Last Night's Zombi Race 2012: Endurance, Booze and Braaaaaaains

"All the zombies are our tonight," shouted the guardian of Smokin' Joe's hot dog cart to a passing patrol cop. "OOOOOOOh, it's going to be wiiiiild!" he thundered, fist in the air. The cop rolled down his window, assessed the spectacle occurring in front of The Church and looked severely unamused. In his defense, there were a bunch of hot chicks in fishnets and zombie make-up in the street, aggressively protecting the nightclub's entrance, on roller skates.

The Zombi Race is an annual event that brings in runners by the hundreds and pits them against re-animated corpses at various checkpoints around town. At each spot reached, the runners scan a QR code that reveals another clue to solve or test of endurance (think: dare) to perform. After all clues are opened and achieved (a Yoo-hoo drink at the Double Wide, a bartender serenade, a photograph on a toilet posted to a FaceBook page), runners return to the Swiss Street goth club where they face off against the race's final surprise line of defense: zombie roller girls.

Night of The Living Dead taught us that zombies are lumbering flesh munchers who win only through perseverance. 28 Days Later decided it would be fun to throw another kink in the mix and make zombies move real fast and herky jerky. But c'mon Zombi Race: sexy undead ladies on roller skates? These poor runners are only human.

But the living are a tenacious lot and they will always be able to count on one thing that the undead cannot -- no, not the ability for rational thought or empathy -- business connections. "Oh no, an ambulance," said one undead Derby Devil when the vehicle pulled up and parked in the middle of the street. Everyone pressed back to the sidewalk, crook-necking to find the injured party. The paramedics stepped out and walked around to the back and opened up the service doors. Two sneaky humans leaped out of the back, hauled ass across the street and slid into the club, contamination free. The couple, we'll call them Pam and Tommy, also hitched a ride in a cop car earlier in the game. Their claim is that if you tell an ambulance you're being chased by zombies, they will escort you to your intended destination.

Was it cheating? Oh, yeah, almost certainly. Was it awesome? Definitely.

The night was not so kind for Steven Thompson and Aaron Williams, in fact Aaron might have genuinely needed the ambulance. "It was dark and I was running from a zombie... that telephone pole came out of nowhere," said Williams while rolling his right racing pant leg up to reveal some very nasty bruises. After his collision with the inanimate Williams could only limp, so together the team hobbled back to home base. Had it not been for that dastardly pole, they could of been contenders.

What I hadn't expected about the race was, well, all of the racing. The first batch of finishers were most certainly not goth club regulars; they wore workout gear, sipped from camelbaks and had shiny highlighted hair. They did not brood or wear braziers composed of electrical tape, and aside from a teenage incident involving a fake ID and forcible removal from the venue (sorry, projecting) most of them had never stepped foot in The Church. But on Thursday night they did, and they stuck around for those hard-earned $1.50 cocktails. That course would make anyone thirsty: Depending on how direct of a route each team took, it varied between 4 and 5 miles long with the furthest checkpoint being at the CrossFit 214 building at Peak and Ross.

Telephone poles and people in face paint can set a person back, but I live at the intersection of those two streets and you'd never catch me on foot, at night, wearing a glow in the dark headband, drunk on "checkpoint shots" in my neighborhood. Nu-uh. Not happening. Zombies might tag you, rendering your team "contaminated" but Angry Joe down the block will violently mug you and turn your face into a Picasso. Ross' Liquors closes at nine; where are all of its mingling regulars going to go after that? The 4200 block of San Jacinto and the corner of Ross and Peak, that's where. And because of its distance from the bar, most of the 850 plus participants saved that checkpoint for the end, which schedules their arrival between 9 and 11 p.m., depending how long they relax at their other stations. So yeah, there were certainly some safety oversights in the planning of the scavenger hunt, but as one who only runs when chased I understand the appeal of the event, conceptually.

As the final groups poured in, strategy became clutch. "There are some, over there!" shouted a door guy in a white paper beekeeper-inspired contamination suit, and pointed down the street. Like kicking a hive, the alert spread instantly through the roller girl guards. They scattered onto the asphalt, crouched behind parked cars... some even hissed. The runners in the distance stopped and turned human statue as they evaluated how to finish their race "alive." They tackled their final obstacle successfully by responding in true human form: running away and waiting for others to act as bait.

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