The Zombie Mud Run is a 5K obstacle course race offered throughout the year. In addition to the mud and obstacles, racers are pursued by zombies. All racers wear belts (similar to those worn by flag football players) with three flags each, representing the brain, heart and entrails. Those who make it through the race with at least one flag remaining are still considered human; those who lose all their flags over the course of the race are considered infected with the zombie virus. (Everyone gets a medal which differs, depending on runners’ status when they finish, as well as a shirt and a complimentary beverage.) In addition, the organizers put on a Zombie Mud Run Junior for participants age 12 and under, accompanied by their parents. (Participants may also elect to be zombies, and to chase racers.)
The organizers of the Zombie Mud Run also own Shocktoberfest, a large-scale haunted attraction in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, with multiple events including a haunted house, haunted hayride, zombie paintball and more. It has been operating for 27 years.
Sports Destination Management: The Zombie Mud Run is incredibly popular. How long have you been offering it – and is it a national event?
Patrick Konopelski: It’s been around for about six or seven years now. It ha always been a regional run that has mainly been in the Northeast.
SDM: Is it offered only in October?
Konopelski: No, we do it throughout the year and it’s been well-received no matter where or when we did it.
SDM: How many people does the run attract?
Konopelski: We’re usually anywhere between 500 and 1,000 people for each of our runs.
SDM: Is there any specific age group you see represented?
Konopelski: Our demographic has always been sort of an 18-40 range.
SDM: And now you have a kids’ run.
Konopelski: Yes, about five years ago, we introduced our Zombie run Junior – we are seeing parents and their kids – sometimes even grandkids – running together. Kids grow up fast, so it’s good to have time with them. They really do have a blast, too; they get to get all dirty and muddy, they get to run from the zombies, but their parents are there to protect them. It’s fun because the whole family can do it – it’s participatory entertainment. You’re not just a spectator who is sitting in the stands watching someone play — you get to be the star and participate and have fun yourself.
SDM: What kind of obstacles does the Zombie Mud Run have? Is it really intimidating?
Konopelski: No – it’s not overtaxing like your Spartans or your Tough Mudders. We don’t concentrate on upper body strength. Some races are really targeted toward alphas. We’re in the category of a fun run. We tend to attract people who have never done this sort of thing before and want to try it. It really is one of the neatest events to put on. I always tell people this: the people who come to our events are the kind I could be best friends with. We have fun people and we attract fun people. Who doesn’t love fun people?
SDM: How scary are the zombies -- and really, the run as a whole?
Konopelski: We really want this to be about the customer’s experience. The people who dress as zombies are also there to make it fun; for them, it’s not about harming people physically or mentally. They’ll chase you and try to grab your flags but that’s it.
SDM: How hard was it to find people who wanted to get involved with this?
Konopelski: Not very hard! I used to be the president of a haunted attraction association – it was made up of people who owned and operated haunted hayrides and haunted trails, etc. It was easy for me tor each out to my friends and ask them to be a part of it.
SDM: What kind of venues do you use?
Konopelski: We like to use haunted scream parks and similar attractions – they already have a lot built in that we can use.
SDM: Do people travel to participate in the Zombie Mud Run? If they’re doing that with a group, like friends or family, it is good economic impact for the area.
Konopelski: We see people who travel from neighboring states and of course, when they do that, they stay at hotels, buy gas, eat at restaurants, go to convenience stores.
SDM: The biggest time for these events, and for Shocktoberfest, of course, is Halloween. Why do you think Halloween has appealed to so many people, for so long?
Konopelski: it’s escapism, it’s entertainment, it’s the ability to go back in time to one’s youth. It gives people the ability to dress up and be something other than what they are 24/7. It touches people on so many different levels. I guess you could say it appeals to literally everyone. It’s not a religious holiday so anyone in the country can enjoy Halloween.
SDM: And the economics of Halloween are huge.
Konopelski: There are so many people making money off the holiday: candy manufacturers, costume manufacturers, people who sell decorations. And it just keeps getting bigger and more complex. When we started Shocktoberfest, we were working with rubber masks and plastic swords. Now it’s all pyrotechnics and computerized effects.
SDM: So you think it’ll keep getting bigger?
Konopelski: Halloween is going to keep getting bigger. Candy bars are the only things getting smaller.