While the world did not end Dec. 21, more than 1,000 people from across Florida, including New Port Richey resident Stu Olsen, found themselves running from zombies the next day.
The 5K Zombie Run, which featured an obstacle course infested with the walking dead, was held Dec. 22 at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. For a $90 registration fee, participants could run from zombies in the chilly morning air.
"Take a normal 5K and then add zombies who are trying to steal your flag football flags," Olsen, 31, said. We ran as a team, helping each other over obstacles and forming up when there were zombies coming. It's very easy to get winded on a run like this because you have to sprint to avoid the undead."
Olsen's five-person team, which included his brother Ole, signed their liability waivers and headed to the sidelines to stretch and talk about previous 5Ks they have run.
The runners wore three flags, as in flag football, and a horde of zombies tried to pluck the flags as the runners passed. The flags represented life and anyone ending the run with at least one flag won bragging rights.
"A friend of mine found out I was running for fitness and said, 'Hey, there's this zombie run and you really have to sign up for it,' " Olsen said. "So I did. I'm a bit of a zombie buff."
Olsen has run several races in Florida this year, including the Run For Your Lives 5K zombie race in Clermont, Blueberry Stomp Mud Run in Plant City and The Color Run St. Petersburg.
With a knitted bullet bandolier scarf wrapped around his neck, Olsen took off on the announcer's signal. He climbed hay bales, skirted through hordes of zombies shambling on the wooded trails and lost his life in the dark, dusty, narrow passageway in an old barn to a zombie who snatched his last flag with one bloody, outstretched hand.
"You can't really pace yourself," Olsen said. "Once the zombies come after you, it's go time. You have to run full steam and I don't run full steam. I'm slow. Sometimes I walk, but you can't do that when you're being chased."
The barn was an obstacle inspired by AMC's "The Walking Dead." The series, the highest-rated in the cable TV network's history, follows a group of post-zombie apocalypse survivors.
On the show, farm owner Hershel Greene keeps zombie family members and neighbors in the barn. In this race, runners had to sprint through a barn full of zombies without losing their flags.
"My team was doing well in the first two-thirds of the race but we got decimated in the barn full of walkers," Olsen said. "Only two of the five survived."
After Olsen lost his flags, he continued the race with his team and ran ahead to distract zombies while the remaining survivors sprinted past him.
At the finish line, survivors and newly reanimated zombies alike received medals for their participation. Live music, beer and vendors awaited them in the post-apocalyptic stadium seating area.
"I was tired but felt victorious," Olsen said. "It was a very fun day and was worth the money. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do for next year's race."
With a cup of beer in hand, Olsen got zombified by makeup artists and headed back to the obstacle course to infect other runners. He snatched flags at the hay bales and at the pool of blood near the finish line.
"Being a zombie was a blast after running the race as bait," Olsen said. "We got to hit the same wave of runners at the beginning and the end."
The race was the brainchild of Missy and Darren Dietsch. She is a runner and he is a fan of horror flicks, so they put the two passions together after they heard about a zombie 5K run elsewhere.
A portion of proceeds from the run will be donated to the American Red Cross.