Thursday, January 31, 2013

My review of the Zombies, Run! app -- good for casual runners, but NOT for avid runners

Zombies, Run! is an app for iPhone and Droids, and is essentially a game you can play while running.

If you're already familiar with The Walking Dead, you know about the whole (modern era) Zombie Craze (World War Z seems to have spurred the whole thing).  I'm just "Meh" on zombies.  They seem like the Pabst Blue Ribbon of monsters -- overrated, and favored by hipsters.  But, I do think The Walking Dead is a good show.  So, when this app, which retails for about $8, was on sale for about $4, I took a shot with it.

The app/game itself is a serial story, combined with an app for tracking your running speed/distance, and rewarding you for doing so, by giving you useful (virtual) items for your home "town" (outpost, really).  The more you run, the more stuff you are told that you have collected, and the more your town grows.  Then, as the missions get tougher, the better equipped you are to build up your town.

Along the way, however, you will receive notification of "WARNING:  ZOMBIES DETECTED" and you will be prompted to increase speed (or else the zombies will take your items, they never do bite you).  The app is designed that you can (1) turn OFF the chases if that freaks you out too much, or (2) if you walk only, the chases won't start (there are minimum/maximum speeds for Zombie chases).

You can run your own music through the app, via your iPhone, for instance, and it will shuffle songs for you.  The storyline works itself in, pretty much in between each song.

So far, so good.  It's fairly straightforward, and will remind you of the MP3 training programs that mix in a coach working you through interval training.  I know that years ago, Chris Carmichael did some interval training/coaching via MP3s (where he interviewed *cough*LanceArmstrong*cough*).

The trick with the zombie chases is that you're supposed to REALLY speed up for about a minute.  BUT, if you're already running fast, you will NOT attain the necessary speed to evade the zombies, and will thus lose the items you've dutifully collected while running.  For instance, if you're running at an 8:30 min/mile pace, you need to crank all the way up to 6:00 min/mile, possibly faster at times, to evade.  If you run about a 10-11 min/mile, you can go up to 8:10-8:15 min/mile, and will evade them.

Now I'm all for "race pace equality."  If you're out there running, I don't care if it's 10 min/mile, all the way up to 13-14 min/mile, YOU ARE A RUNNER.  Pace is irrelevant.

BUT -- bear in mind - if you're running 6:00 min/mile, you're going to look, unless you're wearing Kenyan/Ethiopian garb, like you're in a full-out, blazing pursuit (or fleeing zombies).  The PROBLEM with that is, let's face it, you're not actually doing that.  Ethiopians, Kenyans, and those people who weigh as much as the club sandwich I had for today's lunch can go that fast with seemingly no effort.  Not "us."

WE are likely on a running trail, with bikers, walkers, children on little bikes, and even dogs on leashes.  You do NOT want to crash into them and say,

"Sorry, I was pretending to run from zombies, and this app requires me to go WAY faster than I ever should in order to do that, but I didn't want to lose this set of batteries.  What set of batteries?  Oh, they're pretend too.  Why are you laughing?"

Or, we are (even worse) on a sidewalk, with cars, pedestrians, and hipsters with dry cleaning.  As much fun as it might be to plow into them, that's again not practicable.

I can tell you that from my perspective, as a 181lb guy running on the National Mall, I turned a LOT of heads, not in a good way, as I was cranking in the 6:00 min/mile range trying to escape a zombie (and WTF failing?!).  The problem was that I had increased my speed earlier in the run to around 8:20 min/mile, and so the app thought I could/should go even faster.  But I already looked like I wasn't training/running, so much as trying to catch a bus (or evade a mugger).  Or, you know, being over 180lbs, trying to get to a McDonald's before they stopped serving breakfast.

So, what the app does is essentially require you to run slower during the "normal" times in order to keep your "chase pace" manageable.  Otherwise, you'll just lose all your stuff.  Serious runners doing Tempo work, Strideouts, or even an LSR won't find themselves in sync with this app.  It's a lovely fitness idea for casual runners, who might be just trotting alone, finding their stride.  But, if you are ALREADY cranking out at a fast clip (I mean, a 9:09 min/mile pace will get you a sub-4 hour marathon, something only like 33% of marathon runners can even complete), the app requires you to (almost) double down, and crank up to extremely fast speeds.  That's not only not realistic, you'll quickly start to SLOW yourself down for the bulk of your time, as you try and "trick" the app into thinking you are a slower runner, just to have room to crank up when the app wants you to run faster.

The app appears far more aimed at casual runners shambling their way off a couch, than runners with full-on training plans.  If you're looking for a way to shake up your training plan, this isn't it.

At least it only cost me 3 bucks instead of the $8 they normally charge.

P.S.  One thing -- here's how to "cheat" at "Zombies, Run!" if you're so inclined to do it.  It's not MUCH of a cheat, but it's a decent strategy.  First of all, let's assume you're able to run better than 10 minute miles  There IS a "minimum speed" you have to reach before the app will either give you reward items OR zombie chases, and that, in my testing, appeared to be 13:00 min/mile or better.  It could possibly be lower than that, but I went from 17-18 min/mile (walking) with nothing, to an attempted slow trot of 13:00.

(1) Anyway, you need to ignore what's being said to you by the characters.  They'll comment on your pace, exhort you to run like hell, and even say things like, "GO NOW!"

(2) Don't go.  If anything, slow up a bit, and listen.  You want to wait for a little series of beeps.  Once that's on, the Zombies are "chasing" you, and that's when the app will task you to go faster, and what the app ususally does is "sample" your speed, then calculate how much faster you need to go.  THAT is when you want to kick it up to a much faster sprint (be safe, of course).  Hold that for about one minute, and you should be all fine.

What you need to be aware of is that if you were running at 8:30-8:45/mile/min, you're almost certainly going to get "caught," unless you can really get down to the 6 minute mile range.  That might be do-able on a track (it is for me), but who wants to go to a track just to play this game?

I think the bottom line for this app is, "The newer to running you are, the better."  But after a while, you'll want to run, not just run when some pretend guy tells you to, just because there are some pretend zombies trying to get your pretend goodies.

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