The “zombies” were very well made-up by Hollywood SFX make-up artists, and the course was really well constructed with props and pyrotechnics. Also the dog tags were a great touch, and the t-shirt was brilliant with a variety of sizes available.

Things that the organisers may wish to consider for future events are a sheltered area for competitors to wait before the race, and for spectators to keep warm whilst waiting for the fate of their loved ones, a slight change to registration at the event site to make it quicker and more clear what is required (e.g. signs above the chip-timing stalls showing the race numbers for correct queuing, and an upright notice board with the race listing so people can see their race number more easily) and also a clearer finishing shuttle for people to be able to go down the correct exit depending whether they were “alive” or “dead”. We also had to wait a while in the finishing area before we were allowed to return to the start because of the road having to be closed off for us to cross – but we weren’t informed this was the reason for the delay until we actually crossed the road.

See you next time

Teething problems aside, I am sure this will continue to be a very popular race, and can already see that next year’s event will be on an even larger scale with more zombie volunteers and more crazy evacuees. And if you are mad enough to consider entering next time, maybe I’ll see you there!

Visit http://zombieevacuation.com for more information about the event, and to register for the 11th November London event.

Thanks to Zombie Evacuation and Vicky Lane for images.