I know, the title of this blog post sounds like clickbait, but it really isn’t. Today, I want to tell you about how I have been changing my life this year, with the assistance of zombies.
In my mid-fourties now, I have been overweight all my life. Sometime last year, my doctor idly mentioned to me in passing that he’s participating in a weight loss program of the local sports club. This program is called ‘From XXL to L’ and is about changing your diet long-term and exercise to go along with it. The program runs for a year. Twice a week there’s exercise, in the form of 60 minutes of Walking and 90 minutes of various body shaping exercises. Additionally, there are shared cooking nights and lectures about nutrition, the psychology of being overweight, motivation training, etc.
Because it was important to my wife, I signed up for this program, and have been participating since January 24. Quickly, I found out for myself, that Walking within a group simply does not work for me. In a group of initially more than 20 people, the levels of fitness of each participant were hugely different. I was frustrated quickly, because I was more out of shape than others, and so usually walked far behind everyone, with a lone trainer trying to motivate me. It was hard, and it sucked. I enjoyed the Walking, but not the group experience.
But there was this app that my dear friend Fi from Scotland was raving about. It had made her get out of the house and get into shape. I kid you not, she’s training for a half-marathon now. This app she mentioned is called Zombies, Run! The concept is as simple as it is genius. GPS-Tracking meets an audio story about the zombie apocalypse.
Fitness App with a gripping story, that works?
In Zombies, Run! you are the protagonist, Runner 5. When you start out, you crash land near a small community called Abel Township, somewhere in post-apocalyptic England. There, you assist the community as Runner, someone who goes out into the wilds to find supplies for your township, without being eaten by zombies.
When you start your training, you choose the mission that you wish to do as Runner 5. To go along with it, you pick a playlist with music that you already have on your phone. As alternative, you could use an external player like Spotify for music. There are now six seasons of story missions in the app. The first season has 23 missions, newer seasons have more than 40. Additionally, you can pick if you want to run a certain distance, or if you want to run a specific time. Each mission has a default time, which I usually go with, something between 30-45 minutes to complete the story.
Once you start, you get your mission briefing and off you go. It only takes a couple missions until you’re deep in the story. Characters are memorable, like nice-guy Sam who is your operator, grudgy Janine as head of the township, or fellow runner Runner 8, who doesn’t seem to trust your character much. You start to dislike the neighboring community of New Canton, investigate causes of the zombie apocalypse or set out to chase the final adventure modules of the most popular tabletop RPG of its time, D&D. Which stands for Demons&Darkness, of course. 😉 The story is multifaceted. Sometimes funny, thrilling or heartbreaking.
After the first mission briefing, your regular music playlist will start playing. As you continue your run, you will receive additional story snippets inbetween songs, until the mission is completed. If you then want to continue running or walking, the app turns into radio mode. Your playlist continues normally, and between songs you can listen to the banter of Jack and Eugene, the two DJs of Radio Abel.
One of my personal highlights is that the doctor of the settlement, Maxine, turns out to be gay, and her partner Paula was very involved in the zombie apocalypse. There’s a fantastic episode where you find a farewell CD from Paula to Maxine. A goosebump moment! The two DJs from radio mode are also in a relationship. I love a nerd app that isn’t afraid to have LGBT content, thumbs up from me.
I found a bra?
During all the time that you are out and about, you collect supplies, which is announced as you walk. USB-keys, water, clothing, sport-bras (wtf). etc. These supplies come into play in a minigame in the app in which you can improve Abel Township in a sort of city-builder. It’s a nice gimmick but doesn’t really influence the story in any other way.
Once your training is complete, you can look at a map of your route, check your average pace for each kilometer. It doesn’t really matter if you casually stroll, power walk, jog or ride your bike when using the app. If you do not want to go outside and want to use a treadmill instead, you can switch from GPS-tracking to counting steps instead. If you prefer a more strenuous training, you can activate chase mode. During a chase, you will be hunted by a group of zombies and have to increase your pace from your average by at least 10% to escape. If you do not manage to escape, you lose some supplies, but are otherwise unscathed.
I have been using this app since late January. I haven’t attended the group walking since spring. Instead I head out for Nordic Walking with the zombies once or twice a week. I completed season 1 and am about to start season 2. If a year ago anyone would have told me that I would walk more than 170 kilometers, just for fun, I would have laughed. Exercise is now part of my life. When I walk through the nature preserve in my area, in great weather, I believe all the tales about endorphin highs while exercising.
My level of fitness has changed drastically since January. I worked on my speed and stamina, and I can feel the huge difference. When I started out, I huffed and puffed, could barely break 3k, and had crippling back pain. I have none of that now, and am actually training for a possible 10k walk. I actually have arm and thigh muscles, for the first time in my life. Combined with my consequent change to a low carb diet, I have lost a total of 27.5 kilograms since January, that’s 60,1 pounds for you non-metric folks.
End of October I will participate in my first ever ZR Virtual Race. For an entry fee, you receive a package of goodies, including a medal for completing the race. You receive two new story missions for either 5 or 10k. If you complete either of those missions during the two weeks of the race, you are entered in a world-wide leaderboard and may proudly wear your medal. My two running friends from Great Britain are participating as well, and I am looking forward to earning that medal, in my very first 10k walk.
The app is available for Android or Apple phones, and is free. However, in the free app you may only do a story mission every 6 days or so, and then have to wait for the next mission to unlock. If you still want to do runs in the meantime, you can do supply drops that do not give you more story, but at least you earn supplies for your base. I didn’t feel like waiting any longer and so signed up for a pro membership for a year for 24,99 Euro. It’s not necessary to enjoy the app.
There’s a sister app, Zombies, Run! 5k Training. It’s an 8 week program that is supposed to get you off the couch up to successfully run 5k. It has its own story missions and training instructions. As I am not actually interested in running and am fine with walking, I have never tried it.
So, if you think this sounds intriguing, you better run off to the Play or Apple Store, Runner 5!