Sometimes while running I used to play this little game with myself where I imagined someone was chasing me. I'd sprint for a couple of blocks until I "evaded the chaser," then returned to normal pace. It's a fun way to work in some intervals, but I didn't have a system to regulate these bursts of speed, and if imagining a creepy dude chasing me motivated me to run more quickly, what could I imagine to push me to run even faster?
Zombies. Zombies are probably the number one motivator to run as absolutely fast as you can. So when I learned about the Zombies, Run! run app, wherein you can hear the zombies breathing down your neck as you run, I was super interested to try it out.
Zombies, Run! is an app that's a GPS tracker (like RunKeeper) with an evolving storyline... a storyline where you have to run from zombies while collecting supplies to help you and the rest of the Zombie survivors ward off the undead. You throw on your headphones, select a mission to complete, and listen to the storyline unfold as you trot along. Dispatchers speak to you through your headphones telling you what's going on, where to run to next ("The abandoned hospital") and where the next pack of zombies lie. In between their dispatches, you'll hear your own music stored on your phone throughout that run.
That's just the general option. However, there is an option to turn on the "Zombie Chase" mode... wherein a robotic voice pops in at random intervals to warn you that zombies have been detected... shortly, he'll chime in again and tell you the zombies are 100 meters away, 50 meters away, 20 meters away... until they get close enough you can hear them groaning and gurgling in your ears. You have to speed up in your run to get away from them... so it's the ultimate interval workout. Plus, who wouldn't pick up their pace if a pack of imaginary zombies was clawing at their heels?!
Yesterday I attempted Season 1 (Season 2 was just released), mission 1. I selected the option to keep the mission going for about half an hour, and, of course, enabled the Zombie Chase mode (when enabling, you will get a warning about keeping aware of traffic and staying safe when sprinting away from the zombies... I will say, once I was in the middle of running from zombies and was caught because I was waiting at a traffic light... the ultimate bummer). The story starts out with the dispatchers giving the background on what's happened: that is, zombies are everywhere, fiending for your brains, and you need to get to the base camp to bring supplies to those inside.
I took off running at my usual 4.5-mile pace (around 8:20-8:30/mile). About half a mile into my run, the robotic voice chimed in saying zombies had been detected. At that point, I wasn't quite sure when I was supposed to speed up or exactly how fast I had to go to escape them. I picked up the pace a bit, then was warned they were 20 meters away from me. I kept running at the same slight pick-up, but heard the zombies breathing down my neck shortly, and then... nothing. Well, shit. I was caught by the zombies half a mile into my run. It was then that I realized when it says you have to run away from the zombies fast, you really have to f'ing sprint. I'm not the fastest runner ever, but I wouldn't consider myself slow... so I couldn't believe I'd been so easily caught. How could runners who typically run at a slower pace than this ever get away from the zombies? After I got home I looked it up and apparently the Zombie Chase mode calculates your average pace over the previous 30 seconds, and once the zombies are detected, you must increase your pace by 20% from this average pace. You must maintain that increased pace for one minute in order to escape the zombies.
Okay, no wonder I was caught! Within my 4.5-mile run, I was chased by zombies six times... I escaped three times and was caught three times. And I swear that the app just knew when I was running up hills; there are four decent-sized hills on the route I took, with one being a pretty long, gradual hill... I was chased by zombies on three of those hills, so it was a double effort to get away from them! I realized that on my next mission, I truly need to go into this as an interval training-style run: slowing my pace in between the zombie chases so I don't wipe out halfway through the overall run. Because, folks, I was wiped by the time I got home. It was a great workout! I wouldn't have thrown in those intervals if I just would have gone out on my own.
So, obviously my favorite part of the app is the Zombie Chase. It's what keeps you motivated and working hard throughout the mission. Without the Zombie Chase, you just kind of listen to the storyline unfold in your headphones. Yes, you do pick up supplies here and there, but you don't have to do anything to pick them up; you basically just keep running and when you pick anything up (a First Aid kit, a bottle of water, etc.), you're alerted through your headphones. Because it was my first mission, I wasn't too engaged in the storyline, but I've read that as you keep going you get more invested in the story from mission to mission.
As I said, my run was about 4.5 miles, however the mission was only to last half an hour. So after I completed my mission, I was congratulated and then informed the app would go into radio mode. In radio mode, you just listen to your own tunes until you finish your run, but the Zombie Chase mode is still active. I like that you've got the option to stay within the app and the zombies still chase you even though you've completed a mission. However, if the zombies do catch you even when you're in radio mode, you will lose all the supplies you've acquired to that point. So you can't just ignore the warnings.
My initial thought, when I was in the middle of my first zombie chase, was how fun this app would be if you used it while running at night. I was running on a gorgeous, sunny evening through a busy neighborhood, so I really had to use my imagination to believe I was being chased by zombies. However, if I were out at dark (with the protection of street lights), I'm sure I would've been more excited (and scared!) by the entire thing. What's more, I think running with this app would be a blast if you were running trails through a secluded forest.
If you enjoy running, or need an extra motivator while you run to escape any monotony, I'd recommend downloading Zombies, Run! While the stat-obsessor in me prefers using my Garmin watch (you do have the option of looking at your run statistics, but they're fairly watered down compared to what you get with a Garmin), it is nice to have for those who simply want to see their average pace and distance throughout their run.
Based on concept alone and functionality of the app, I'm a fan. I probably wouldn't think it was worth my money if not for the zombie chase option, but hopefully this app will motivate people to run who otherwise aren't into it. As for me, I'll work it in between regular runs a couple times a week and see how the story unfolds. If nothing else, it will force me to work in some sprint intervals (something I rarely do unless I'm training for a race), and make me feel like a badass for outrunning the brain-thirsty undead.