DADE CITY — The world didn't end last Friday as predicted by some, but a sizable crowd still flocked to Little Everglades Ranch on Saturday morning to act like it did.
They gathered for the first Zombie 5K at the popular Dade City ranch. Darren and Missy Dietsch of Wesley Chapel had never organized a race prior to the Zombie race and were glad to have a facility like the ranch so close to home. The event was inspired by a comment Darren made to Missy one day, when he said he "wouldn't run unless he was being chased."
"I'm trying to get him into running so when he said that, this sort of clicked for me because he's a horror movie buff," Missy Dietsch said. "I had seen that these were successful elsewhere, but we didn't really have big expectations. We got a great reaction to it and picked today specifically because the world was supposed to end yesterday, so the idea of a zombie apocalypse is still fresh in people's minds. When we saw the facility we saw the barn and immediately thought of the Walking Dead (TV show)."
Participants who signed up as zombies "killed" people by stealing a flag from a flag football belt provided by the race organizers. There were about three runners to every zombie, but participants who ran the race in one of the early waves could choose to stay and become zombies after they were done and those who started as zombies could trade for a chance to run.
Face-painting stations were available for aspiring zombies, who were asked to stay in character.
"We've got crawlers, walkers, some that chase you and we have strategically placed the zombies to be in good positions to get people," Dietsch said. "They come out from the woods and out from behind the obstacles and we want them to stay in character. We told everyone to play the role and make it feel real. I think it's just a really fun twist on traditional exercise."
Despite the morning's cool weather, the event drew about 1,100 participants from as far as Fort Myers. Alex Natali made the trip up to participate first as a zombie leaping from horse stalls and to later run the 5K. Natali, 30, couldn't help but laugh as he scared race runners on their way to the finish line.
"I've never done any kind of acting before, but it's been fun to try and be convincing," Natali said. "The only race I've ever participated in before was the Warrior Dash, but this is a lot more fun because you can try to go after someone and give them a scare."
Most participants ran the race for fun and recreation rather than any sort of fascination with doomsday. Tampa's Rob Vinion, 34, was drawn to the event as a regular 5K runner thinking that this event would offer something completely different from what he's used to.
"The zombies weren't as slow as I figured they would be, they were pretty nimble," Vinion said. "I've never run a race where someone chased me and you're running on uneven ground jumping over obstacles. It was a lot of fun, but almost scary at times cause you didn't know if you were going to twist your ankle and end up getting taken out."