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NESpahtens.TV: Fred Smith of Smithfest Events in the studio

Fred Smith, of Smithfest Events, Panic in the Dark and the beloved Blizzard Blast visits and talks about his past, his races and where Smithfest is going …

Also available in the iTunes store as a podcast!

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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!

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Featured Review: Panic in the Dark 2013

Panic in the Dark is the epitome of a local race. Hosted by Smithfest events – it’s one of several events of different kinds that they put on in a year – not all of them obstacle or race focussed, so when it comes to event logistics and co-ordination, they know their business.

Panic in the Dark, as the name suggests, is one of the few night time races on the calendar. With a zombie apocalypse theme -the obstacles and terrain would be relatively straight forward in daylight, but when you throw in the darkness, and the shock value of zombies – it changes the game entirely.

Our party had started in the afternoon – Shale Hill Adventure Farms and Icebug Shoes had made the trip down from VT with a full range of Icebugs for people to check out and try on – thanks to everyone who came out to visit, tried on some shoes and took some goodies home! This was happening just a couple of miles away from the Lowell Auditorium – the venue for Panic in the Dark, so it was a really easy drive over, and parking was just $5 in a public lot over the street. If you wanted to brave parking on the streets in Lowell, then parking was free.

Unlike most events, Panic had their entire “festival”, including check in, bag check, after party in one place, then they bussed you to the actual race course – so when we arrived at the auditorium, people were hanging out, meeting their friends and getting excited for the race – with plenty of space and plenty of room to hang out.

2013-11-04 10.18.46

Check in was a little backed up when I arrived – but even this was only a five or so minute wait. We flashed our ID, had our name crossed off a list and got our packet with bib, wrist band and timing chip, before moving over to a shorter line to pick up our T Shirts. Surprise #1 – Smithfest had a special race shirt made up for the New England Spahtens – with the Panic logo on the front, and instead of the usual back full of sponsors, a huge Spahten logo and “Largest Team” – kudos to Smithfest Events – you just stepped the game up for all OCRs who are interested in attracting big teams to their events. I could go on at length about how different OCRs attract big teams and work with big teams – but I think thats a blog post for another day 🙂

1385598_551674274920923_1957190239_nAfter we picked up our shirts and headed into the auditorium – another surprise – a team area set aside, with a fantastic Edible Arrangement for us to snack on, a couple of Panic / Spahten flags were pretty awesome too.

Smithfest stepped the team game up that night. Nice, nice job. Local (and national) Race Directors – consider the bar raised 🙂

Bag check was easy, and free (nice touch).


Our heat time was scheduled for 7pm, but we were a bit behind schedule and probably didn’t go out until about 7:20pm, but that was cool – we had a huge space to fill, over 60 Spahtens to hang out with, and a fun fesitval area to check out. Vendors included Core Power, a Paleo food vendor – a Panic in the Dark store and a professional makeup booth – I don’t know if the shuffling zombies in the huge cages count as vendors, but they helped to set the tone, for sure.

An announcer on the stage would call out the wave times, and when ours was called 60 odd Spahtens headed out to the corridor to line up – we were led through the corridors of the auditorium – handed head torches if needed – and led down into a staging room with a TV, and our lovely host Fred gave us a safety speech. Don’t touch the zombies, and they won’t touch you – use the flashing setting of your torch if you need aid or help at any time – and the amusing safe word – Twinkie!

Then, the horror started – the safety speech was interrupted – the zombie apocalypse had started! We were evacuated from the briefing room with zombies banging on the doors and windows – and hustled through some more corridors to the buses. Zombies in the corridors would jump out to scare you, which got the adrenaline pumping early – our military escort got us on the buses and off to the venue we went.

As a way to get large crowds onto buses for transport at an OCR, it sure beats anything we’ve seen before!

At the venue, we were escorted off the bus by a very serious looking dude who managed to stay in character the entire time – a testament to his acting, and our poor jokes, and even managed to get us to shush – we started up a pitch black road, stepping over zombies who were prone on the ground – then some shouts, screams, and the race was off.

This initial run was quite confusing – with so many people in a pack, you would find zombies lurching out of the crowds, or stepping out of the bushes at the side of the road – and for the entire race, the zombies did an excellent job of popping up at exactly the right moment, or jumping out from the bushes you weren’t expecting them to be behind.

As a course, this didn’t rank up there as a challenging obstacle course – and it’s important to point out it was never meant to. There were a few walls – a couple of 5′ and a bigger, maybe 10′ with three steps. A “through” type wall, a pumpkin carry with a crawl under wall – a couple of balance logs and some “natural terrain” style obstacles – like tennis nets to step over, kiddie play parks to climb through (including slides!) – they had even put out an inflatable kids obstacle course for us to clamber through (which explained the warning of NO SPIKES!).

The trails were a combination of tarmac and packed trail, with a few natural hills to get up – it was a fairly fast flowing course in the end. Again, worth noting that this was designed to be a SCARY course, not a challenging course – it’s debatable if it should even be timed, as the front runners blew through so fast they probably missed some of the biggest scares and fun surprises of the night.

