Running is one of the most efficient workouts going, and if you’ve been badgered into signing up to a 10K by your pals, there’s no getting around the fact you’ll need to start jogging on a regular basis.
The unfortunate thing is, endurance running can be incredibly boring, especially if bad weather forces you to take your session inside on a treadmill. No amount of carefully curated playlists or deep-dive podcasts can make clocking up the miles, while staring at a room full of gym equipment, any less torturous.
So I was curious to try out a new multiplayer running game that turns your treadmill run into a virtual race. Called Zwift, the training tool and game allows you to race or jog on a series of colourful courses against other runners from around the world.
Zwift has existed for a few years as an online cycling platform, but it’s recently expanded to launch its running offering here in the UK. So is it effective? Here’s what you need to know…
How does it work?
You can use Zwift at home or at the gym, as long as you have a decent Wi-Fi connection.
Getting started is pretty simple: All you need is a treadmill, a device to play the app on (such as an Apple TV at home or an iPad at the gym), and a footpod – a small tracker that clips onto your laces and feeds information to the game about your speed and distance.
If you have a Bluetooth-supported treadmill with a screen though, you can simply hop on and play – although not all types support the app, so be sure to check on the website (zwift.com) beforehand.
You’ll need to download the Zwift running app, sign up and create an avatar of yourself. I make mine with an orange T-shirt and blonde hair to match my real-life appearance, and you can unlock new kit as you progress through the game.
The first thing you’ll need to do is a short running test at three different speeds, to calibrate the footpod with the app so it can get used to your cadence. After this, you can really start to get stuck into its features.
At its most simple, Zwift provides five immersive courses to make indoor running more scenic. There are epic virtual cityscapes based on London and New York or Watopia; an imaginary tropical land with beach-side routes and erupting volcaones.
I really enjoyed running around the ever-changing course, and as I powered ahead, I could see other real-time users from different countries running ahead of me, which kept me focused on maintaining my pace.
There are also training programs tailored to different fitness levels that can help you go from couch to race-day – whether that’s a 5K Park Run or a full marathon.
The training sessions can be taken either solo, with a group of random users or with your own friends, and the game will instruct you when to increase or decrease your speed and incline (if there are hills ahead) on the treadmill.
I chose a solo speed work run that involves bursts of fast sprinting. The virtual trainer bar at the top of the screen tells me the exact speed I need to plug into the treadmill, and how long I’ll be holding it for.
The map ahead also shows a handy blue ring so I can visualise when my pace is set to decrease. When the session is complete, I save my efforts to my profile.
Zwift really comes into its own when you compete though. There are hundreds of real-time races to sign up for with spot prizes for the fastest. There’s a handy calendar on the right hand corner of the home screen that shows the events coming up, plus who else has signed up to them.
The most popular group run is the Saturday Run In The Park, and there are lots of shorter 5K races during the week.
I really enjoyed running against other people from different cities, and the whole experience brought a level of community spirit and social engagement to solo indoor running.
If you’re shy about trying your first race, it’s a great way to build up your confidence before signing up to anything in real life.
Anything else I need to know?
I ran the application on an Apple TV, which was mounted above the treadmill, but many users prefer the on-the-go option of placing their iPad on the shelf at the front of the treadmill in the gym. You can run the app on a phone, but as the screen is quite small, it feels slightly less immersive. If you don’t have a footpod, you can buy a compatible one from the Zwift website (zwift.com).
How can I try it?
The Zwift running app is available on iOS and Android and is currently free to download, although Zwift say it will likely move to a priced subscription model in the future. Visit zwift.com/run.