Saratoga County

Running for their lives

Sometimes you have to ride the wave of zombie popularity.

Sometimes you have to ride the wave of zombie popularity.

That’s what Neal Johnson, president and CEO of Special Olympics New York, plans to do with the group’s zombie run fundraisers, which attracted more than 1,500 participants to the Saratoga Spa State Park on Sunday morning. When the idea for a zombie run was first pitched to him, he admitted he was skeptical about its chance for success. A zombie run has competitors trying to safely make it through a five-kilometer trail without losing their belt of flags to waiting zombies.

But now that these races are popping up all over the state and raising more than $40,000 a day for the Special Olympics, Johnson is a believer, although he doesn’t know how long the zombie craze will last. “I’m going to let the young people figure out what the next fad will be,” he said.

Runners and would-be zombies started showing up by the park’s reflecting pool around 7:30 a.m. Runners picked up their bib numbers and belt of flags and the future zombies had makeup applied on their face to get into character before being sent out into the woods to pounce on human flesh.

While a few runners came in special costumes, including a Batman and nerds, it was the zombies who were the most invested in their characters. They came to the park in a range of zombie outfits that included hazmat suits, brides and doctors.

Sue McCabe, of Saratoga Springs, wore a postal carrier’s uniform, which had belonged to her husband, now retired. She and Lisa Fredrich, who was dressed in a onesie and wore contacts that gave her tiny pupils and no iris, greeted the first wave of about 300 runners as they took off en masse.

The runners then disappeared into the narrow trails in the woods, where zombies, usually in packs and sometimes blocking the trails, were waiting to grab the flags from the runners, who zigged, zagged and sprinted a little faster to avoid losing their three flags. Most runners were not very successful evading the zombies, as most flags were stolen after a mile and after two miles it was a rare runner that had even one flag.

Johnson said the event ends up being a “win-win” proposition because it is a successful fundraiser and is a fun experience that is unlike any other 5K.

Learn more about Special Olympics New York at or by calling 1-800-836- 6976. If you’re interested in volunteering, but are worried you might not be useful, Johnson stressed that they’re good at finding ways for people to help.

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