Treadmill running is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I even own a treadmill and yet, for months on end, it sits there, gathering dust and being used as an impromptu rack for drying washing.
I’d always had a similar relationship with indoor cycling. It was anathema to me, a necessary evil that one does only when there are no possible alternatives. And then I discovered Zwift. It was my ‘eureka’ moment: suddenly I was transported in to a virtual world where I could train with other cyclists, all from the relative comfort of my own garage.
Launched in 2014, there are now 500,000 cyclists signed up to Zwift, averaging 1million miles a day between them. Users simply log in, sync their turbo trainer up to their iPad or computer and then either ride courses or complete any of the built-in interval sessions. There are even 12-week training programmes to build fitness.
And now this virtual training ground is coming to the running market. Anyone in the know had been able to trial the running version of Zwift if you knew where to press on the screen interface; now the makers have updated the app to include a running tab.
What do you need?
Set up your account, download the app and, once logged in, select the running tab. You’ll need a foot pod (we used one of the funky pebble-shaped Stryd devices) as this is what communicates your running ‘metrics’ to the app. If you use Stryd, you’ll get speed/distance information but also power (measured in watts) which is an interesting measurement. You can also use a Bluetooth heart-rate strap or optical wrist-based device to get a heart-rate reading. Oh, and of course, you’ll need a treadmill.
There is a small spanner on the paired devices page; this is where you calibrate your tech by running at a comfortable pace for 60 seconds. This is important as it allows all the different accelerometers and sensors to recognise what you running at 10kph on a treadmill is like – and can then record your metrics going forward. Once that’s done, it’s time to start.
Select one of the routes and then choose what kind of session you want to run: open session, speed work, tempo runs, 400m repeats and some up-and-down workouts. You can also choose to run with someone you know on Zwift or someone random as (just as in the cycling mode) other users currently running will be displayed while in the top right corner of the screen you can see group run options that are also available.
Even hardened enthusiasts can’t argue with the fact that treadmill running delivers a certain amount of ennui. Having used Zwift for running now on a number of occasions, I can definitely attest to the fact that – while not necessarily flying by – time does pass more quickly using the app. This is down to a number of factors. Firstly, you have something to look at (that isn’t someone else’s backside or a car park); secondly, there are enough metrics to keep you focused on what you are actually trying to achieve in your session. Want to know what your heart-rate is at 7 minute/miling? Tick. Want to know how many watts your putting out? Tick. You might be running in a virtual world but the effort is very real and very tangible.
On the downside, trying to operate an app when running has its difficulties, especially when it’s really designed for stationery bike trainers. You can try an iPhone, but it’s better to use a tablet as, when needing to tap the screen and hop on/off the treadmill, the larger the better. It really depends on the treadmill too – many have a shelf on which you can place a phone or iPad but a purpose-built holder will always be preferable. Once you’ve completed your session, you simply click and save and share with whatever third party apps you want (particularly if you’re one of those runners that doesn’t believe that if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t exist).
So does the Zwift experience really deliver? There’s no doubt that it adds a much-needed element of frisson to what is ultimately a relatively joyless experience. I love the element of competition and variety it can deliver and the fact that you are running with ‘real’ people, albeit in a virtual environment. It will be interesting to see what tweaks the Zwift team add in the coming months. Let’s hope the developers continue to add new courses and functionality to make this a really viable indoor alternative that even Marmite haters love.
• Zwift has now added run only routes to the platform. The full list of routes available from launch are:
5k Loop – 3.1 miles // 100ft elevation (Run only loop)
Take a twisting and turning 5km journey through the heart of Run Valley, down onto the beach path, and along the scenic skyway over the ocean.
11.1 Ocean Blvd – 6.9 miles // 171ft elevation
In honor of Zwift HQ’s address, this 11.1km route takes you over the 360 bridge, into the underwater tunnel, and then brings you home via Run Valley.
Chili Pepper – 5.0 miles // 157ft elevation
The short and spicy route takes you through the heart of Run Valley and then on a quick trip through the Volcano
Jon’s Route – 7.8 miles // 192ft elevation
Take a scenic tour of Watopia that hits all the highlights of the running path and the flat route.
That’s Amore – 4.0 miles // 179ft elevation
Run your way from Run Valley over to the Italian villas. If you really want to earn your pizza slices, this route will help you do it.