Liz Connor tries out the new indoor running app, Zwift.
Endurance running can be incredibly boring, especially if bad weather forces you to take your session inside on a treadmill.
So I was curious to try out a new multiplayer running game called Zwift that turns your treadmill run into a virtual race. 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 has expanded into running.
You can use Zwift at home or at the gym, as long as you have a decent Wi-Fi connection. 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 you can simply hop on and play - although not all types support the app, so check beforehand.
Download the Zwift running app, sign up and create an avatar of yourself 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. 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 volcanoes.
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. The virtual trainer bar 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 blue ring so I can visualise when my pace is set to decrease.
Zwift really comes into its own when you compete. There are hundreds of real-time races to sign up for with spot prizes for the fastest. 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. It’s a great way to build up your confidence before signing up to anything in real life.
The Zwift running app is available on iOS and Android and is currently free to download, although it is likely move to a priced subscription model in the future. Visit www.zwift.com/run.