"Change, when it comes, cracks everything open."
Dorothy Allen

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Run for your life

This past weekend, I completed the Toronto version for Run for Your Lives.  This is a 5K, obstacle course, cross country run, complete with live (dead) zombies.  I was both a zombie and a runner.  It was amazing.

A couple of months ago, I blogged about it, and how excited I was.  And I was!  I started running, doing the Couch to 5K program.  I lasted 3 weeks, and then stopped.  I was still excited, but other things, like real life got in the way.

So, this weekend kind of snuck up on me.  All of a sudden, it was here and I was completely totally unprepared.  I hadn't been running, or even working out consistently.  I am still down about 65-70 lbs (depending on the day and what I had for dinner the night before), so I was feeling ok.  I knew it was going to be a struggle.

We had registered as team "Ground Bait"- me and Geoff, our friends Barb and Bill, my SIL Holly, her boyfriend Eric, my nephew Gage, his friend Derek and Holly's friend Shannon.  Nine of us altogether.  More than enough moral support to drag my fat ass around the course and hopefully make it out with a little dignity attached.
all of us ghouls
Geoff and I both had to work on Friday, but we planned to head up and camp overnight. My mom and dad took the kids for the weekend, so as soon as he finished work and we packed the car, we were off.  Since we were registered as zombies for the 8am shift, and all the paperwork tells you to be there at least 2 hours before the event, and it was located on the far side of Barrie (a good 2 hour drive from Niagara)- all of this made me want to be there the night before.  I didn't relish the idea of being up at 3am, just to drive and spend my day zombfied and running.  I wanted a little bit of sleep, and maybe some fun too.

Geoff and I finally got on the road about 6pm.  We made pretty decent time, and pulled into the camp ground that Bill had found at about 10 after 8.  It was full dark out, and this camp ground was creepy as shit.  Very dark, under populated.  Barb and Bill had reserved 2 spots side by side- one for Holly and the gang and one for us four (we stayed in B&B's gigantic tent, complete with huge, thick queen sized air mattresses!  Thanks guys!!).  Geoff and I were driving the roads of the camp ground, flash-light out the window, trying to find them.  We did eventually see the site (B&B had headed into Barrie for dinner, so there was no fire or lights to help guide us.)  Getting out of the car, into the black, black night- the bush right up to the edge of the tent...cold, wet...
Let's just say it started the weekend off on the right note.  

Geoff and I unpacked and got a fire going.  B&B joined us shortly after, and Holly and the gang rolled in eventually.  We had some beers, chatted a bit, and when it started to get really cold, we packed it in.  It was about 12:30, and we had to be up in about 5 hours.

I slept pretty well.  We had brought lots of sleeping bags, so Geoff and I were toasty warm.  But knowing that I have to wake up at a certain time always makes my sleep lighter, and I wake up often, afraid I am sleeping in.  When the alarm did go off at 530, I begged for 15 more minutes.  Finally, at 545, we all dragged our cold, tired asses out of bed, and got ready.

A short trek down the road and we arrived at the event.  There were a few anxious moments for us.  We had realized the night before that Geoff and I hadn't been receiving any of the update emails, nor had we received the promised parking pass.  I was getting a bit anxious that there was going to be a problem with my registration, but I tried really hard to keep a positive state of mind.  We got parked with no problem, organized the troops and headed up to register.  It was still dark and bitter cold.  It had rained all through the night and there was still a misty drizzle happening, just enough to chill you to the bone.  We all got registered and made sure that we were stationed together for our zombie shift.  We got our flag belts for the race too.  There were no problems with the registration, so I guess my positive thinking helped!!  
 It was a little surreal, standing on the hilltop, waiting to get signed in.  We could see the big field, laid out in front of us, where we assumed much of the race would take place.  We could see the big slide into the mud pit.  We all agreed that only crazy people would do that (more on that later!)  I had started shivering as soon as I stepped out of the car, and hadn't stopped yet (it only got worse!)  But I was excited and anxious to start.  It was something new and unknown.  I was with friends and family, and all was right with my mixed up, topsy turvy world.

