The first choice you’ll have to make in The Running Dead Chicago race is deceptively simple: do you want to be a runner or a zombie? Runners race for the chance to win cash and prizes; zombies, on the other hand, receive a professional ghoulish makeover.
Set in Highland, Indiana’s Wicker Memorial Park on Saturday, October 26, the race will unfold in four waves. The first three are fun runs with iPads for first-place winners. The fourth wave, dubbed the Cash Dash, features a $500 first prize as well as a 6-foot-tall, custom-made trophy dripping with zombies, blood, and bling. “It looks like the Sears Tower drenched in blood,” says race organizer Chuck Riley.
That impressive keepsake, along with other prizes, will be awarded to whoever finishes with the fastest time—and the fewest zombie bites. Each runner is given three flags to wear around their waist, and as they sprint, they have to avoid the grasp of the ravenous zombies strewn along the trail. Runners who lose all three flags are officially “bitten” and doomed to join the ranks of the undead—but only after they cross the finish line. If they hurry, their fast finish times can still qualify them to win, despite a penalty for lost flags.
Even runners who manage to escape uninfected can still get a taste of the undead lifestyle at the Zombie Prom after party. That’s also when zombies can get their hands on some prizes: a judging panel will award cash for the best male, female, and couple costumes.
Heading up the panel and MCing the evening is Josh Posh, Chuck Riley’s alter ego. According to Riley, the prom marks Posh’s triumphant return to the stage. (His band’s plane crashed over the Amazon in the 1980s. Posh emerged from the forest 10 months later—alone and 30 pounds heavier. “We don’t use the cannibal word,” Riley says, chuckling.) Riley let me speak to Posh, who shared his colorful tips for winning the race, infecting the most runners, and earning the title of Zombie Prom King or Queen.
TIPS FOR RUNNERS
1. Team up: While some survivalists may choose to go solo, Posh advises that team members will be able to run “interference” for each other, giving up their own flags to protect a single runner. “Lots of teams will have their own T-shirts and way of identifying themselves,” says Posh, who mentions that teams can register together with a discount or form alliances at the event itself.
2. Know the course: Although the 4.6-kilometer course layout is a secret, Posh reveals that obstacles include hanging body bags, a zombie-covered bridge, and a treacherous maze. “That’s the one I’m proudest of,” Posh says, though he also mentions “the smokehouse and the electrified—well, we don’t really want to talk about that one out loud.” Although the course is tough, it should be manageable for people of all ages and fitness levels. And there is one upside: the chilly October weather means no water obstacles.
3. Prep your body (and mind): Watching every episode of The Walking Dead would be “perfect” training, Posh says, though he also recommends a few views of World War Z in 3D “because our zombies are going to be a hybrid between the stumblers and the runners.” As for physical training, Posh recommends bench-pressing your home stash of canned goods.
TIPS FOR ZOMBIES
1. Plan your theme: Each zombie will get a 20-minute makeover from lead makeup artist “Zombie” Alan and his team, but it may speed things up to come with a theme in mind—and a costume. Posh recommends some easy fallbacks, such as military duds, cheerleader outfits, or athletic uniforms, but he encourages zombies to use their imaginations. You may want to save your formalwear for the prom, though: “The costume [you wear] will dictate how mobile you’ll be,” cautions Posh.
2. Make the most of your look: … because it’s only temporary. “Zombie” Alan and his team will be relying on simple latex to achieve most of their gnarly effects. The material, painted with blood and festering wounds, is easy to put on and take off.
3. Be scary, not aggressive: About 50–60 zombies per wave will be placed in select zones throughout the course, and while there are no rules on how fast or slow they should shamble, safety is always the priority. Zombies should grab only for runner’s flags, which means no shoving, tackling, or actual biting is allowed.
TIPS FOR BECOMING ZOMBIE PROM KING OR QUEEN
1. Settle your scores (with a dance-off): After the four fierce races, it’s natural that tensions between zombies and runners will be running high. But with a complimentary beer or glass of wine included and a cash bar onsite, Posh estimates that within an hour or two “everyone will be holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya.’” Live music from local cover bands and hip-hop group Liptak will fuel the dance party, which starts at 5:30 p.m. and concludes at 9 p.m.
2. Go grotesque: What qualities will Posh and his judging panel be looking for? “Sick and twisted.” Only the nastiest, ooziest zombies will have a shot at the crown—and the cash prizes. There will be plenty of time for runners to change into zombie attire after the race, and Posh hints that zombie devotees will be flocking from around the Chicagoland area just to attend the prom.
3. Stock up for Halloween: Besides food, drinks, and live entertainment, there will be plenty of vendors set up outside the Zombie Prom, including some selling zombie gear and other costumes to don come October 31.
The Running Dead Chicago is currently running a Groupon for up to half off race entry. Otherwise, runners can enter for $50, and the entrance fee for zombies is $35. Both options include entry to the Zombie Prom. À la carte Zombie Prom entry is $15.
Photo courtesy of The Running Dead