I do not like to exercise. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no couch potato. But I have never particularly enjoyed Exercise for exercise’s sake. Except yoga. But my favorite yoga class in IL has been cancelled and I haven’t yet found a place to go in NY that I’m happy with. And frankly, I’ve put on a few pounds that I’d like to lose. So I’m stuck with walking to and from work when I’m in Manhattan and the dreaded Exercise when I’m home.
And of all exercise I hate, I hate running the most. In fairness, I’ve had a lot of problems with my feet these last few years that have made running challenging. Plantar fasciitis plus hallux limitus both taxes my Latin vocabulary and made running painful for a long time. But the former is better, at least for the moment. And I’ve found the latter doesn’t bother me as long as I don’t wear normal running shoes (I need stiffer soles and a broad toe box — I like my Keen walking shoes, although if I start running real distances, I’m sure they will trash my knees.). But I also find running boring. I love to walk, but running takes just enough concentration that I can’t enjoy the music or the scenery so much. I tend to concentrate on things that hurt. Like my feet. My back. My lungs. My wimpy, underused muscles.
But all that has changed since I discovered my new fitness app. I’ve tried fitness apps before. I was using the Couch to 5K for a while. I liked the whole interval training set up. But I found the voiceovers alarming in the extreme. I started to dread the voiceovers. They made me nervous and jumpy and tense. Not good for running. But yesterday I finally broke down and coughed up the ten bucks for Zombies, Run!, an app I’d read about while it was still in development (it was a Kickstarter project). The premise sounded great: it’s a game where you have to escape zombies and collect supplies to complete missions. You find the virtual supplies on your real life running route. Every now and then, zombies chase you and you have to run faster. Here’s the real scoop: it’s even better in real life. It’s like a video game, a radio drama with kickass tunes (of my own choosing). There are so many good things to listen to, that it’s easy to forget you’re getting a workout.
I’ve only completed the first mission so far, but here’s what happened [spoilers ahoy, although nothing too critical, I don’t think]:
I turned the program on and got an introductory scene set in a helicopter. You can hear the blades whirring and some shooting down below. Someone’s giving you instructions. Then the copter crashes. There’s a pause and then you hear grasses rustling, like you’re walking through the jungle. Then hear voices broadcasting through your headset, telling you what to do. The story unfolds in between tracks of your music (you get to set the playlist). Every now and then a digitized voice informs you that you’ve collected some supplies — these seem to be cued to run duration, but the program uses a GPS to work (there’s also a non-GPS mode in case you’re on a treadmill, but it is, reportedly, a bit buggy as yet, although I haven’t actually tried it) so it could be based on distance. The game is, essentially, interval training, just like couch to 5K. But the training is embedded in a story — when you hear the zombies breathing down your neck, you run faster for about a minute or so, until they tell you you’ve escaped. Zombies breathing down your neck are surprisingly effective (also surprising: I found them less scary than the Couch to 5K voiceovers). The speed cues are based on acceleration changes, not distance covered — they work just fine if you’re walking and then walk faster. Of course, if you’re already a fast walker like me, you’re going to have to break into a run.
The voiceover actors were a bit of a mixed bag, but the actor who does the lion’s share of the voiceovers is terrific. He reminds me of the voice of the robot in Portal 2, if there are any gamers among you.
The biggest revelation was not how much fun I had running — a first for me, I think — but how well I ran. I ran for nearly four miles (the game tells you how far and how fast you go) and was not even a little sore. Why? I’m not in particularly good shape at the moment. I can’t even remember the last time I went running. I’m pretty sure it’s been a couple of years at least. I think the game made for a good run because I was relaxed. I felt like I was playing, not working. I had a loose, comfortable gait with a high kick — something I can’t always accomplish when I’m thinking about it. It felt almost easy. Also, it’s really fun passing people on the trail and wondering if they can tell you’re being pursued by zombies. Okay, I was actually experience zombie Schadenfreude. What I was REALLY thinking was, “Ha, ha. I’m being chased by zombies and you’re not!”
When you get back, you can open up the app on your phone and stash the virtual supplies you collected in the more conventional part of the game that requires a screen. All the running parts of the game play out in your ears — you don’t have to do anything while you run except listen and move. Even so, it might be a little challenging in crowded conditions. I’m thinking I shouldn’t have zombies chasing me down Fifth Avenue. Save it for the park.
But the real question is: What are the right songs for a zombie playlist? They should be upbeat — running paced — but apocalyptic (although no metal. I’m not a fan). I had “Atomic Girl” by the Wannabes turn up today. That’s seems like a keeper. But most of the obvious options — “Monster Mash,” “Every time you go away (you take a piece of me with you)” — are too sedate. Any recommendations for a zombie escape mission?