In the film Zombieland, “cardio” is rule #1 of escaping a zombie horde.  Being a physically fit runner proved very useful this past weekend in moments where I was charged down by police in riot gear and on horseback while milling about with an orderly, peaceful crowd.  I won’t go on a rant about police behaviour here but instead try to provide useful information about what it’s like to try to escape something terrifying and/or dangerous along with hundreds of other people.  What I learned seems applicable to any situation where one is in a group that suddenly stampedes as in an emergency.  I’m sharing this because it may be life-savingly useful to somebody out there one day.

If you foresee a panic about to happen:

  • Have at least one escape route.  You won’t have time to stop and think when “it” happens, whenever “it” is, and your first choice may get cut off.
  • I know its a bit trite, but try to remain calm.  When the crowd starts running, people WILL scream and panic.  Prepare yourself for this mentally.  If you haven’t spent much time around civil unrest the experience can be frightening.  Remember Miyamoto Musashi’s quote about calm in combat: “let there be no change in the state of mind—with the mind open and direct, neither tense nor unfocused….calmly relax your mind, and savour this moment of peace.”

When it happens:

  • Yes, being fit/a runner will help, but not as much as you think, because:
    • Unless you’re running for a long time, it’ll all be anaerobic, so your endurance won’t play much of a part, at least not right away.
    • Idiots will sometimes block you, not just by being slower, but by stopping to look back at whatever caused the panic.
    • You won’t be running along a nice straight flat path so stuff WILL get in your way.
    • Moreover, if you *are* running scared, your form will likely degrade quickly
  • Run farther away than you think you need to go.  If things become safe again, you can always go back
  • Remember how fear makes people reckless, including you, and how this can lead to injury of yourself or others.