Zombies Run is the app that I credit with finally getting me properly hooked on running. In the past I’d not had time, not looked forward to it, got fed up with not improving and how hard I found it. I’d never managed to actually run for a full 30 minutes, or probably even a full 5 minutes, sticking to an unsatisfying walk / run routine that I’d give up after a few weeks.

I love a good Zombie story, so when I saw Zombies, Run! tucked into a corner in Zest magazine I immediately went and downloaded it to give it a go.

Zombies, Run! Is essentially a serial story, told between music tracks on a playlist you create yourself, and each episode takes about half an hour to tell.  You are Runner#5, the central character in this little narrative, and the people in the story are talking directly to you. The app uses the accelerometer and GPS in your phone to track distance and speed, and you can turn on Zombie chases, which is essentially a form of fartlek or interval training where you need to speed up to outrun the Zombies. During your run an electronic voice tells you when you’ve collected supplies, and after your run you can distribute these to your virtual “township” to grow your population.

The Plus Side

There are 2 ways that Zombies, Run! helped me get into running.

Firstly the storyline was interesting and gripping. I couldn’t wait to get out and do another run to hear the next installment of the story. It was well voiced and I felt attached to the characters and wanted to find out what happened next.

Secondly it encouraged me to run slower. It might sound silly, but I now know that one of the problems I had on walk / run programs I tried was that on each running interval I would set off as fast as I could run, get tired quickly and be unable to keep it up past about 2 minutes max. When I turned on Zombie chases Zombies, Run! encouraged me to keep my speed down so that I had some energy left if unexpectedly faced with a Zombie mob I needed to outrun. Consequently I found I could run for longer and longer periods, and the Zombie chases increased my fitness a little, even if I needed to walk afterwards.

The app has been updated since I originally bought it and now includes a “zombielink” feature that enables you to upload your runs to the website and see your distance and pace for each mission. Rather brilliantly it also tells you what songs were playing and how fast you ran while they were on.

Once you’ve exhausted the story and supply missions, the app has a “radio mode” that allows you to keep listening, and keep collecting supplies, without the story progressing.

The Down Side

The story can be distracting, once you’re actually a bit better at running, and some people have told me they feel they slow down during the story portions and don’t maintain their speed. Also, if you turn Zombie chases off then the app doesn’t give any motivation to improve or maintain your speed. You could just as easily take it out for a walk, and never start running at all, you need to have the motivation to run for longer yourself as the app isn’t going to help.

If you already use other apps to track your workouts then the Zombies, run! app isn’t necessarily compatible to run in the background. I’ve had problems with the app suddenly not playing music, meaning I run in silence for 5 minutes then get a block of story, suddenly restarting, or playing a playlist from another app behind the story meaning it’s difficult to hear what’s going on.

Of course, the fact that the app needs headphones and music also means it’s more suited for running in park sor other areas with no traffic and you need to be very careful using it for road running.

I also felt that the collecting supplies and building up your township element added very little to the experience. There were a couple of missions where you needed to be at a certain level in the township to continue, but not enough to make it feel like a challenge and motivate you to run longer to collect more supplies.

The app also ins’t that cheap, costing around £5-6 on all platforms.

What Do I Think?

I think Zombies, Run! is a great app for beginner runners who need some distraction and a bit of motivation to get out the door. For more experienced runners it’s probably more for occasional use and could be a bit of entertainment on long runs.

Zombies, Run! is available on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7.