After registering, we head over to the transformation tent.  Here, they make you look like a zombie.  We had all worn clothes that we were comfortable with getting dirty.  Barb actually came in costume- as the pylon headed zombie from Plants vs Zombies.  Even while people were racing, they would stop to admire and take pictures with her.  It was pretty awesome.

They ran the make up like an assembly line.  I got lucky, when we were registering, the man behind the desk put a "P" on my hand.  When I asked what it was for, he said it was so I could get a face prosthetic.  Geoff was out of the running because of his facial hair.  Barb and Bill got the P as well.  When Holly heard about it, and realized that she had NOT gotten a P, she promptly found someone with a sharpie and gave herself her own P.  :)  

We made our way through wardrobe.  They offer you Value Village clothes, precut and shredded.  Holly got a terry cloth tube dress.  I got a Paris t-shirt. Geoff got a white work shirt. If you wanted, they would shred your clothes for you, which Barb and Bill opted for.  Then you go for make up.
Step 1-3- prosthetic on, base on, contour air brushing done
I wish I could have this all the time, it makes my face look very thin.
I love my zombie cheek bones.
Step 5- they add the ooze and the blood
While I waited in line for my prosthetic piece, Geoff, Eric and the boys all got air brushed, paint flicked, blooded and mudded. They all looked amazing.  Slowly, we made our way through too, although it was getting tight for time.  They kept shouting out 15, 10 and 5 minute warnings, while we were at the mercy of men and women who took their time in making us all look amazing and undead.  In the end, they didn't leave without us, and we looked great.  It was worth the wait. 
End Result- Raging Zombie
Once you come out of make up, you go for "Mud and Blood".  They have sprayers, like exterminators use, full of mud.  You stand in front and two of them pump it and spray mud everywhere.  Then you move in front of a tarp, and a gory looking apparition, with blood on her arms up to her armpits, flings handfuls of red dyed KY Jelly, freezing cold and wet, all of you, front and back.  It is sticky and cold and very uncomfortable.  But it really completes the look.
being mudded and bludded

By now, we have been here for almost 2 hours.  I was shivering so hard, my teeth rattled.  The rain had finally stopped and the sun was actually coming out.  My fears that we would spend the day drenched and frozen were disapating with the clouds.  It was going to be a good day.

Next, one of the race organizers gave us a run down on the race and the expectations they had of the zombies.  SPOILER ALERT!!  To help people have a chance at surviving, we were instructed that we should only pull one of the runners 3 flags, depending on the section you were in.  If you were in section 1-5 (we were in 3), you could pull one flag, leaving the runners with 2 more life.  From sections 6-10, you could pull the 2nd flag.  Section 11-15, it was all game, pull them all, kill them dead.
We took that rule to heart.  Many didn't, and the runners suffered for it.  Too bad. :(

After that, they gave us water and a snack and led us out to our section.  We were in a section that we lovingly called the Gauntlet (we found out later that several other sections of the race were called the Gauntlet as well.)  It was a narrow path, couple of hundred feet long.  We had at least 15 zombies,  including 2 chaser zombies on that path.  It was treacherous, full of rocks, roots, twigs and barbed wire (seriously!)

We made ourselves comfortable and we worked that section for all it was worth.  I took my stumbler zombie role to heart- I rarely moved fast, but relied on my moans and swinging arms to intimidate runners.  I did, over the  course of 3 hours, snatch about 6-7 flags, but mostly, I concentrated on being a roadblock, a surprise to them when they looked up from the ground.  

Some of the runners took it too seriously.  They were dicks, punching, slapping, chopping arms.  Geoff, Holly and Barb all ended up bleeding at one point or another.  Holly got punched in the face by a flailing girl. We all had jammed fingers, pulled shoulders.  I had people ripping at my clothes and pushing me back.  It got very physical at times.

