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Featured Review: Panic in the Dark 2014

panicinthedarkPanic in the Dark sits in a slightly unusual position in the race scene. It’s not competitive, or especially difficult. The zombies don’t chase you down for flags, and this year, it wasn’t even timed.

There are obstacles, but they aren’t hugely physically challenging, and the distance was just shy of 3 miles this year.

Yet, it’s one of the few races that has me grinning ear to ear from beginning to end.

1380378_740737716014577_5571060714179663826_nTaking part in Lowell, at night, right around halloween every year – Panic in the Dark has it’s party and festival at the Lowell Auditorium – but the race itself is held at a nearby park. Parking at the auditorium is easy and free (don’t trust your GPS to get you there though!), check in was quick and painless, Team NE Spahtens had custom T Shirts and our own space and wave – once again, if you ran but didn’t sign up under the team, WHY? I truly want to know! Back check was free, and the band playing on stage was good.

Heats were going out quickly and on schedule – like last year, we gathered in a room at the auditorium to get the safety briefing, safe word (“Orange”) and headlamp check. We had our safety briefing and a soldier led us out to the buses – this year, we were piled into the buses right away with the minimum of theatrics and shuttled to the starting area.

10606268_10204267510639724_3442238162841781521_nThe weather this year was unkind. Cold temperatures, damp conditions and non-stop rain – sadly, this affected a lot of the zombie action and hampered the ambience. Unlike 2013, where we were jumped by zombies form the word go, and really never let up until the finish, this year we had our start line drama (including a woman in the group being shot at the start line by guys in Guy Falks / V for Vendetta / Anonymous masks), and we were off into the dark, spooky trails – but little being jumped this year, sadly.

I can’t blame them – it was miserable cold.

Having said that – the course was a winding, sometimes steep, sometimes technical trail through the woods – in the dark – lit only by a headlamp. That, all by itself was a blast. We’d come across the occasional 6′ wall, or through wall – or be directed straight over boulders, or to hurdle over graves. The zombies who braved the weather did nail me more than once, leaping out from behind trees or on the other side of the walls.

There were some great theatrics – despite the weather … early in the race, the revving of chainsaws was a constant background noise, and that was followed up by the roar of motorbikes as we ran through a biker gang on the course – revving their Harley’s so loud it made your teeth chatter. Zombies fenced into batting cages we had to circle were great too!

Showing that the audience for this market is way beyond us OCR runners – I saw folks who, if not for their bib, could have been out for a nature walk – taking the course at walking pace in jeans and jacket – bypassing all the obstacles. Not my thing, but it’s nice to see that the horror fans were coming out for this too.

1380510_10152304773121735_2300763895397066183_nThe school remains a talking point – days after the event. Being let into a dark auditorium in a pack, only for lights and zombies to attack was awesome, but to then get let out into the corridors of the school with no signage, no directional arrows and have to fight for our own way out – that was pretty epic. It took us a while to find the right path – running up and down school corridors, and into other lost runners in the process. Then, when we did get the right path, to have blood curdling screams coming from a bunch of kid zombies – a genuine moment of “oh shit!” and adrenaline rush as we ran for the exit. Nicely done!

Finishing the race with a nod to sister event Blizzard Blast, they had us head down a slip and slide in a tube, before heading over to the finish line for medals and banana’s.

IMG_7875We quickly got back on the bus to the auditorium for post race beers – frowny faces resulted when we didn’t get the first one free – and I wish the band wasn’t so loud, as it stopped us from talking and hanging out as long as we’d have liked – but if you were hanging out, the after party action was fun – costume contest, best zombie contest, good beer.

Smithfest Events know how to put on a great event. Panic was a little muted this year, due to the weather – but thats not something a Race Director has control over, and it’s not something we can hold against them! Great job to Fred, family and crew – and kudos to all the zombies who held their own in the rain and cold! I know this is an event I’ll try to get to again – it’s just too much FUN, and isn’t that the reason we’re here?

Blizzard Blast is coming – it’s also part of our #racelocal Grand Prix – don’t miss it!