Zombies are killing it.
The Walking Dead arrived on TV in 2010. Zombie obstacle races appeared shortly thereafter. This year, running shoe company Brooks has created a commercial that capitalizes on the phenomenon with zombies jogging along and the tagline, “Running makes you feel alive.”
But the commercial is just the latest symptom of an already full-fledged zombie wave. In fact, Zombies continue to be one of the most popular themes (if not the most popular theme) in novelty races.
“It is hard to ignore the impact of the Zombie-themed mud run and obstacle race,” notes an article in About Sports. These events are a combination of a mud run/obstacle race and a themed fun run. Some are timed while others are purely for fun. These races combine your typical obstacles but also added some undead volunteers lurking in the shadows of the trails.”
In most races, runners wear belts with flags on them, similar to those in flag football. Zombies (volunteers in costume and makeup) are responsible for chasing down runners and grabbing their flags as they try to navigate around and through mud and obstacles. Make it to the end of the race with at least one flag still attached and you can declare yourself free of the zombie virus. There are kids’ races as well, with smaller, less intimidating obstacles and kinder, gentler zombies who are good at making noise and less effective at snatching flags.
The popularity of all these races, notes the article, draw on the popularity of zombies, zombie movies, the undead and the fascination of all things zombie-related. “How often are people able experience the walking dead? Much of the allure of the events is not just running the race but the chance to be a zombie as well.”
In fact, the events have grown in popularity to the point that it is possible to find categorized listings of them online. (One partial calendar of zombie-themed race events is available here.)
The phenomenon of themed and novelty races continues to grow; in fact, Running USA has a calendar of running research reports that shows a special report on costume races in (when else?) October – and turkey trot races in November. Zombie races, it would seem, fall into the costume category – although one never knows whether there might be a mention of zombie-specific activities in the race trends report, due out in June.
The Brooks commercial is perhaps the latest commercial venture to jump onto the undead bandwagon, but it’s unlikely to be the last. Still, it’s pretty enjoyable. It features a horde of zombies chasing a man through a post-apocalyptic world. When the man ducks into a shoe store and cowers in the back, the zombies completely lose it over the shoes and in the next few frames, can be seen running through town, waving to bemused bystanders, petting kitties and moving snails out of harm’s way. It’s meant to be a wave to the transformative (and life-affirming) power of running, according to an article in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily.
The video ran in a shortened form as the brand’s first-ever television commercial during the Olympic Marathon Trials on NBC. The full three-minute version will also run in theaters before the upcoming Jesse Owens biopic, “Race.”
The zombie trend, fueled by TV, books (there are 32,601 titles that include “Zombie” on Amazon), movies and electronic games, isn’t going away any time soon. It could, of course, be possible that zombie sports events are a product of their time. Prior to their advent, vampires were all the rage – but in the time of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1990s and early 2000s), novelty runs didn’t exist. And for the vampires, that bites.