But the best were the ones that were into it.  The screamers.  The panickers.  The jumpers...oh how I loved the jumpers.  My very favourite was one man, fairly tall.  He was tall enough that when he jumped between Barb and I, his legs were as high as my head.  And as he jumped and dodged between us, he made ray gun noises.  You know "phew, phew, phew"- like a space ray gun.  I heard it and it made me break character and laugh right out loud.  I couldn't help it.  

We started noticing that some people were coming through our section (# 3 of 15, remember) with 0 flags.  ZERO!!  They were supposed to have only one flag taken between 1 and 5, and some of them were already dead.  Holly had the good idea to start giving flags back to runners that were unfairly dead.  So we did.  If they were decent, and not jerks about it, we handed them back a flag or two, just to keep them in the game. Many of them thought it was a trick, but most were very grateful and I hope it helped them stay motivated.  Maybe one of the flag we handed back helped someone finish the race alive.  I dunno, but I hope so.  

We were relieved from our section at about 12 o'clock.  We gathered up all our kills (aka flags) and made our way back to the "safe zone".  When you finished your shift, you checked in. They then gave you your swag- a zombie horde t-shirt, a medal, and a free beer ticket.  Then you got to try and take the make up off.  That was harder than I thought it would be.  I still have a red mark on my face, from where I pulled the prosthetic off, before it was ready.

We headed back to the vans and changed into our running clothes.  We were scheduled to run the 2pm wave.  We were all starving, so we bought some ridiculously overpriced food, and drinks and chilled out for a bit.  I was already very nervous about running.  I knew I wasn't in shape for a 5K, I had seen some of the people coming through all morning- the serious runners, the middle of the pack-ers, and the stragglers at the end.  I figured the last would be me.  I really just didn't want to embarrass myself, or my group.  I wanted to do my best to keep up and help everyone have fun.  

But as we sat and watched these people finish the race, I started to get more anxious.  Many of them were covered in mud, head to toe.  Some were limping and bleeding (real blood, not the shit I was covered with). The good news was, almost 100% of them were smiling, laughing.  I was still nervous, but getting anxious to get started.

We got ready to go, and joined the queue about 1:45.  I was still really cold, and I was having a lot of pain in my back and my hips.  I knew that my muscles weren't warm enough to do this.  I hadn't really stretched them, and I had allowed too much time to elapse since my zombie time in the morning.  I was cold and my muscles were super tight.  I was worried about hurting myself.  I promised myself that I would take it easy.  

When you queued up, you enter into one of 3 tunnels.  The tunnels are labelled "appetizer", "entrée" and "dessert".  Since we knew we would be slow, we picked dessert.  We were the end of the line, baby.  When we were finally able to go, I jogged out of the tunnel.  We ran past the transformation centre for the zombies.  They were awesome, leaning over the gates, reaching and lunging for us.  Not even on their shifts yet, but still working it.  Good job guys.

I was settling in for a bit of a run.  I was trying to work out my breathing and watching the ground at the same time.  The ground is super uneven, with lots of big rocks and grooves.  Then I caught up to Holly, Eric and Geoff.  They were walking already, and I joined in.  We decided to conserve our energy, until we needed it.  Barb and Bill caught up with us, and we worked our way into the course.

I won't give you a play by play of the entire thing, that would take way too long and would be hard to describe anyway.  But some of the obstacles that we encountered were:
- mud pits.  You could go through them, with mud up to your calves or knees, depending on how tall you are.  Or you could try and climb around them, hanging from the giant water kegs propped on the side.  Or you could do what Geoff did, and simply walk around the outside of everything.  That wasn't very fun though.  I climbed on the kegs.
- jumping walls.  Ok, Ok, I walked around these.  I didn't trust myself to get my butt over them.  
- a maze, filled with smoke, zombies and other screaming panicked runners.  I made it though without incident, oddly enough.  Not one wrong turn.  Weird.
- electric house.  A plywood house, with smoke billowing out of it.  You climb in through a "window".  There were what I thought were ropes dangling down.  Yeah, they weren't ropes.  They were electric cords.  I got shocked.  There were zombies in there too, by the way.
- Dead end.  Eric had been forewarned by two guys about it, so we knew not to go.  Lucky us.
- Barbed Wire crawl.  Yep, on your belly, in the mud, under barbed wire.  One girl ahead of us got her hair caught.  I wanted to just leave her there as bait, but 2 guys helped her out.  Whatever.  They would all 3 be dead if this were the real deal.
- another tunnel crawl.  This one was long, partially covered and extremely muddy.  
- Electric Fence.  Again, on your belly, under an electrified fence.  I got shocked at least 4 times.  My shirt was soaking wet, so it just conducted the electricity wonderfully.

