On Saturday (8/22), Fukuoka Now had the opportunity to report on the Zombie Night Athletic Relay Marathon, an event that attracted nearly 600 runners/zombie-philes.
At Hiraodai Park, a mountain top park in Kitakyushu, everyone was enjoying golden late-afternoon sunlight and getting ready to run the relay marathon.
Red Bull, one of the main sponsors of the event, were pumping out fast-paced, upbeat jams from their party truck and giving out free cans of red bull. Runners were limbering up in the sunshine and/or putting on costumes in hopes of winning the Best Dressed Prize. Many had set up tents or picnic blankets on the grass, and were enjoying feasts they’d brought for the occasion. There was the air of a music festival, rather than a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic nightmare.
But then Fukuoka Now went back stage. Here is where the scary began! In the dressing room, actors were having fake wounds sculpted onto their arms and faces, which were then painted with stomach-turning fake blood. The zombification process also included brushing grey and green dust onto their skin to give the look of decomposing flesh. Those already made up were practising their zombie tread, slow and listless, or their teeth gnashing.
Now was the time for the walking dead, eleven corpses in all, to be presented to the crowd. Shortly before the start of the race, the zombies emerged onto the stage, swaying and bashing into various pieces of equipment, to greet everyone before the race started. You could tell that the actors were having a lot of fun with the part, occasionally jerking wildly and pretending to sniff the presenter hungrily as he introduced the rules of the marathon.
The presenter explained that each team had four hours (18:00 ~ 22:00) to make it around the course as many times as they could, each lap equalling a point (all tracked using sensors in the sashes provided). Only one member of each team could run the course at a time, and they would have to get the whole way round without having their tag snatched by a hungry, hungry zombie (apparently tags are the new brains). If your tag was taken, your team wouldn’t receive a point for that lap. The team with the most laps would win. Teams were made up of four to 15 people, and you didn’t necessarily have to run in a fixed order.
So at 18:00 the clock started, and the first set of runners began to pound around the 2 km course, full of excitement and apprehension.
The zombies were concentrated in two main areas, around the middle and the end of the course. At first, the zombies would look confused as runners passed, and maybe take treacle-slow swipes at them. This was still enough to cause panicked giggling or the occasional scream, but the zombies were essentially docile. Seeming to remember their former human identities, they would occasionally wave to or high-five passing runners. In one very memorable instance, they tried to coax a frightened child through the gate of one of the zombie infested zones using clunky bows and creepy “Douuuzooo”s (‘Go ahead’).
But then heavy metal started blaring and the lights began to flash red and blue; suddenly the zombies went from Shaun of the Dead to 28 Days Later. This was “Zombie Time”, a five to ten minute period in which the zombies became ferocious; the most dangerous time to be warm blooded.
They began to pelt after runners, battling them for their tags. The more acrobatic runners showed impressive ducking, diving and jumping skills, but others were not so well adapted for the zombie apocalypse. Some took their defeat in good humour, laughing it off, but some became truly angry, wrestling the undead and then rushing off in a huff.
But once Zombie Time was up and the music had died away, the undead returned to their former sluggish state. Sometimes they would even call out “Gambatteeeee” (‘keep going!’) in their slow, gravelly drawls. Even so, many runners would pelt past these friendly corpses, for fear that they would still be on the course when the next Zombie Time began.
For four hours the runners valiantly made their laps, and Zombie Time occurred more and more frequently as the night went on, driving people to greater speeds despite their tiredness. The darker it got, the more atmospheric the course was, especially in the dark areas where large decorative boulders could feasibly be a stray zombie. But finally, the clock ran out and the finish line was erected, with teams greeting their last runners with cheers and sweaty hugs.
The zombies had one final delight up their ripped and bloody sleeves: they performed an updated version of the Thriller dance, with Micah Ashford (the only gaikokujin zombie) playing MJ. Midway through the song some of the other zombies got into an unexpectedly acrobatic stunt fight! The crowd went wild – it seemed the undead had wormed their way into the hearts of the living. After the appreciative whooping had died down, the winners were announced (prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place were awarded within the categories of Women’s Teams, Men’s Teams, Company Teams and Overall, plus Best Dressed), with all the winning teams receiving prizes befitting marathon runners, such as packs of energy gel (of the kind professional athletes use).
Everyone had a fantastic time (even if they’d been one of those to furiously tussle with a tenacious zombie) and went home with a goody bag containing a commemorative towel. Happy and tired everyone withdrew to de-zombify and rejoice in the fact that there had actually been no World War Z-style apocalypse.
Interview with a Zombie
Fukuoka Now managed to grab gaikokujin zombie, Micah Ashford, 28, for an interview.
How long have you been living in Kyushu?
I’ve been living in Fukuoka for a year now, teaching English at a junior high school. I’m originally from Oregon.
How did you come to be undead?
I’m with the 14+ Acting Troupe (based in Fukuoka), and they were zombies at last year’s event (the first Zombie Night Athletic Relay Marathon), which went so well that they asked us to come back. The plan is that we’ll be zombies next year too! But not all the zombies come from our troupe; most are professional actors who were hired for the night.
So how does one apply to be a zombie at next year’s event?
Unfortunately, only actors can apply. But all the runners are welcome to dress up! We saw a lot of great costumes this year.
Which runner had the best costume?
The man in the wedding dress and blonde wig was pretty hilarious – I tore off his veil while trying to chase him down!
What was the funnest part about being one of the walking dead?
Telling people to stay away from me, or when people told me to stay away from them – that was hilarious! The news crew told me to try and make people cry, and I said, “That’s pretty messed up… I’ll do it!” Everyone had a great time; but sometimes things got serious when you went to take someone’s tag! I actually thought I was going to get punched at some points.
What was the hardest aspect of the zombie lifestyle?
I was essentially sprinting for four hours – I’m exhausted! It’s lucky I do a lot of sports.
Did anyone have a particularly great reaction?
I think my proudest moment was when I made a man in his thirties scream with genuine terror!
Keep your eyes out for an announcement of the next Zombie Night Relay Marathon here on Fukuoka Now, or on the JTB website.