A helicopter hovers overhead. Somewhere in the distance, a car explodes. Police and firefighters wait at every corner.
At the Escape From Baton Rouge 5K Saturday night, a host of foreboding scenes will greet runners downtown.
“They don’t know if it’s a crazy virus outbreak. They don’t know if it’s foreign forces coming after us,” said David Poleto, the event’s organizer. “They just know that they need to get out and they need to get out quick.”
Runners shouldn’t try to get away too quickly. They need to slow down to marvel at the post-apocalyptic wasteland that The Escape From run will create, Poleto said.
“Victims” of some kind of disaster will wander the streets with lifelike makeup by the artists at The 13th Gate haunted house. Fires and exploding cars will line the sidewalks, and runners will pass through military checkpoints. This isn’t the kind of course that elite runners choose to set a personal record for 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles.
“I hope that most people come out to enjoy the experience,” Poleto said. “I think that if you come out to set a personal best you will miss out on all the great audio and visual sights and sounds throughout the course.”
Beginning at 8 p.m., just as the sun goes down, the run will start from the corner of North 4th Street and Spanish Town Road just south of the Capitol. Helicopters from Guidance Aviation will hover over the start, Poleto said.
It’s not a race. Everyone who completes the course will receive a medal.
There are no obstacles to jump over or crawl through, and no one will chase the runners. Runners — or walkers — of nearly any level can complete the course.
“Some participants will want to run through the entire course and some will want to walk,” Poleto said. “It’s about coming out and sharing in the experience. That’s the exciting thing – no one is excluded in this experience.”
Running at night is key to that experience, Poleto said.
“You turn down the lights and you turn up the sound and add the visuals, and all of a sudden something as safe as downtown Baton Rouge can be quite ominous.”
Poleto, a Baton Rouge resident, said the city’s running scene has been welcoming to different themes, from color runs that involve coating participants in colored powder, to zombie runs where actors portraying the living dead chase runners through a field.
“They are looking for new and innovative ways to stay active and fit,” Poleto said.
For 20 years, Poleto has planned and promoted runs and races along the Gulf Coast. He also coordinates the Gulf Coast Adventure Racing Series and the annual Play Dirty Adventure Trail Run.
The Escape From race is probably his biggest. He expects 1,000 participants, and 150 volunteers will assist 50 staff members at the event.
Police and firefighters will be on scene, treating it as a training for disaster scenarios. The Red Cross will bring its disaster response team to complete the effect.
A second Escape race is being planned for Oct. 4 in Jefferson Parish.
“It will be quite an epic adventure to put on,” Poleto said.