You hear stories about people performing heroic feats in life-and-death scenarios: lifting a car off of a child, swimming for miles to get back to shore from a shipwreck, etc. Like most middle-aged guys, some part of my brain assumes that I would be able to do the same. A lifetime of living vicariously through action movies and video games leads me to believe that my body is just waiting to be unleashed for its superhero moment, like a Manchurian Candidate of fitness.
But, historically, I have not had many of those experiences in my life, so there is no need for an alter ego, yet. Even if I did, building a heart-healthy lifestyle around life-or-death adventures does not seem sustainable. Unless you fake it.
Enter Zombies, Run
I have always participated in sports via the position with the least amount of running (i.e., a catcher in baseball, a lineman in football, etc.). Running has always been the punishment my coaches would use if we got out of line while doing the fun stuff. It was effective punishment for me because I have always been heavy, and the act of running is boring. Running is discomfortable tedium.
Unfortunately for me, running is the only athletic experience my son has expressed interest in, and my blood pressure is too high, so I need to start running now.
The Zombies, Run app is a yearly subscription service that has made running more enjoyable for me. I hesitate to say “fun,” but I at least look forward to running now because that means I will progress in the app.
Every running workout is a chapter in a sprawling story set in a universe going through a zombie apocalypse. Each chapter has a clear in-universe purpose, so your run “matters,” which I find helpful. That purpose, and the advancement of the story, come through high-quality voice acting and sound design similar to a great audiobook or podcast.
The story involves intrigue, conspiracy, comedy, thrills, humanity, and everything in between. Some runs will be about getting supplies for your settlement of survivors; others will be about investigating the origins of the zombie virus, but the story always flows from mission to mission in a logical and captivating manner, with plenty of surprises along the way.
The main way I use the app is via the missions in the main story. However, the app has other stories you can experience, pirates, Victorian England, dinosaurs, and more. While I haven’t gone through any of those experiences, I believe they are similar to the main zombie story.
If episodic adventuring isn’t your motivator, they also have training plans to prepare you for distance racing and virtual races against other users of the app. The virtual races are part of the premium tier of the app, so I haven’t experienced those, but I used the training plan to prepare for my first 5K.
Let’s talk about what it’s like to use the app for a workout.
When you start up the app, you can get to the next mission and start a workout in just two taps. When you do, you are greeted by an intro to the mission. This is delivered by some combination of professional voice actors performing characters you already know. They explain the goal of the mission and send you running; this typically only takes 30-60 seconds, after which they stop talking and music of your choice starts playing.
Depending on the mission and the duration you set for it, you will listen to your music and run for some interval of time. Then the story picks back up. In-universe, you have a radio headset so your base can communicate with you; this allows for the story to continue to unfold while you are on your mission.
This cycle repeats, running with your music and then getting story updates until your mission completes. However, one of my favorite features is the Chases. With this option turned on, you will periodically run into zombies who will begin chasing you. The app uses your phone’s GPS to track your speed throughout the run, and during a zombie chase, you need to run a chosen percentage faster than your average to escape. There is a setting that allows you to specify how frequently you encounter zombies and how much faster you want to run to escape. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been freaked out when running in the dark and the zombie noises start. I certainly find the energy to get moving!
During the run, you also periodically pick up supplies for your base. These occur at frequent but random intervals throughout the run. If a zombie catches you during a chase you will lose some of your supplies, but otherwise, they are nice little accomplishments to boost your motivation during the run. After your workout is finished, you can use those supplies to build up your base in a little in-app base-building game. Nothing elaborate, but a fun addition.
This write-up has been a glowing review; you might even suspect it is a sponsored post (it is not). As much as I love the storyline and experience, the fitness data/tracking experience is lacking.
I have found using the Apple Workout app on my watch to be a more reliable and detailed tool for recording fitness data than the Zombies, Run app (on either the watch or phone).
I still have Zombies, Run record the workout via GPS, so the Chases will work, but I have not allowed it to write workouts to the Health app.
You can see the shortcut I made for smoothly starting a workout in the video below. The running shortcut is at 6:09.
If you drive through my neighborhood, you will see me out there with the other runners two or three times a week. A place I would have never said I would be.
Maybe one day, I will build up enough of an affinity for running that I won’t need the story progression or artificial life-and-death scenarios to get me running. Until then, I’ll happily pay $35 a year for a motivational crutch to build a healthier lifestyle.