NORTH STONINGTON — Nestled in the tranquil woods of North Stonington, amid cornfields and Christmas trees, a piercing shriek echoes through the quiet woods. It’s not an injured animal, or even a real person, for that matter. It’s the sound of the world as we know it coming to an end, taken over by a raging hoard of post-apocalyptic, ravenous zombies, eager to feast on human flesh at the New England Zombie Charge race.
Luckily for the undead, more than 1,000 runners, local residents and zombie-crazed fans signed up for the race of their lives in this 5-kilometer obstacle course race (OCR) through North Stonington on Saturday.
The race launched the first in a series of zombie races put on by Zombie Charge. The idea to combine obstacle-course racing with a post-apocalyptic zombie theme came to Zombie Charge founders Eric Anderson and Jeff Rizer in April, according to Anderson, originally from the Foster-Glocester area. Zombie Charge is not the first to merge these two elements; other races to do so include Run for Your Lives and The Zombie Run. But Anderson said this event is the first to be “fully immersive” in the theme.
“It’s in-character, in theme, the entire time, from the minute you get here,” he said.
In keeping with this immersion, those who signed up for the race as zombie attackers — some 160 — were outfitted in full makeup, including fake blood, oozing scars and for a few more detailed looks, even prosthetics.
Makeup artist Kyle Pasciutti, who also co-owns the horror and Halloween design company Decimated Designs, in New Haven, arrived to the event at 6 a.m. to begin preparation for the six “photo-op zombies” who were given the most intricate makeup. Among the elite six was Addie Miller, who guest-starred as a child zombie on the hit AMC TV series “The Walking Dead.”
Pascuitti estimated the process of applying the foam latex prosthetics, 15 types of blood, gashes, bruises and other makeup for these six took him more than three hours.
The rest of the zombie mob may have sported a bit less in makeup and costumage, but made up for it with their enthusiasm.
Dan Harper, of Danielson, Conn., said his zombie makeup took just 15 minutes, but that he and his friends signed up to participate because they are “huge fans” of “The Walking Dead.”
Two gallons of fake blood later, the zombies were ready to go and the event began with a visit from the “evacuation team,” a series of paratroopers in military garb who flew in and landed in the area to disinfect the early zombie population.
Unfortunately, the team could not prevent the spread of the infection, as race participants soon learned when setting out on the course.
Each runner began the race wearing a belt with three orange ribbons, which the zombies would try to capture. Losing all three ribbons meant infection; those who did not survive had to undergo a “decontamination process” to rejoin the ranks of the living at the after-party.
Those who completed the race with at least one ribbon remaining were heralded “survivors,” and could immediately join the throngs of people at the party for food, beer and live music.
Though she has run in other obstacle course races before, Westerly resident Jill Lusk did not survive, which forced her to drink the “antidote” of NECTAR energy drink and walk though the decontamination tent at the finish line.
“I was just not fast enough to escape those zombies,” she said.
Friends Evelyn MacMahon and Emma Sullivan, of Hartford, Mass., also died at the hand of zombie attacks before finishing the race.
“It’s so hard, because you have to go from a jog or a walk to a full-on sprint in like 10 seconds if you see a zombie,” said MacMahon.
Those bent on survival seemed to have some success strategies in mind.
Dawn Gunter, of Preston, Conn., came to the race with a group of friends, and said sticking together was key to survival. Though Gunter met her end in a muddy trench filled with zombies, some of her friends did survive.
Dan Latham, of Fairfield, Conn., agreed that larger numbers were better.
“My plan is to just keep up with everyone else,” he said. “I think if you’re alone, you get screwed.”
While Latham said he had run a fair amount of races on flat terrain, including half-marathons, he had never participated in an obstacle-course race.
“I hope it will prepare me for the zombie apocalypse,” Latham said when asked why he signed up for the race.
A few runners from the “New England Spahtens,” a group of obstacle-course racers of all abilities throughout the region, managed to escape with all three ribbons in-tact, including North Attleboro, Mass., resident Robb McCoy and Mario DaSilva, of Somerville, Mass.
“I just ran like crazy,” said DaSilva, who sported nothing more than a spandex Speedo and sneakers for the race, a costume worn for every race he runs.
McCoy, of North Attleboro, Mass., also organizes and owns the F.I.T. Challenge, an OCR in North Attleboro that he started last year. McCoy worked with Anderson and the other Zombie Charge founders to trade obstacle equipment for both races, including monkey bars, crawl tubes and the wood base for a tarp-covered slide.
Many race participants and onlookers admitted to being huge fans of the hit TV series “The Walking Dead,” which seems to be part of the reason why zombies are surging in popularity.
“We were both ‘Twilight’ fans at first,” said Sullivan. “But we sort of moved from vampires to zombies recently.”
Sullivan’s mom, Erin, who also ran the race, said she thought the mainstream fascination with zombies could be a way to deal with the horrors of the real world.
“The rest of the world is so scary, and this provides a manageable way to be frightened,” she said.
Gayle King, of Glocester, attended the race to support participating family members, said she was not always a zombie fan until she started watching the series.
“It has great character development,” she said. “And the zombies add this element of surprise that you’re not expecting. The worst part, though, is that you get into a character and then they die and become a zombie.”
Anderson said he and the other race founders are all “Walking Dead” fans, too.
“I think it’s kind of because everyone has this obsession recently with the end of time, end of days thing,” he explained. “The whole idea of surviving in a world of anarchy and chaos.”
Samantha Willard, on vacation in the area from Texas, added that it was difficult to pinpoint what made series like “The Walking Dead” so addictive and popular.
“It’s definitely better than vampires, though,” she said. “Vampires are much more fake and far-fetched.”
Ultimately, the post-apocalyptic world reveals some aspects of individuals’ true nature, Anderson said.
“It’s always interesting to see how people come together in these types of situations, or how conflicts arise,” he said.
A percentage of the proceeds from the New England Zombie Charge were donated to several local charitable organizations, including The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, Connecticut Food Bank, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
For more information on the Zombie Charge and its upcoming races, visit www.zombiecharge.com.