With temperatures peaking in the low 60s, a light breeze and thin cirrus clouds scudding across a blue autumn sky, last Saturday was a perfect day for a run, and the foliage-bedecked grounds of the Williams Lake Resort the perfect setting. There was just that one little glitch: being chased by bands of lurking undead, each one presumably more interested in a snack of human brains than a handful of trail mix.
“You can see the zombies bolt out of the woods and do a little scaring action,” pointed out UlsterCorps director Beth McLendon as competitors, many costumed for Halloween, completed a loop in the eighth annual edition of the Zombie Escape 5K run. “The runners run with football belts with two flags attached. The zombies try to steal the flags. If you finish and still have a flag, you get a special wristband that says, ‘I survived the UlsterCorps Zombie Escape.’”
While most of the racecourse runs through the woods, “There’s also a rock rift, a tunnel and an amazing cave,” noted McLendon, who was clad as a Jedi for the occasion. It’s a timed race, conducted by the Shawangunk Runners’ Club, but on account of the uneven terrain and occasional rock scramble, “They don’t usually get their best times.”
The first finisher, John Lindenauer of Massachusetts, managed it in 17:39.40, but not without losing both his flags to hungry pursuers dressed in rags and zombie makeup. “The first one was in the second loop. Five of them came all around me,” he said at the Finish Line. “The second one was on the last loop. I was weaving through other people going the other way. One who I thought was another runner got me.” “I got killed early,” laughed second-place finisher Jason Friedman. Matthew Waruch, a 14-year-old from Accord who is on the cross-country team for Rondout Valley High School, came in third overall. Sarah Grodin, Clara Flores Reininger and Rebecca Woodward were the fastest three women. And Bill Pape, currently in a race to retain his seat as Rosendale town justice, came in first in the category of Men Aged 60 to 69.
Some serious runners participate, but the Zombie Escape is not the sort of run that one makes in order to qualify for some sort of regional ranking. “It’s our only fundraiser,” said McLendon, and one of only three events that UlsterCorps organizes each year without fail, the others being the Martin Luther King Day Celebration of Service and an annual Service Summit co-sponsored by the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.
UlsterCorps is all about promoting community volunteerism, and engaging potential future volunteers by providing a fun day of outdoor exercise and an excuse to wear weird costumes is all part of the plan for the Zombie Escape. The actors portraying the pursuing zombies are all volunteers and “mostly kids,” according to McLendon. Many of them start getting involved by participating in the 1K Kids’ Run, then the 5K as they get older, then finally decide that it would be more fun to be one of the zombies the next year. Race fees go toward organizational expenses (McLendon is UlsterCorps’ only paid employee), but folks who show up to run or to watch the event often end up signing up for the mailing list or taking home listings of currently available volunteer opportunities.
Sponsors and donors to Zombie Escape 2017 included Radio Woodstock 100.1 WDST, the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, Vaz-Co, FirstCare Medical Center, Ulster Savings Bank, Central Hudson, Antilogy Designs, Blue Q, Davenport Farms, KIND Snacks, Kohls Cares Associates in Action, Peak Magazine, Rock and Snow, Split Rock Recording Studio, Topricin and zgunks.net. Yoshi FX Makeup crafted the highly professional latex-and-paint rotting flesh for many of the zombies, but volunteers and runners alike supplied their own costumes. There were several Wonder Women and a few Batmen, a Ninja Turtle in a tutu, a family of scary clowns and a couple of Angry Birds, a guy in a leather kilt, a cop and a robber running together. Best Costume prizes were awarded to a bespectacled yellow Minion and a team of about a dozen Greek gods and goddesses. Not every runner got dressed up, but everyone seemed to be having genuine fun.
For more information about UlsterCorps’ mission, as well as ever-changing postings of volunteer opportunities throughout the county, visit the website at www.ulstercorps.org.