I’ve heard it all from my non-fangirl compadres. Geeks are pasty. They’re pudgy or scrawny. They have the body coloring of a pickled egg and the muscle mass of an Earthworm. They fear the sun and outdoors worse than a vampire emo-band and the only “sports” injury they ever endure is carpel tunnel syndrome.
Funny, yes. True, not so much. Many fanboys and gals enjoy getting out and getting fit as much as the next person. No, really we do. The only difference is we aren’t always content to walk a treadmill looking at digital numbers or running amongst a mass of similarly dressed people down a blocked-off city street. We need some flash, some role-playing, some galactic-size goal to achieve.
We need zombies, swords, lightsabers and fairy wings….and from the looks of the rise in popularity of nerd-tinged events nationwide it seems everyone else secretly does, too.
Yes, we geeks do know how to exercise and move; we just want have a lot more fun doing it.
“Course of the Force” Lightsaber Relay
When the buzz for San Diego Comic Con International was brewing this summer, this inaugural 100-mile West Coast Santa Monica-to-San Diego Light Saber relay run held July 7-11 this year was getting a lot of attention. For good reason too, because what’s not to love about this Star Wars-intensive run complete with nightly parties or concerts along the way, well-publicized podcasts and shows with the Nerdist himself (and event-co-host), Chris Hardwick, and geek-friendly celebrity runners reportedly taking part from “Chuck” star Zachary Levi and “Teen Wolf” regular Tyler Posey and Kal Penn of the “Harold and Kumar” movies to models, film critic’s and members of the aptly-named L.A. Galaxy pro soccer team.
Not only could participants run along the beach wielding their custom Course of the Force lightsabers in Jedi robes or Mandelorian helmets on their way to Comic Con, snooze on the boardwalk in Taun Taun sleeping bags, and party like a cantina band every night, they also got a Swag Bag filled with enough geeky goodies to rival even the ‘Con awaiting finishers in San Diego.
Most importantly they could feel good knowing 100 percent of their registration bucks went to several regional chapters of the more-than-worthy Make-A-Wish Foundation. Non-runners could raise additional funds for Make-A-Wish in a related eBay auction of Star Wars-themed merchandize.
Will this event return next year? At around 400 registered runners (plus countless other participants) donating $500 a pop for a great cause I will misquote the source and say “I have a good feeling about this.”
Learn more: courseoftheforce.com.
“Run For You Lives” 5K zombie run series
Zombie runs are spreading like, well, like a zombie apocalypse, where runners can not only make their way across scenic terrain, they can escape the clutches of the throngs of undead. These zombie-themed runs can be found in plenty of cities (there are even two good ones that I know of in my little dusty neck of the woods), but “Run For Your Lives” is one of the fastest growing, having exploded from a one-city to 12-city event in just one year.
The first event, created by Reed Street Productions, begin last year in Darlington, MD during October drawing 10,000 runners and spectators. This initial success must have been an indication to event organizers that it was time for their zombie run to “invade” other cities throughout the United States and in Canada. This year’s runs started as early as March and continue through December with run sites in Atalanta, Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Denver, Seattle/Portland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Diego/Los Angeles, Baltimore and Austin.
The concept is easy, “human” runners traipse through a series of obstacles including zombie carnage and an icy pool of blood while being constantly pursued by zombies. Runners wear a flag-football style belts with flags attached the zombies try to take. Prize are awarded in various categories to the “survivors,” but even those without flags (those turned into zombies) get a medal and can attend a rockin’ Apocalypse Party along with music, fun and even more zombies. Part of the ticket cost for this event goes to the American Red Cross.
Learn more: runforyourlives.com.
The “runDisney” events
No other run series encourages cosplay like the Disney events. And, they host them all on both coasts: marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5K, 10-milers, kids’ runs, you name it….against the backdrop of a Disney park.
Both Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando host full or half marathons that sell out with amazing speed. There are themed runs such as the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler, which includes a haunted trail run, and the Tinker Bell Half Marathon on the West Coast and the Princess Half Marathon and Expedition Everest Challenge 5K trek and scavenger hunt in Florida. There are, of course, parties, goodies, character meets and more for participants of all ages.
What really bring these into to the geek radar, however, are the actual participants. People from all over the world come to race in their best tutu, fairy wings, pirate hat, mouse ears, pumpkin king masks and princess crowns (including the burliest of dudes). Being a family atmosphere, there are some rules and regulations for the costumes, specifically no face masks or costumes they deem “questionable or offensive” — hey, it’s their park, they make the rules — but between the male runners in princess drag or fit females flaunting their Tinker Bell shorty-shorts, there’s a lot of leeway for the creative cosplayer not afraid of cramping.
Learn more: rundisney.com.
Skirmish USA Paintball fields
Here, I depart from the running to something the gamer and role-playing crowd can embrace: the live play combat world of paintball.
For those who are hardcore about this practice, the most drool-worthy destination has to be the 700-acre paintball paradise of Skirmish USA in Albrightsville, Penn. As the “World’s Premier Paintball Facility,” there are a least 50 different playing fields here, with almost as many different settings, from wooded forests to cityscapes. Obstacles like tanks, forts and fallen helicopters and even castles to protect give paint ball players of all skill levels a choice of several battle scenarios from medieval to modern.
They also host theme-specific scenarios throughout the year including “Castle Night” battles in the fall, “The Plaque Wars” battle centered on the scenario of “what if Great Britain and Germany both decide to occupy France,” a “Zombies Invade Berlin” scenario and a Paddle and Battles event in October that blends paintball with river rafting.
Their biggest battle by a long shot, however, is their “Invasion of Normandy” scenario, named the Largest Paintball Game in the World that draws around 4,000 players every July. After this event, sitting down to “Call of Duty” will feel like playing Pong.
Learn more: skirmish.com.
The Pennsic War
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the original geek fitness freaks, the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) and their single biggest “war” and camping event, The Pennsic War. The name is mashup of the circa-200 BC Punic Wars (yes, they were real) and the modern day setting in good ole’ Coopers’ Lake Campground in Pennsylvania.
The war even comes with it’s own origin: “When Cariadoc of the Bow was King of the Middle, he thought it would be entertaining to have a war between the East and Middle Kingdoms. He sent a declaration of war to the East in A.S. 5, but nothing ever came of it. By A.S. 7, Cariadoc had moved and become King of the East, whereupon he found the old declaration of war and promptly accepted.”
Long story short, Easterners won, but the battle rages on (for about 17 days during the summer, when everyone has the time off from school or computer camp).
All kidding aside, this is a HUGE event that’s been going on for more than 40 years. It draws upwards of 10,000 people from around the world, both SCA-members and nonmembers, rarin’ to go in battles and competitions and tournaments in archery (both target and combat), rapier, siege weapons, thrown weapons, waterbearing and a kingdom’s worth of other combat.
Of course, there are plenty for the non-participants to enjoy with medieval-era reenactments, demonstrations, camping and other activities, in this annual multicultural escape from reality.
The longevity of this alone is impressive, especially nowadays when crazes (even geeky ones) come and go like a plague of locust. These SCA Lords and Ladies take their playtime seriously. For that kind of endurance and loyalty, if for no other reason, I bid them well with future journeys.
Next month: The Happiest Haunts: a little chat with Haunted Mansion aficionados Ray Keim and Chef Mayhem.