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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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Blizzard Blast 2014 – an interview with Fred

Blizzard Blast is approaching! Only a few weeks away, it’s close enough that Fred Smith, of Smithfest events is looking at the sky and starting his snow dancing …

Last year was the first Blizzard Blast, and we were handily the biggest team there – kicking off our amazing year in some chilly, but great style – and scoring our first team flag in the process. Mike Hastie and the Team Mike McNeil boys led the charge and coralled the troops, and I believe we brought around 40 members.

You can check our reviews from the crew here and here

Blizzard Blast 2014 also launches the first of the #racelocal Grand Prix races – this will be your first chance to log some points and get on the leader board for the Grand Prix series, lasting 6 months, 6 races and giving Elites and Open division runners chance to earn a cool medal, support local racing, and win some cash prizes too. More information on the Grand Prix here.

Team Mike McNeil and the New England Spahtens at Blizzard Blast 2013
Team Mike McNeil and the New England Spahtens at Blizzard Blast 2013


Q: Blizzard Blast is one of a few winter OCRs on the calendar, why pick winter as a theme?
A: We are always looking for different types of events and there are lots of road races in the winter but it seemed like the OCR races ask their patrons to take on all types of adversity but they seem to be running from the cold weather of New England with their events so we decided the OCR community deserved to have something in the dead of winter.

Q: Roughly how long do you expect the course to be, with how many obstacles?

"Through" style walls
“Through” style walls

A: The length is usually about 5k but we have had some changes with some terrain concerns and it will be closer to 4 miles most likely.  We are also looking at an area to add some more length for the elite runners.  The number of obstacles will vary from 15 – 25 depending on how much the snow will allow us to get certain equipment on the course the week of the event.  We have two plans in place but if we have a good amount of snow, that alone is going to be very difficult to deal with as a runner!

Q: Some of your obstacles are winter themed, do you have fun new obstacles for us this year? If so, can you share details of them?
A: As you know we are not big fans of giving out secrets as we think as we move into future years we will leave some things for the mind to wonder what the SmithFest Crew has up their sleeves this year.  But we will have a sledding hill, maybe 2 is we are lucky with snow and will will once again have the famous Christmas tree carry! 

Q: How many people do you expect to brave the elements?
A: We hope to have over 1200 out for the event! 🙂 (Editors note: Almost 100 of those will be New England Spahtens! Join the biggest team!)

The first snow mound of 2013’s race

Q: Blizzard Blast is a little more competitive than Panic in the Dark, tell us about the elite competition you have lined up?
A: We have added the elite heat to add some a new competitive level but even at the open level this will offer a very competitive race.. It will have more running and tough terrain than Panic. The snow, trails and terrain will offer a major obstacle in itself.  On a difficulty level I would much rather run in mud than snow any day if I was looking for the easy way out, but we are not hear to give out hugs so be ready for a difficult race that will definately test you on all levels!! 

Q: Smithfest has given back to the community many times in the past – what are your plans for this event?
A: Well recently we have teamed up with The “Children’s Tumor Foundation” So now if you can raise money for a great cause and if you raise over $150 we will give you a free future race to Panic in the Dark or Blizzard Blast! 

The Spahtens rocked Blizzard Blast!

Q: What feedback from last year have you most taken to heart this time? What are the biggest changes?
A: We are always trying to improve in all our areas but we have really focused making it a great experience for everyone including all the spectators.  I think it is tough to take care of the spectators at Panic with safety in mind so we have really tried to make this a great spectator event close to the main area especially.

Q: Smithfest is also known for rocking parties – what do you have lined up for Blizzard Blast?
A: The set up at Four Oaks Country Club offers great views from a top a hill that will set a great backdrop for large windows, outdoor patio and heated tent that will have an awesome Acoustic show inside, Dj Music outside, Food and drink provided by the venue along with our agility competition and possibly a Keg throw competition as well.

You can sign up for Blizzard Blast 2014 here:

and prices go up on January 10th. Nespahtens5 will save you $5 off the cost of entry, and remember to join team NE Spahtens for a wicked cold time!

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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!