Race recap: Zombie Mud Run 5K at Lee Farms (Tualatin)

zombies hate fast food 2

The very first race I ran since my fortysomething running renaissance was the inaugural Zombie Apocalypse Run, which was held at Lee Farms in Tualatin in October 2011. I was devoured (i.e., lost both of my “life” flags) around two-thirds of the way through the course, but I had an incredibly fun time. I had no idea racing could be so fun! And so I transitioned from running for health to running for sport. Since then, I’ve run lots of 5Ks, some 10Ks, and a couple of half marathons, and I’d say that I mostly prefer straight racing to obstacle courses, fun runs, or gimmicky races. However, I still have a soft spot for the zombie vs survivor race theme.

The second year (2012), I set a goal of actually surviving, and I did, although zombie Brian Bernier mauled me as he passed me by. Still, I had survived, so the third year, I decided to run as a zombie. Boy, is it fun running as a zombie! I nabbed 49 flags, which wasn’t even close to being the most that year.

This year, I was disappointed to see that the Zombie Apocalypse Run was not being staged, but I noticed that Lee Farms was putting on its own Zombie Mud Run 5K. Even better, I noticed this because it was the subject of a Groupon (50% off). I bought two entries – the second for my older son. Lee Farms is a much closer location than Heiser Farms, where the Zombie Apocalypse Run had moved for the last two years, so that was definitely a big plus for me.

Originally, the race was scheduled for 5 p.m., which is an ideal time for this kind of run. Running at dusk or later would offer a scarier experience, but even with headlamps, I wouldn’t want to be running on uneven trails and farm terrain in the dark. 5 p.m. is just late enough that the setting sun would create an ominous feeling of foreboding dread but where it would be light enough for another hour. However, a month or so before the race, I received an email that the race was being moved to 10 a.m. Not quite as scary a time for the race, but possibly warmer.

Otherwise, the race logistics sounded quite similar to the Zombie Apocalypse Run:

Run for your life!
Feel like you need some SERIOUS motivation to get moving on the course… what’s more motivating than hundreds of zombies trying to eat your brains?! Each survivor wi[ll] start out with 3 flags and get a 30 second head start on the Zombies- make it [] through the course with all your flags to prove that you would survive a zombie apocalypse! Keep in mind that in the real end of the world situation the zombies will not always be behind you; You may just run into a few on the way… as well as some other surprises on the course!
The survivor with the most flags is the King or Queen Survivor!
Are you one of the living dead? Do humans brains entice you? You might be a zombie.  The survivors will get a head start on you so you will need to kick yourselves in gear, catch up with them and steal their flags (aka eat their brains)! You will want to look your zombiest so arrive early and get your face makeup done for free {voucher included in your registration}
The Zombie with the most flags is the King or Queen of the Zombies!

Most excellent! You are what you eat, so I like eating brains. I signed my son and me up as zombies. He had thought it would be too frightening to be chased, but that it wouldn’t be scary to be one of the pursuers. He even worked out his strategy for grabbing flags: he would take advantage of his small size and sneak up, rather than announce his presence with a growl or roar or “brains!”

Packet pick-up was at the farm itself on the Thursday before the Saturday race. There was a good 4 hour window from 2 to 6 p.m., but I wasn’t able to make it, so I had to rely on day-of-race pick-up. Fortunately, with a 10 a.m. start time for the race, this was quite easy.

Race day: Check-in was very fast. My friend Jim was there ahead of us and greeted us as we approached the line. Well, he is my friend, but his brain was starting to look awfully tasty to me, as he had signed up as a survivor. I think I managed to restrain my drool as I picked up my racing bib and plastic goodie bag. My bag came with some coupons for Lee Farms’ products ($5 off a tree, $2 off a pumpkin, etc.), a small package of Advil (hmm, anticipating some need for this?), and samples of a few different flavors of tea. My son got a nice shoulder bag but no goodies. We also got our race shirts; I liked that there were youth sizes available. After pinning our bibs on, my son and I looked around for the make-up booth so that we could be transformed into the brain-devouring zombies that we were, but I think we had arrived too late. I like to think that we were in our early stages of zombification, before decomposition and rot really set in.


I think this was the zombie eradication squad, although it looks like they might have been infiltrated, and not just by me….

As a survivor, Jim had a belt with three flags. The Zombie Apocalypse Run had provided survivors with only two “health” flags, so this seemed 50% more generous. However, while Jim fiddled with the belt, we discovered that the flags were not Velcro rip-away. Rather, it appeared that the entire belt was supposed to be held by a clamp, meaning that the entire belt would be pulled away. Hmm, that was considerably less generous – just a single “health” flag/belt per survivor.

Jim was wearing battered old sneakers but wondered if the course would truly be muddy. I foolishly opined that it had been dry, so I doubted it. While he headed back to his car to change into newer shoes, my son and I stored our goodie bags in our car trunk.

