Couch-to-5K Zombie Trainer App

A while back I gave my favorable impressions on an amazing little app that actually makes running fun.  Zombies, Run! is a free or subscription-based app that attempts to apply the concepts of gamification to encourage people to run.  Something most of us aren’t very inclined to do without sufficient motivation.  Like running away from dogs or chasing the bus.  You can read my article on it for the full details, but in short it makes the listener the PC & your body is the controller.  You walk, jog or run your way through the story missions, gaining rewards to help build up your in-game town, & occasionally get chased by virtual zombies.  It’s a lot of fun, has made me look forward to getting up at 6 AM to go running before work, & is so far the only app I’ve ever paid for.

However, one day I was scrolling through the various game modes when I noticed there were training missions for 10K & 13K, but no 5K.  I found this odd, as most people start their marathon training with 5K’s, as they’re the shortest marathon distance (that’s a little over 3 miles for those who prefer non-metric).  But after digging around on the apps Wiki page — because of course there’s a Wiki page — I discovered that there is a 5K training app.  Unfortunately, this is a separate app, & is paid only.

But, wishing to improve my overall performance during my runs, as improving my stamina is one of my main fitness goals at the moment, I decided to try to program out.  I completed the 8-week training program yesterday, & wanted to give my thoughts on the program.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “couch-to-5K” app is one that operates on the assumption that the person starting it hasn’t been physically active.  Hence the couch part of the name.  These types of apps aren’t so much intended for dedicated fitness buffs, but for beginners who want a structured plan to start, or intermediates looking to improve their form.

The Good.  The Zombies, Run! 5K Training app’s storyline is completely separate from that of the main game, with the exception of the first mission when you arrive at Abel Township.  All missions after that take place canonically between the first & second missions in the main app.  The training has its own storyline, & introduces characters that I haven’t directly heard from in the main game (although I paused after Mission 9 of Season 1 to focus on the training app).  The main theme is that, being new to the town, you have to undergo training before you can be sent on Runner missions, which makes sense.  I found each mission interesting, & enjoyed spending more time with the voices on the other end of my headphones.

The missions are very structured.  The program is eight weeks, with three sessions per week.  Aside from the initial and the last week of missions, each week is a repeat workout that gradually increases in intensity.  One major plus for the app is that it instructs you on what to do during each interval.  For example, the first real training mission starts with ten minutes of walking, then alternating between one-minute walk/fifteen-second run intervals, & it instructs you when to change.  I saw some people complaining in reviews that the app never told them when to run, but they clearly hadn’t used it past the opening mission, which is unstructured.

I also felt the intensity increased at an appropriate pace.  For the most part, you’re the one who decides what constitutes a brisk walk or a slow run.  The amount of running increased realistically, & by the end I do feel that my endurance has improved.  It never felt like too much, & the sessions off plenty of times to catch your breath.

The biggest endorsement I can give is that I do feel my endurance & form improved over the eight weeks.  I actually had to increase the distance of my walks to make up for my improved speed.  So if you stick with it & push yourself just enough to feel the burn, I think you’ll get good use out of it.

The Bad.  Unfortunately, the progress you make in the 5K training app doesn’t carry over to the main app.  So you won’t be collecting supplies or building up your base.  I found this to be a bit of a bummer, but not a deal-breaker.

Also unlike the main app, you can’t use an external media source (like Pandora or Spotify).  You can only use an internal media source.  Whether that’s a problem or not depends on what device you’re using.  Personally, I didn’t have a problem with this, as I just loaded podcasts on my phone.  And I saw some people post they simply ran their preferred external media program at the same time.  However, something I did have an issue with music-wise was that the app doesn’t pause the media like in the main one.  In the main Zombies, Run! app, whenever there’s a story bit coming up, it’ll pause whatever you’re listening to, & then goes back to wherever you were.  The 5K, however, simply lowers the volume while the voices talk.  This isn’t so much a problem if you listen to music, but if you’re like me & listen to podcasts, it’s annoying.  I ended up missing chunks of the program.

There might also be an issue with GPS tracking.  I’ve seen some reviews stating it didn’t work for them, but I only had a problem with it once or twice in the very beginning.  After that, even on cloudy days, it worked fine for me.  But you can change the settings from GPS to accelerometer tracking to measure your distance.  Or you can just know the distance of where you run.

And, as I said in the beginning, this isn’t a free app like the bulk of the main app.

The Verdict.  I personally felt the $1.99 I spent on the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app was well worth it.  My overall performance has improved since beginning, & I feel it’s a great app for beginners who want to work on being more active, but either lack confidence or motivation, or want a very structured program.  I also feel it’s structured program would be beneficial to intermediate runners who are in relatively good shape but want to push themselves to improve.  I’m not sure I can recommend it for expert runners unless they just really like the concept & story — which admittedly is very enjoyable.  It has a few downsides, & overall doesn’t feel as polished a product as the main Zombies, Run! app, but the narrative production value is spot on.

My personal recommendation would be to try out a few missions in the free Zombies, Run! app &, if you feel like your performance isn’t what you’d like or you keep getting caught in those zombie chases, try the trainer app.  But the story is completely self-contained, so no Runner 5’s will be missing out on anything of vital importance if they choose to ignore the trainer.

For those interested, the app is available on iOS & Google Play.

– GamerDame


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