A Maryland-based company whose zombie-themed 5K races spread across the country in recent years has abruptly canceled all events, leaving scores of angry and disappointed ticket-holders wondering what happened.
"It is with great sadness that we are notifying you that the Run For Your Lives event you have purchased a ticket for has been canceled," read emails sent Wednesday. Races had been scheduled for Saturday in Arizona and Nov. 16 in Clermont, Fla.
Tickets for this weekend's Arizona race had been priced at $35 to $97. On social media, some disappointed participants said they had planned trips around the events.
"At this point, all events are postponed indefinitely and you should contact your bank for a full refund," the five-sentence email from Run for Your Lives concluded.
By midafternoon Wednesday, about 100 people had commented on the Run for Your Lives Facebook page, expressing frustration and anger. By late afternoon, the page was no longer accessible.
"We had to make a really tough decision today," said William Ward, vice president of marketing for Run for Your Lives LLC. The company laid off all its employees Wednesday, a decision he said affected about 20 people, himself included.
Ward said attendance had fallen off by about half from last year. An estimated 12,000 people took part in a zombie run in Darlington, Harford County, in December 2012. He blamed increased competition for much of the drop-off.
"That right there is one of the hard baseline facts of what has led to this situation," he said.
Ward said he did not know whether the company was seeking bankruptcy protection or whether it would offer refunds to ticket buyers.
"It is a question that remains open," he said. "No one wants to say 'No' to that, but I don't know what [the company] is capable of, or what is legal at this point."
The first Run for Your Lives, in which people dressed as zombies chased participants, raced through Darlington in 2011; organizers Derrick Smith and Ryan Hogan were soon organizing similar zombie runs throughout the country. The company also organized a Tomato Run, at which participants were pelted with tomatoes, that took place in Aberdeen earlier this month.
Ward, who had been with the company since April, said Smith had left before he joined.
Mark Gillins, a television editor living north of Los Angeles, ran his first Run for Your Lives race last month and was looking forward to another one planned for March.
"I was telling all my friends to sign up," said Gillins, who planned on running with his wife, brother-in-law and cousin. "I'm frustrated with Run for Your Lives. They were selling tickets and offering discounts up until last night. I feel like something this major doesn't happen without forewarning."
Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.