(I might add at this point that on that very morning, I had strongly considered wearing my trail running shoes but opted not to, so my erroneous optimism would come back to haunt not just Jim but also me.)

A few minutes before 10 a.m., a female Lee Farms employee called for survivors to assemble at the starting line. She went over the basic rules, including the very important warning not to tie the belts (because you could get hurt if a zombie grabs for the flags), only to use the clip.

Survivors waiting to get away from us zombies!

It wasn’t easy waiting for those tasty brains to get a decent “head” start (ha ha, get it, head start???), but we waited patiently. What’s time to a zombie, anyway?

When it was our turn to start, I found the trail heavily clogged with zombies. I was really quite hungry for brains, so I sprinted around the crowd toward the open trail. Soon, I was chasing just the two or three lead zombies. As we approached a hairpin turn about 1/4 mile into the race, I could see the trailing survivors just a few dozen yards ahead of us. I let loose with a scream of “BRRRRAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNNSSSSSS!!!!!!”

And then it was buffet time. . . .

I’ll say, the flag belts were pretty easy to grab given that there were three flags to target. And there were a number of helpful victims who, upon my approach (and growl of “BRAINS”), undid their belts and handed them over to me. Thanks! The only problem during the early part of the race was that there were soooo many brains available that I could only devour a fraction of them. . . . But this became less of a problem as I got farther into the course.

One of the best things about running as a zombie is when you zero in on a particularly tasty-seeming prey who tries to escape by speeding up, particularly in the first mile or so of the race. After all, if the zombie has already eliminated the head start that soon, it’s a sign that the zombie is much faster than the prey. One strategy in such a situation is to mumble “Rrrarrr” or “Braaaaiiinnnsss” in an effort to induce the prey to burn himself or herself out by running past max VO2, and then leisurely stripping the flag belt when they stop to catch their breath. The problem with this strategy is that there are other zombies around, and zombies don’t seem to be able to hunt cooperatively.

That tasty prey? I just about caught up to him around the 1 1/4 mile mark, when there was a two lane obstacle. It was one of those duck and creep through temporary structure-type obstacles. I was able to reach over and strip his belt. Yes! But then he pointed out that flag-stripping wasn’t allowed in obstacles, and it did seem not very sporting, so I gave him his belt back. When we both emerged from the obstacle, he started clipping his belt back. I suppose I could’ve given him a couple of seconds but I decided to go chase after other prey.

Not long after, I was chasing another prey, who also tried to speed up. Seeing that the prey was speeding toward another zombie, I decided to be helpful and yelled out, “Prey coming up on your right!” Bwahahahahaha!!! I think the poor survivor was stunned to discover that zombies can indeed cooperate!

At about 1 1/2 miles, I came across an obstacle labeled “Bone Yard.” It looked like a muddy trail with a skull in it. (Too bad the skull was missing its delectable brain.) I ran forward . . .

. . . and plunged knee-deep into the mud equivalent of quicksand. Well played, Lee Farms, well played. As I struggled to lift my leg free of the muck, I felt a tug on my shoe and worried that it might come off, never to be recovered. (Later on, I heard a racer lament that he did lose his shoe in there.)

After the Bone Yard came the River Jump – a several foot long jump across a thigh-deep stream. There were race volunteers stationed here to help manage any congestion. I shouldn’t have had any reluctance to wade across, as I was already muddy from my shoes to my upper shins, but I got a running start and jumped across. I had gone down the trail a little bit when I started to worry about my son and that obstacle. So I turned back and asked the volunteers if it would be okay if I waited for my son to make sure he’d be okay. I even promised not to feast on any brains that might come this way (although I think the feasting was pretty much all done by that point).

While I was waiting for my boy to show up, a woman tried leaping the gap and came down awkwardly, even twisting, jamming, or hyper-extending her knee. It was a serious enough injury that she needed help getting up the slope of the stream-bank. Her friend and race volunteers were there to tend to her. One of the volunteers was trying to call for help on a cellphone but it seemed like reception was spotty. I told him that I’d tell the organizers at the finish when I got there, just in case he wasn’t able to get through before then.

My son came by around this time and wisely chose to wade through the stream. I stayed with him from that point on, through the remaining two obstacles, the Cargo Climb and a Mud Pit. The Cargo Climb was a very steep embankment on the trail, with three sets of ropes to use to pull yourself up. You wouldn’t think this would be too challenging (and indeed, it was my son’s favorite obstacle on the race), but try doing so while clutching a bunch of flag belts in your hand….

We reached the bottom of a short hill; at the top were more race volunteers, shouting encouragement: “Keep going!” and “You made it to the top!” To my surprise, we were just about the end of the race. From the top of the hill, it was a sharp turn to the left back to the farm. The end of the race was an inflatable arch and then a long plastic tarp on the ground, slick with soapy water. I guess this was for taking a finishing slide if you wanted.

