At a pastoral park on the outskirts of Liberty, kids on swing sets screamed with delight and happy dogs free of their leashes romped and barked.
It was, after all, a beautiful day, sunny and 60 degrees.
But if you listened closely, you could hear shrieks of a different sort — as runners on soft dirt paths among scrubby trees encountered the undead.
Saturday afternoon marked the first Zombie Frenzy at Stocksdale Park, a running event a bit different from the big Kansas City Marathon that had taken off hours earlier. At this 5K trail run, some regular-looking people ran and some usually regular-looking people who had been transformed into zombies chased the regular runners.
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For anyone not expecting the horrifying sight, blood-red letters on plywood at the entrance warned them: DANGER ZOMBIES.
Among the 150 participants was a bridal party. Kristina Baxter and Ryan Sturm of Kansas City aren’t getting hitched until next June, but the bride-to-be, her attendants, her mom and “auntie” were planning to spend the afternoon dodging zombies.
All were resplendent in multicolored tutus over running pants. Well, except for the bride, who wore white (her tutu, anyway).
“We’re going to protect the bride from anything that comes her way,” said her sister and future maid of honor, Niki Baxter of Bates City, Mo.
Nearby, a young father and his son waited for their group of runners to be sent into the woods.
“I think it’s gonna be a blast,” said Rodney Olmedo of Kansas City, who brought 10-year-old Lukas. “We love zombies, so we’re ready to have some fun.”
Meanwhile, Katy Lilly and husband Robert, made up as scary nurses in “blood”-spattered green scrubs, were ready to do some scaring a couple of weeks before Halloween.
“We’re zombies. Newly infected,” Katy explained. “Ready for brains. Starting the craving.”
As it turns out, the couple from Kansas City are nurses in real life. She is an intensive care nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital on the Country Club Plaza. He’s a former St. Luke’s nurse who works for a medical device company.
Another zombie, Ray Soemer of Edgerton, Kan., runs a lot of typical 5Ks. This was his first “gimmick 5K,” he said, but he was drawn partly by the event’s association with Texas-based Gospel for Asia, a missions group.
Craig Alsup, a founder of Centurion Events, which organized the zombie run, said Centurion would donate 20 percent of profits to Gospel for Asia. Centurion is based in Springfield, Mo.
But back to zombies. Runners were released in groups of 10 or so at a time. Zombies hid throughout the course, but those “stumbler” zombies weren’t the only threat. Shortly after each group of runners took off, chaser zombies went in after them.
Each runner got three “life flags” to wear around the waist, with the goal being to keep those flags away from the hungry zombies.
Hey, if you’re lucky enough to run across a zombie, in broad daylight, that’s only interested in eating cloth flags, you’re having a good day.