Pensacon Zombie Run: The undead unite for a good cause

10:17 AM, Feb 17, 2014   |    comments
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Zombie Amber Varley presses against the gate Sunday at the Run For Their Lives Zombie Run. Visit for more photos and a video from the event.


Pensacola, Florida (PNJ) -- On an average Sunday morning in downtown Pensacola, the streets are usually quiet. Businesses and offices are closed, vehicles are few and far between, and there are a handful of residents taking leisurely walks down the sidewalks.

However, on this particular Sunday morning, the streets were far from quiet, average or ordinary. They were alive. No, strike that. They were undead.

Just before 7 a.m., mauled up citizens, bloodied brides and other members of the zombie nation began to crawl in and gather in the parking lot of World of Beer on Palafox Place to participate in the first Run For Their Lives Zombie Run.

Worldof Beer teamed up with Manna Food Pantries and Pensacon - set from Friday through Sunday at the Pensacola Bay Center and the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel - for the event.

The run kicked off Pensacon's wondrous celebration of fantasy and sci-fi festivities. In order to register for the Sunday run, participants were expected to bring a donation of three to five cans of food for Manna Food Pantries.

Local businesses in the Pensacola area, such as Exhibit Transfer Inc., made it a true philanthropic effort, making a single donation of nearly 500 cans to Manna Food Pantries.

Event coordinator Will Phillips had just 11 days to plan the event.

"It was not easy," he said. "But I would definitely do it all over again. This is something for Pensacola. We're trying to grow the downtown area while giving back to the community."

While some zombie participants took the traditional approach with their costumes, opting for a bloody wedding dress or overalls and a hockey mask, some decided to take their work with them.

Stacey Byrd, along with two of her co-workers at McGuire's, chose to bizarrely alter their uniforms for the occasion.

"I decided to do this at the last minute," Byrd said, "I was going to be a bride, but I thought that would be overplayed. I have a million work uniforms, so I just threw one on. I thought I'd be different."

Professional makeup artists also were on hand to make participants look authentic with scars, dark circles under their eyes and gashes on their skin.

Participants were able to choose between being a zombie or a survivor for the event. Survivors wore white shirts and ribbons to identify themselves as living.

"It's more fun to be chased," survivor runner Elena Pratt said. "It's not every day you get to be chased by zombies."

The object of the game, of course, was to not get caught by the zombies as they shambled in their inimitable zombie way down Palafox with fits and starts punctuated with inhuman grunts and groans.

The zombies were gathered behind a metal fence, while the survivors were free to run. Once the zombies were unleashed, it was fair game.

Some survivor runners went into the event with a strategy.

Joshua Bruening, a fourth-grader at Ferry Pass Elementary, is part of his school's jogging team.

"I'm planning to be as close to the front as possible. That way, when the zombies get out of the fence, they won't be able to catch me," Joshua said.

More than 1,000 people attended the event, and a special celebrity runner also was among the crowd.

Pensacola native Jerrad Vunovich, an actor in the smash film "The Hunger Games" and AMC's "The Walking Dead" was interacting with participants and admiring their choice of costumes.

"None of this would have been allowed on the set of 'The Walking Dead,' " Vunovich said. "There are no sunglasses, no sparkles, no tiaras. The outfits are hand-picked, and only earth tones are allowed in order to make the actors look like they've been dead a long time."

As he watched nearly two dozen animated corpses crawl on top of an older model Buick for a photo shoot, Phillips summed up the experience and gave a hint to what to expect when Pensacon begins Friday.

"This is what we do," he said. "It's creative. It's wild. It's crazy. This is Pensacon."

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