the slide
The biggest obstacle we hit was the Mud and Blood slide.  It was a huge water slide, with hoses and jets of water spraying you as you go down into a giant mud pit at the bottom.  You then have to haul your ass out of the water/mud, into ankle deep mud outside of it.  Then you have a straight shot up the hill toward the last 2 obstacles and the finish line.  Oh yeah, that straight shot is full of zombies. 

All though the race, we knew about this slide.  We knew it was coming.  I hadn't decided if I was going to do it.  So far, the only obstacle I hadn't done was the walls, and that was no big deal.  I had wimped out a couple of times, when we were running through the zombies and had lost flags because of it.  It pissed me off.  I was angry at myself for not sucking it up and making shit happen.  But still- I didn't know if I was willing to be dunked in horrible muddy water, to be so cold and dirty.....I couldn't make up my mind.

We were all at the final water stop.  We could see the slide through the field.  We had a big gauntlet of zombies coming up, we could see and hear them down the path.  Geoff asked Bill if he was going down the slide.  I believe his answer, fast and sure was "Hell no!".  Bill got to hold our keys.  Barb too confirmed there was no way she was doing it.  Holly and Eric were a little less sure, but leaning towards no.  Geoff and I- undecided.  

We made our way though the last leg of the journey.   I lost my last flag (and essentially died) to a fast, sneaky little Asian zombie, that snuck up from behind, after I had already passed her.  We finally cleared the woods, slowed to a walk and made our way towards the slide.  

Geoff and I were in front.  Holly and Eric were a couple of hundred feet back, and Barb and Bill a little further back still.  I asked Geoff what he was thinking.  

He said "I think I am going to do it."

To be honest, I was shocked.  Geoff doesn't like water.  Not at all.  He's not a swimmer, doesn't go under the water.  He also is always cold and isn't normally a huge risk-taker.  So for him to say that he wanted to do this last, huge obstacle was really surprising to me.  But, it made up my mind for me.

My response was "Then I'm in too."

We grinned at each other and picked up our pace. The climb up was just an open spaced wooden trellis.  Geoff also doesn't like heights, but he said it didn't bother him until we were almost at the top.  By then, it was too late.  I climbed up as sure and as strong as I could.  I had made up my mind, and I wasn't going back now.  I waved to Holly and Eric and Barb and Bill, so that they knew for sure that we were up there.  I knew they wouldn't want to miss this.

Geoff and I noticed then that they had the huge jets of water.  We saw the mud everywhere, and the people struggling to climb out.  We didn't know that people had dislocated ankles earlier in the day, just jumping out of the pit.  It probably wouldn't have mattered, even if we had known.  

We sat down.  We grinned again.  

"Ready?"  I asked.
"Count of 3?"
"Yep.  1..."
Together now. "3."

And down we went.  

I remember hitting the water.  I remember my feet not finding purchase on the bottom and going right under.  Water and mud in my mouth and nose.  I remember popping to the surface, screaming obscenities.  I remember the cold like a vice around my chest.  I remember Holly and Eric laughing at the side of the tank.  

I remember being so fucking glad I did it.

