No one said the apocalypse would be pretty.
In Milton resident Richard Vaughn’s apocalypse, flesh-eating zombies crawl the earth, because some scientist somewhere injected a monkey with the wrong chemical. Now it’s up to the living to find an antidote. They just have to make it out alive.
That’s how Vaughn will explain the undead horde that will overrun the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Jct. on Saturday, Oct. 20 at the first-ever 5K Zombie-Infested Obstacle Run. Vaughn is the brains behind the operation – unless the zombies eat them, that is.
For the uninitiated, zombies, along with vampires, are en vogue, thanks to the countless television shows and movies paying them homage. Think award-nominated “The Walking Dead” and even kids’ movie “ParaNorman.”
Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published a zombie outbreak manual, a tongue-in-cheek guide for emergency preparedness.
Lately, a new breed of zombie appreciation has cropped up. Zombie races ask runners to navigate muddy obstacle courses filled with the creatures. A la flag football, if they finish with flags, they’ve survived.
Admittedly, Vaughn, 52, is a zombie newbie. The zombie phenomenon happened when he wasn’t looking, but now he’s paying more attention than ever. Planning for a world swarming with zombies is hard work.
Vaughn stumbled on the idea sort of by accident. He buys and sells domain names for fun and purchased www.zombierun.com five years ago. (He also owns pencilskirts.com, clearly for a different audience.) Vaughn got offers throughout the years, but when he got four this summer, he knew he held something valuable.
“Rather than sell the name to them, why aren’t I doing this?” Vaughn asked himself.
So he started posting cryptic messages on Facebook to gauge public interest. After all, he’d seen the feat done in Amesbury, Mass. by a company called Run For Your Lives. Hundreds of people showed up to run a 5K through a muddy field.
Vaughn chose the Expo for its atmosphere: An abandoned fairground is right out of a horror movie.
“When there’s nothing there, there is an energy there,” Vaughn said. “It’s creepy.”
In Vaughn’s zombie narrative, the Expo is a refugee center. (He’s holding a contest to name it, and right now, Fort Eatin’ Allen is taking the lead.)
Visitors are led like cattle through the fairgrounds’ cow barn. There, they meet the zombies, a classic stumbler and a faster predator type, locked behind cages. After the first obstacle, runners enter the state building, or Zombie Research Facility, where it becomes clear that nearly 300 specimens are loose.
Outside, the humans dodge Dumpsters through Apocalypse Alley and race the course toward the midway to warn spectators that the safe zone is no longer safe. They climb hay bales and outsmart the undead who bait them with signs promising, “Free Cookies.”
If they hang on to their flags and get the secret botanical – “It’s October in Vermont; of course it’s going to be an apple,” Vaughn revealed – they might be saved.
While other fun runs like the Tough Mudder or Spartan Race show off a runner’s endurance, they miss something a zombie run has, Vaughn said: A story.
Vaughn studied lit in college; through a reader’s eye, he can understand the world’s fascination with the flesh-eating monsters.
“Every story needs an antagonist, whether it’s Death Eaters or Orcs or what,” Vaughn mused over a meal at Apollo Diner last week. “Zombies are non-seasonal; we happen to be doing it at Halloween, but the apocalypse could happen at any time.”
Since the Book of Revelation was written, people have feared the end times, Vaughn said. The idea of people rising from the dead isn’t foreign, and zombie lore taps into it.
“A lot of those elements you find in literature from ‘Beowulf’ to ‘Harry Potter,’” Vaughn said.
Plus, there’s no remorse in killing a zombie.
Vaughn teamed up with Nightmare Vermont, Burlington-based haunted house experts, to provide cinema-quality makeup for some of the zombies. Milton’s own Project Graduation will run the entrance, and the Northwest Vermont Riding and Driving Club will officiate the course.
Nightmare’s profits go straight to Rotary clubs, and Vaughn – who is fronting this with his own cash – will make a donation to Project Grad. He’ll also give to Smile Train, a cleft palate repair organization; doctors from there repaired his daughter Kaziah’s cleft lip in China, Vaughn said.
So far, nearly 630 people are signed up, including the zombie horde. Vaughn hopes to get 1,000. There will be nine waves, each lasting a half-hour. The race isn’t timed. All participants are invited to a true safe zone after the race for a free beer and live music by Relic.
Spectators can join in the zombie-killing with the Runners’ Revenge: Colchester Paintball will provide paintball guns to shoot at your zombie of choice. Other games are in the works, and there will also be an appearance by a troupe featured on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.” Expect some “Thriller”-like dance moves.
But Vaughn is most excited to watch people’s reactions. Though he said buying “guns and groceries” is the true way to prepare for the zombie apocalypse, neither will help at his zombie run, which he hopes to make an annual event.
And if zombies aren’t in next year, he’s got a Plan B: Hobbits. After all, the movie comes out this December.
“What if I could get 300 hairy-footed, 4-foot-2 people?” Vaughn asked. “The thing is, if I went on Craigslist, I probably could.”
To learn more about the 5K Zombie-Infested Obstacle Run, visit www.zombierun.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Individual runners pay $77 until October 15. Spectators pay $20 to get in; kids under 13 are free.