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NPR Arts & Life

The Latest Exercise Fad: Run From Zombies

Running is a chore for many, and that can make the business of putting on races extra challenging. But on Sunday, one 5K race attracted a crowd of 3,500 people. It featured some unusual extras:  a helicopter, smoke machine, and, oh yes, zombies.

The race opened with a bloody mad scientist shouting, "If you think you’re going to get your brains eaten and your ears eaten, jump up right now!”

So it wasn’t the typical way to pep up a crowd to run a race, but it also wasn’t your typical 5K. This is called The Zombie Run.

“It’s kind of like an interactive movie set,” says Dave Feinman, a founder of the race which is on a national tour, stopping on Sunday at the Cabarrus Arena in Concord. “So as you run through you’re actually running through a story. There’s fog machines; there’s helicopters circling overhead; there’s different effects; there’s a car crash. So it’s almost like you’re running though a zombie apocalypse from start to finish.”

Runners wear belts with red balloons attached, representing vital organs. Zombies spread across the course and try to pop those balloons. Lose all your balloons by the end of the race and you’re dead.

Around 350 people lined up several hours early outside the zombie tent. A couple of dozen makeup artists painted their faces and applied gaping wounds. And, of course, the essential for any zombie makeover: plenty of blood.

“This is the blood spattering tarp area,” Katie Bardin says, holding a paintbrush dripping with edible, red paint.  A green faced zombie stands in front of her, eyes closed. “I’m putting some on your nose too, because you got real down deep in there eating somebody’s brain.”

For a while vampires were in, spurred by the popularity of vampire series like Twilight. Now it appears to be zombies.

“I don’t remember this when I was younger there being this kind of enthusiasm for the undead,” says Steve Soelberg, standing at the edge of the zombie make up tents. He works with The Zombie Run as the mad scientist emcee. “A lot of it I notice from The Walking Dead TV show. I don’t know. I wonder if it’s just related to we need some relief from life…they’re like, ‘I just need to goof off and be silly and throw fake blood on me and not care about anything’. I think it’s a good silly way to release your tension.”


  This story is produced through the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance (CAJA), a consortium of local media dedicated to covering the arts.