Geoff hopped out over the side, instead of the end.  The end was blocked by two girls who were frozen, staring at me.  I think it was the black cloud of obscenities that were streaming constantly out of my mouth, at the top of my lungs, that had stopped their forward momentum.  I snuck past them, and slung my way out.  

We finished the race shortly after.  Geoff got shadowed by a jerk trying to save his last flag.  Geoff ended up getting chased down by a chaser zombie, and one of his flags was forfeit.  But he finished with one flag, meaning he was alive.  Holly survived too.  The rest of us were dead.

The rain started just as we were finishing.  It felt like hail.  Geoff and I stripped down in the parking lot and changed for the 3rd time.  Never has dry underwear and socks felt so good to me.  We decided against staying at the park, and made our way back to the camp site.  Barb and I showered, mainly to warm up, and for me to get the mud out of my hair.  Holly, Eric and the boys packed it in, and headed home.  Their tent has leaked the night before, so everything was wet, and they just wanted to get warm and have a good nights sleep.

B&B and Geoff and I decided to stick it out one more night.  I busted out this heater I had gotten from one of my parent's friends.  It is designed for use inside tents.  We tried it out, and sure as shit, it got the tent nice and warm.  Unfortunately, the propane wore off around 230am.  We were all too tired to change out the tank so we woke up to a cold tent in the morning.  Next time I won't be so lazy.

We went for a nice dinner, had some drinks and eats and rehashed the day.  We did make an emergency stop at Shopper's Drug Mart for Ibuprofen, for our aching muscles.  Then back to the camp site for a fire and more chat.  When it started to rain, none of us complained.  We packed it in, and went straight to sleep.  At least I did...I dunno about the rest of them. :)

Geoff and I headed home early this morning.  Geoff had to work, so the kids and I hung out.  I was planning on doing some OT, but honestly, all I wanted to do was rest.  Sawyer and I had snacks and laid in bed, snugly and warm.  We watched cartoons, and when she went for her bath, Sebastian tagged in.  He and I chilled out for a bit.  Now they are asleep, and I will join them soon enough.

This was amazing weekend.  On so many levels.  It was great to do something so different and fun, and with a really good group of people.  Pretty much everyone put their big girl/boy pants on and sucked up the hard stuff.  Sure, we were cold and tired and dirty.  We also had a blast.  It was a once in a lifetime (but you hope for a second chance) kind of thing.

But also, I learned some stuff about myself.  I always try to, every day, but circumstances like this really help, by putting it out there for everyone to see.  I finished the race.  Nope, I didn't run the whole thing, I actually probably didn't even run a third of it, but I did it.  Six months and 60 lbs ago, I probably wouldn't have done that.  I did that fucking mud slide.  I did it.  

me and Geoff at the end of it all
It was a great weekend.  I highly recommend it.  I will see you there next year. 

Rosie N. Grey
The N stands for "next year, bitches."


  1. I am so very grateful we decided to give this a go! It was a great day.

    1. It was! Sometimes the weird stuff is the best stuff. Already looking forward to next year.

  2. My wife and I were chasers in the 9 to 12 shift (stationed in zone 15, right after the slide...). Didn't get that many flags: the water from the slide made the flags really slippery, our area was wide open, and many people didn't flags left by the time they got to us, but we made them run. We ran in the 2pm wave as well...we both died. But that water was freezing...and the rain after didn't help things. Awesome time was had by all!

    1. Hey Dan, thanks for commenting! I am so glad you weren't on shift when I was coming through, cause I was pretty gassed at that point- no more running for me! But so fun! We are really hoping for a Toronto event again next year, but if not, we are probably going to do NY in August! Hopefully August will be warmer!! :)

    2. Hey Rosie - did you make it to Batavia last weekend? Any idea if you're going to be able to make it to the next Toronto event?


  3. Wow! Sounds like it was amazing...glad you had a great weekend! I had a fantastic, albeit very different, weekend in Toronto too. :)

    1. LOL...thanks for the comment Laura! It was pretty amazing, you would have loved it! There is an event in NY next year, you should totally check it out!! We might be there!