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Living dead give chase through Hamsterley Forest
Cargo nets, river crossings, muddy tunnels and hoards of terrifying zombies? the latest sporting challenge to hit the region is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Lizzie Anderson runs for her life.
IT'S a beautiful March morning - the sun is shining, the birds are singing and all is calm at Hamsterley Forest. All of a sudden a blood curdling scream pierces the air.
It is followed by another and another, as a crowd of runners appear in the distance. The County Durham forest's first Zombie Run is in full swing and I am in the midst of the group, desperately trying to negotiate the woodland terrain and avoid the outstretched arms of the 'walking dead'.
Okay, so they may not be real but they certainly looked the part.
For those wondering what I'm talking about, zombie running is a bizarre new fitness craze that has already taken the United States by storm.
And now, thanks to business partners Penny Hann and Lee McCay, of Skulltopia Events, and the Forestry Commission, the pulse quickening phenomena is sweeping the North-East.
Laura, on the other hand, fared slightly better and managed to keep one tag intact for a further 30 minutes until she was taken out by the nun.
Inspired by horror films such as Dawn of the Dead, the concept is simple.
The world has been overrun by the flesh eating undead and participants are challenged to reach a safe zone.
This involves completing a 5k run through the forest and overcoming assault course obstacles, while being chased by a chilling gang of costumed zombies.
Each runner wears a belt with three tags representing lives and the zombies' aim is to snatch all three tags.
On Saturday, runners were divided into three groups; slow, medium and fast, with start times staggered throughout the day.
My friend Laura Jenkin and I opted for the medium paced group and found ourselves with a friendly bunch of around 20 other excited runners.
We were guided around the course by the 'militia' who advised us to work as a team and keep our eyes peeled for zombies at all times.
It was great fun from the outset. The first zombie attack happened within minutes and was truly frightening.
From businessmen with missing limbs and rotting faces; to decomposing nuns and a terrifying clown - no expense had been spared on costume and make-up.
After successfully climbing through a large tyre suspended from a tree, I found myself surrounded by our putrid pursuers and lost all three tags at once.
Laura, on the other hand, fared slightly better and managed to keep one tag intact for a further 30 minutes until she was taken out by a nun!
Even after we lost our tags, the zombie attacks proved just as scary and it was exciting observing the fortunes of fellow runners.
The course was also challenging and added to the experience. As well as climbing under nets, crossing rivers and squeezing through muddy tunnels, we also took turns to carry a casualty on a stretcher.
All-in-all, it was exhausting, frightening and the most fun I have had in ages. Who said zombies aren't quick on their feet.
To find out about future Zombie Runs and other events visit skulltopia-events.co.uk