Check out course footage from Jeff

But, timed it was, and that introduces a level of competition – as a result, there were spots that need work to improve course flow and allow fast runners to pass the slow runners – the abandoned bus was neat – but introduced a single track bottle neck that I think everyone was frustrated by – the webbing stretched across it was truly challenging, and slowed us all down to a crawl. In a similar vein, the kids inflatable obstacle introduced a two track bottleneck – although it has to be said, the scary clowns at the end were fantastic.

An especially nice touch was the run through the school. A corridor littered with mouse traps, a room full of TVs with static on the screen, and lots of zombies to jump out at you.

It’s funny – while many of the zombies didn’t really *scare* me – what was spooky was when I was running at sections of the course on my own – being so dark, and running with just a head light, even when there weren’t any zombies, you were still expecting them and waiting for them – the tension was pretty high in places! I was SO expecting zombies to jump out at me during one run down a trail that was littered with carved pumpkins and glow sticks .. it’s almost worse when they didn’t!

GPS Log – started half way in on the bus


2013-11-04 10.17.31Finishing the race was a long tunnel crawl that slowed everyone down, before we crossed the finish line and were handed our sweet finishers medals. I understand the 2012 Panic medals weren’t so hot, so this year, they had glass eyes, and were pretty badass – again, way to step the game up!

Back on the bus to the auditorium, the after party was in full swing. They had a really good band playing, great local beer as a free beer, with it available for purchase at a relatively reasonable price. The paleo meatballs were amazing as a post race snack – and the company, as always, was second to none.

As a team, we took 7 or 8 of the top 10 placements, including a fantastic placement for Corrine, who won the Women’s overall spot, and several high age group placements happened. Racemenu needs to come up with a better way to secure their shoe tags – as many of us lost those during various crawls or tangled rope obstacles – not all race and trail shoes have laces to use (mine did not, and I lost my tag!)

Fred of Smithfest events and Paul of the New England Spahtens post race - thanks Matt of Obstacle Racing Media for the photo!
Fred of Smithfest events and Paul of the New England Spahtens post race – thanks Matt of Obstacle Racing Media for the photo!

As a team, we try to encourage people to #racelocal and support local. When local race directors are putting on events that are this much fun, and this unique, it’s not a tough thing to do. This was a high quality event – and while it wasn’t the toughest physical challenge you’ll find in your race calendar, everyone from place group winners to back markers agreed – this was a fun night out.

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Interview: Panic in the Dark 2013

Panic in the Dark is coming, and it’s looking like it will be a shockingly good time. The race director, Fred Smith of Smithfest Events is no stranger to putting on events of epic proportions (Smithfest Events host the World Championship of Musical Chairs, a massive scavenger hunt *and* the well done Blizzard Blast we took biggest team at earlier this year)

Fred has alluded to lots of shocks, scares and pant wetting – so I wanted to get a bit more info from him … I shot him some questions.

New England Spahten community members can find more information and discount codes for registration right here: and I’ll see you there!


7292_370375216396688_1091711572_nQ) When did Panic in the Dark start, and how big were the events? How does that compare to your 2013 event?

A) Panic in the Dark came about in 2012, originally called Panic in the Park we put together our first OCR to see what the craze was all about and soon we would be part of it. In 2012 we had 325 people participate, In 2013 we are looking to be around 1000 participants.

Q) How long is the distance, and how challenging would you rate the terrain and traditional obstacles you’ll hit us with?

A) The distance will vary each year but this year we are a 5k run. In regards to the terrain it will be very tough as the runners will take a wide array of terrain including the deepest of woods without trails, old trails along the cemetary, hills and much more. The obstacles will include wall climbs, mazes and crawls then add in the darkest day of the year and working from headlamp light and wondering where the next zombie may be will make this a great challenge!

Q) With fewer obstacles, but more horror it sounds like this isn’t a race for the weak of heart – how many zombies are you putting out there? What shocks and scares do you have planned?

A) We are expecting over 125 Zombies on top of our special staff! We cannot discuss the second part of your question, Sorry and Good Luck!

421335_370372989730244_1842088129_nQ) Zombie and horror races are really popular right now – with both the time of the year and the huge boom in OCR in 2013. What is Panic in the Dark offering to set itself apart from other events we’ve attended or have on the calendar?

A) Being the only night zombie OCR sets us apart but not in the way we are looking to! We want to be the scariest race in the country and we do it by being creepy and RAW! No Cheesey stuff here!! We want people to Quit! Not because they are tired but because their pants are wet!

Q) With the race being a late evening race – it sounds like the party will be going into the night – what do you have lined up to keep people hanging around into the wee hours?

A) The After Party Brain Bash will be the ultimate Halloween Party!! With the band BailOut and great vendors, food and drinks we are ready to rip it up til late in the night!

Q) If Sandy is scared enough and punches out a Zombie – will we be invited back?

A) We heard Sandy will Quit before she gets on the bus!