WHEN Angelo Cruz combined his lifelong interest in zombies and his passion for running, he never thought he’d come up with a runaway hit - where one is literally chased by the Undead.
Cruz, director of Runtertainment Inc., was working in the US in 2011 when he joined ‘Run For Your Lives,' an billed as ‘The Original Zombie Infested 5k Obstacle Race.' The experience left a strong impression in the young man.
“Ever since growing up I have been a fan of all the zombie movies that have come out. The Outbreak Manila run series was inspired by ‘Run For Your Lives’ in the US. And with countless of hours watching the ‘Walking Dead’ all of these ideas just start flowing in," he told Spin.ph.
It was in 2011 when Cruz and his partners decided to bring a zombie-themed run to the Philippines.
“The thought of people being chased by zombies was a fairly new idea and coincided with the fun-loving nature of Filipinos and how the fun runs at the time were a booming trend in the country,” Cruz said.
The first Outbreak Manila at Nuvali attracted more than 5,000 participants. This was soon followed by more races in Bonifacio Global City and at the Enchanted Kingdom theme park.
Cruz said that they didn’t realize how many people wanted to be chased by zombies, “Among ourselves, we joked that if we only knew people would pay to get chased by zombies this would have happened years ago!”
Two years, four obstacle course races, three live-action survival games and 40,000 participants later, Outbreak Manila has gained the reputation as the country’s longest-running zombie event. Unlike its source of inspiration, which sadly closed its operations late last year, OM attracts a strong following which is not limited to the local running community.
“I like to classify our participants as ‘non-runners.' These are people who have never run in their entire lives but find this concept so interesting that they want to give it a shot. It’s really people who are out to encounter that thrill of zombies - either they are zombie fanatics or they feel this group dynamic we’re introducing is enough of a rush for them to participate," noted the organizer.
What started as a 5K fun run where 200 actors dressed as zombies chased runners to get their ‘life flags’ has since evolved into something more complex, engaging and mentally challenging.
In Outbreak Missions, the folks at Runtertainment decided to up the ante by upgrading the 5K zombie-infested course into a real-life adventure where a group is no longer a hindrance but a requirement to survive.
“We are not a TV show nor are we a movie. We’re not just for viewing pleasure. We want to be able to thrust the people to a movie-like experience with our events," Cruz said.
The Outbreak Missions was first held in October, 2013 at Filinvest City. Unlike a fun run, it was mission-based with a story line called the ‘Adarna Initiative’ where people were required to search for a rumored cure for a fictional zombie outbreak.
The second leg, called ‘The Narrows,' required participants to find an escape from the zombie horde. More than 10,000 people took part in this episode which led them to stage an encore event in November which attracted an additional 12,000 participants.
“We are very proud that out of the Outbreak events, Outbreak Missions had the best feedback," Cruz said.
A key to Outbreak’s success is their attention to detail to maintain an atmosphere where participants adopt a ‘suspension of disbelief’ - the ‘zombies’ do not only look realistic but actually have to audition and attend a ‘zombie school’ to prepare for their roles; the Non-Player Characters who do not break character; the props used for the locations and in the case of Outbreak Missions, a script straight out of Hollywood horror movies.
“We get positive feedback on how realistic it is - parang Walking Dead na napapanood nila.”
Building on their success last year, organizers are bringing the next installment, Operation Stronghold, to the Walled City of Intramuros on April 5.
From passages in forests and a shopping mall, 5,000 participants will find themselves in the streets of Manila’s Walled City.
“It’s not just paved roads but tunnels, dungeons and excavation areas - everything a zombie fanatic would look for. Not only will they encounter the zombies from past Outbreaks but they will also be facing Spanish zombies, American zombies, Japanese zombies and even Guardia Civil - these will all come into play in the rich historical context of Intramuros,” Cruz said.
The Manila event has no race categories and the route is totally dependent on the participant’s choices. If a 10-member group makes all the ‘right’ decisions, it can be done in less than 3 to 4 kilometers while ‘wrong’ decisions can make it as long as 7 to 8 km.
“It’s no longer a linear start to finish. This is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ with zombies and minus the book pages,” he added.
“We believe the environment sets up for the scariest Outbreak yet. A funny story - out of all the venues we’ve done oculars in, it was only here that four grown men actually had to embrace each other while checking out the venue. (laughs)”
“Just the environment itself really sets up a high fear factor to begin with. To mix it up with zombies will just take it to a different level.”
And breaks the monotony of a cardio exercise.