My son and I crossed the finish line, where my friend Jim was waiting to congratulate us. The same race volunteer who was spraying the plastic tarp was using his hose to clean mud off finishers’ shoes and legs. We got in line to be cleaned up. After that, a race volunteer came over with a bucket, asking for my collected flag belts. I was surprised that no one was going to count them and asked if someone was going to, and she said no. So I did so myself as I returned them, one by one. I had finished with 21, which is less than half of my haul from last year, but I think there were fewer survivors, and of course, only one belt per survivor (instead of two flags per survivor).

Alas, Jim had not survived. In fact, he thought that at most, one person had survived the zombie horde. Jim was mauled by a zombie ambush on the course. At the time, I was surprised to hear that zombie volunteers would take flags, but later, I guessed that he was victimized by this:

Zombie Dens
Limited positions open to be a Zombie Den participant; you will need to check in early and be ready to go 15 minutes before the race starts. You then will be taken out to a den and await the first coming survivors. Once all the survivors make it through you can then finish the course. This will be best spot for collecting the optimal amount of flags!

The Zombie with the most flags is the King or Queen of the Zombies!

With that, my fourth zombie run was done.

Critique: Lee Farms is a great location for staging outdoor trail races. It’s got a large amount of acreage, it’s not particularly hilly but does offer variations in elevation, and it’s got interesting terrain to run through/over, including corn fields, streams, foresty patches, and so on. That said, there were a number of shortcomings with this race as it was staged. None of them is unfixable, so hopefully if Lee Farms is going to stage this run again next year, it will correct these issues.

Distance: I feel like I am constantly harping on this, but a race that is advertised as a 5K (as this was) should be at least reasonably close to 3.11 miles. With GPS + various free apps available on smartphones, it shouldn’t be difficult to do a walkthrough to check that the course is within, say, 0.05 miles of 5K. This one was around 2.4-2.5 miles. (I don’t have the exact distance because I paused RunKeeper while I was waiting for my son at the river jump and forget to resume immediately when we started running after the jump, but I doubt it was more than 0.1 miles before I remembered.)

Timing/Clock/Results: I gather that there are some fun runs, like The Color Run, that note clearly that they are untimed because they are not races; they are about the experience itself. That’s fine. It’s not a race for me, as I’m one of those obsessive runners who logs every single run by time and distance, but I certainly don’t feel entitled to have every race cater to me. However, I do think that the default assumption for a race is that it will be timed unless it’s specifically noted otherwise, and I didn’t see anywhere that this was a fun run. I don’t mean that it therefore needs to be chip-timed with precision, but it shouldn’t be difficult to rent or borrow a couple of running clocks (one at the start, one at the finish), synchronize them, and keep track of results. Alternatively, the race could be designated as an untimed fun run, but it would be a little inconsistent with the spirit of a fun run to offer prizes for the fastest survivor and fastest zombie.

Flags: Apart from measuring the course accurately, the next easiest improvement to this race would be to switch from the clip belts with three fixed flags to secure belts with multiple rip-away flags. This would benefit survivors as well as zombies, thereby making the race experience better for everyone. Survivors would stay “alive” longer, as each would have to be passed by at least two zombies instead of one. (I remember during my first zombie run that after I lost my last flag, I felt a bit of a letdown before rallying to finish the race.) Zombies would benefit as there would be more opportunities for average speed zombies to grab some flags. As it was, my son, who’s about an average speed runner, was disappointed that he didn’t get to grab any flags. Also, carrying that many brains, I mean, belts and flags got tiring! 21 flags would’ve been less of a burden. (Plus, if you’re into stealth, the belt clips started rattling against each other like a bellcow on a cat….) More flags per survivor would also help address the usual imbalance between survivor numbers and zombie numbers. Let’s face it, it’s more fun to run as a zombie, so these races seem to attract more zombies than survivors, which further reduces the opportunities for mid-pack and slower zombies to feast on survivors. Two or three flags per survivor effectively increases the number of zombies who can dine. . . .

Delivering what’s advertised: I already noted that the race distance was well short of 5K. The other race experience that was not delivered was the King/Queen of the Zombie. There wasn’t any specified prize for collecting the most flags, but the race organizers deemed it important enough that they offered special “Zombie Den” positions where you would get to stake out a spot on the course ahead of time and await survivors as an appetizer. “This will be best spot for collecting the optimal amount of flags!,” the race organizers noted. Yet, at the end of the race, no one bothered to count the number of flags to determine who the King/Queen of the Zombies was. I’m guessing that I might’ve been it from the looks and exclamations of volunteers on the course as I made my way through, but who knows?

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