Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Yesterday was the Run For Your Lives 5K/obstacle course/don't get caught by a zombie. I got up before dawn and we were on the road from Sterling at 7:25am. Tina and Angela had a 10:30 race wave, and mine was noon. We should have been there around 9:30, and the race day e-mail had said to arrive 1-1.5 hours before your wave slot for parking and check-in.

Then Tina's car started overheating, and the radiator exploded two miles past the Fort McHenry Tunnel (thank goodness we made it through the tunnel at least.) We ended up with a dead car at the top of the Eastern Avenue ramp. Call to AAA for a tow truck, call to Tina's sister Angela (who was supposed to meet us at a rest stop farther up 95) to come pick us up at the shop. Ended up delayed about a half hour total, but the GPS said we should have been there around 10am. The plan was for me to drop them off at the race so they could go in and register/etc while I parked the car. Not as ideal for pictures, but whatevs.

We turned on to Darlington Road to get to the parking area at about 9:50am. And then we stopped. We were still two miles away from the parking area, and it took us over 90 minutes to go those last two miles. Finally parked the car in a very muddy field around 11:30. There were shuttle buses taking people from the parking to the race. And there's a huuuuuge line for the shuttles. Talked to other people in line while we waited - nearly everyone is late for their wave. We waited another 30 minutes for the shuttle. Got to the drop-off point about 12:15. The drop off point is NOT the race entrance. We had to walk another quarter mile (or more?) to get there.

So, now we're going through the entrance for bag inspections. There's a guy with a megaphone telling people no pets, no 'weapons' (heh), please remember not to hurt the zombie volunteers. Oh, and no outside food or drink. WTF? I'm about to run a 5K, and the bag checkers take away my gatorade. Sigh.

Into the tent for packet pickup. The race e-mail had said "please use the provided zip ties to attach the timing chip to your shoe for easy removal at the finish line." The volunteers say they don't recommend using the zip ties, because people have been losing them on the course. We tie ours into our shoelaces and get our belts on. The volunteers also say that a LOT of people have been late for their waves, and that they're dealing with it at the start line. Get our flag belt and our t-shirt. NOT printed up for the race, just a plain technical t-shirt :-(

All that's left now is bag check and bathroom check. Bag check is fine. Bathroom check - it's only like 12:45, and quite a few of the portapotties are out of TP. I end up doing a squat and dance.

So, that all would be The Bad. Logistical nightmares all around. But the race itself was definitely The Good. We finally get into the start chute for (I think) the 1pm wave. We were in the "dinner" section for people who run 8-12 minute miles, though in retrospect very few people were actually finishing anywhere near their normal 5K times due to massive mud levels and waits for obstacles.

We run down a hill through the woods, and I keep looking for zombies. Don't see any. We come up to the first obstacle - a giant hay bale staircase. There are guys wearing army gear saying "You are running too slow! You will get infected! Move move move!" There are zombies in the field on the other side of the hay bale. LOTS of zombies (20+). These zombies were medium speed. Amazingly I made it through this entire group with all three flags. Then running through the woods again, random zombies on the trail - most of these were the 'slow shuffling type' so you'd hear someone at the front of the line yell "zombie on the left!" and everyone on the trail would move to the right. Second obstacle - cargo net climb. There's a few zombies on the way up to the obstacle, and one zombie underneath trying to grab at people's flags as they're climbing. He tried to grab mine twice, but I managed to dodge both times (his arms just weren't quite long enough to reach). Still three flags intact. I think the 'sewer tubes' were next. Got through that okay too.

Then we're running, big grassy hill, lots of zombies. Lost my first flag here. Into the 'mud maze.' Stacked hay bales made a path with two turns that you had to run through. Zombies in the mud maze. I made it out with 2 flags intact and on my feet. Angela took a total mud slide. Tina ate some mud.

Another zombie hill, [EDIT: the strobe-light "hallway" was here, also] down to the lake. A sign says "<--RUN/SWIM-->" and boy did we swim. The water was soooooo freaking cold it literally made it difficult to breathe (also - race info said 4' of water, but I could definitely not touch the bottom in the middle). There was SO MUCH MUD on the opposite side from wet people getting out of the water! We heard later that we were the last wave to swim the lake because it was so muddy and slippery that they didn't think it was safe anymore.

More BIG hills (both down and up), more zombies, more obstacles. I'm probably messing up the order now, but there was a strobe light box, over/unders (high and low hurdles), running through hanging entrails, and the 'mountain climb'/slide (climb up one side, slide down the other) [EDIT: and THEN the hanging entrails]. Still have two flags; two obstacles and about a half mile to go.

The next-to-last obstacle was a giant tank of "blood" (red-dyed water). It was only about thigh high, but I slipped when I jumped in (there was a zombie behind me) and sat down in the tank. Now I'm completely soaked again. One more hill and the fence to go.

The last hill was terrible. There were, I think, three zombies on the hill. It was so slippery that you couldn't really get any speed going. We were sitting ducks. I think Tina had already lost all three flags by now. Angela lost her last flag on this hill. I was lucky enough to have two going in, and only lost one here. Tina was trying to run blocking for me, but the zombies were pretty aggressive - one saw her, said "No brains?" then pointed to me and said "BRAINS!" and came after me. We finally got up the hill and around the corner to the fence. (From the website: "Why is there a fence at the finish line? To keep the zombies out.") I was under the assumption that we were going to have to climb the fence, but there was a hole at the bottom that you had to crawl/slide through. I am a bad slider (ended up doing something more akin to a fall/roll). BUT - I had one flag left at the end. SURVIVOR. Too bad they didn't have different medals for survivors and 'bitten'.

We got our bags, changed out of wet clothes (had to do the hide under a towel thing) and got a little bit of food. Getting out was a little easier for us, although we saw plenty of people stuck in the mud on the way out. Tina's car apparently wasn't ready (needed something other than just the radiator) so Angela drove us to the Maryland House rest stop, and Mike had to come up from Sterling to pick us up.

So...The Ugly. It wasn't us specifically, but we noticed when we left around 3:45 that traffic wasn't any better than when we had arrived at 10. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, the parking area had turned into mud pits by then too. Reading through the FB page comments - not everyone got to run. They canceled the 5:30 wave completely, and if you weren't on Darlington Road by about 1:30pm (some people said they sat in traffic for three hours to get to parking) then you just didn't get there in time. Again, this is after they said "Arrive 1-1.5 hours early" but if you weren't planning to be there at least FOUR hours early, you were SOL if you had an afternoon wave. Tons of people got stuck in the mud after paying $10 for parking. Some people said they sat in traffic, paid for parking, waited for the shuttle (lines were even longer later in the day) only to get up to the race site and be told they couldn't run. Yes, they're getting race fee refunds, but it still seems to be poor management and communication.

So, in summary - holy hell to get there. Race itself was awesome. I survived and finished with a time of 52:06 (HAD to walk quite a bit because of the mud, plus there were a few backups to get onto a few of the obstacles. No biggie, I was more concerned about my flags than my time). Other people not so lucky. Hope they take quite a few 'lessons learned' from this for future races. Like maybe not letting 10,000 people register - there are over 7000 times recorded on the results page, and plenty of people who never made it to the starting line. Also hope they decide to print and distribute an actual race t-shirt instead of just the technical t-shirt - which, admittedly I would probably use a plain shirt more, but it would have been awesome to get a zombie shirt :-)

EDITS: Someone posted this course map that I used to correct my original post.

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