Hate running on the treadmill? Try Zwift

Disclaimer: I received two Zwift RunPods as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!

After getting the chance to run using the Zwift platform at The Running Event in Austin, I was actually looking forward to my next opportunity to run on a treadmill.

I am not a treadmill runner. I just checked my running logs on Excel, on which I generally will make different notes, like if I did intervals or if my run was in a unique location or on a treadmill. Prior to my run at The Running Event on Nov. 29, the last treadmill run I’d done — at least the last one I’d noted — was on Dec. 27, 2017.

Here’s my avatar running, as shown from a screenshot in the Zwift app. Santa’s sleigh also made a couple appearances! See how the screen is laid out here. (Screenshot)

I even canceled my gym membership earlier this year because I hardly went, and I was basically throwing away money. I’ll run outside in nearly any type of weather, unless it’s unsafe.

But Zwift provides a couple things that you wouldn’t normally associate with running on a treadmill — community and fun.

Zwift is an app in which you can run on a treadmill as you watch your running avatar traverse the streets of Zwift’s world, Watopia, or another location, like London. Zwift users can see other runners who are simultaneously running the same course. For the runner to be connected to the Zwift app, he or she needs to wear a connected shoe or footpod, like the Zwift RunPod, or use a compatible smart treadmill (read more here).

I got a Zwift RunPod at The Running Event as part of being a BibRave Pro, and I actually also had one mailed to me.

When I ran on the treadmill at The Running Event, I didn’t need to use the footpod, because the Zwift team already had things set up for us. Read about my experience at The Running Event in this recent post.

Here I am running with fellow BibRave Pro Chris on Zwift at The Running Event. (Jessica Rudd photo)

Yesterday — Tuesday, Dec. 18 — there was a BibRave group run on Zwift, so I decided to use a free trial pass at Planet Fitness. I went in about an hour before the 7:30 p.m. run because I wanted to make sure I knew how to use everything before the run started.

There are two apps — Zwift and Zwift Companion. Zwift is used for the actual runs. Zwift Companion is used for things like following other users, signing up for group runs, viewing a training plan — I was given a plan after signing up for Zwift 101: Running — and viewing friends’ activities. Users can also give others a “Ride On!,” which is a thumbs up, and there’s a place to set goals.

It took me a little bit of time to get Zwift working. My avatar didn’t seem to be moving. I did get it to work, and then I calibrated the footpod on a suggestion from another BibRave Pro. A different BibRave Pro noted that his avatar didn’t move while he was walking, so that could have been my problem as well, as Zwift 101 suggested starting at a walking pace.

After I felt like I had the app figured out, I went back to my car so I could charge my phone. I wanted to make sure I had a good amount of battery life. Planet Fitness actually had iPhone cords built into the treadmills, which I think is a great idea — but unfortunately, they were the type of cord that worked with the older iPhones (and I have an iPhone 6, so I’m not saying I have the latest and greatest tech).

Here is my avatar with fellow runners before the run began. (Screenshot)

There are adapters available online, so if I decide to join Planet Fitness, I will have to get one. It would be great to have my phone plugged in while using Zwift.

I went back into the gym about 10 minutes before the run and was ready to start. I joined the run and had my phone in front of me with the Zwift app on. I saw a group of fellow avatar runners on the screen.

I was standing on the treadmill as a countdown to the run was on the screen, and then I figured, why not start a minute early? I figured Zwift wouldn’t start tracking the run until it actually started. However, I would not recommend this — I think I messed up here. I was able to do the entire run, but I couldn’t see anyone else as I ran, which was disappointing.

I wore my BibRave shirt to the gym even though nobody else from the virtual run would know what I was wearing. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The run was a tempo run, so there were different blocks of the workout to follow. For example, there was a warmup section with a target pace and then a stretch at another target pace. When my avatar reached a new block of the run, there would be a glowing archway to go through. The main tempo part of the 2.6-mile run was 1.5 miles.

The run blocks could be seen on the side, and a colored bar also filled in more as I moved closer to the end of the block (see the first screenshot above and look above the “6.6” to see the colored bar that was being filled in as I ran).

There were four pace groups to choose from, A through D, and I chose D, the slowest one, because I was kind of in between C and D. My target pace for the tempo run was 5.8 miles per hour, but because my regular tempo pace would be a little faster, I set the treadmill to 6.5 mph, which was a challenge, but doable. I actually felt great running on the treadmill. I’ve been having some shin pain, but that wasn’t a problem as I ran on the treadmill last night.

I noticed after the run on one of the screenshots that it looks like I was supposed to have a small incline. I was running without an incline on the treadmill, but I can try that next time.

My avatar stopped during the run, so I actually calibrated my footpod again during the run. It stopped again later, but that time I didn’t stop to do anything, and it started running again very quickly. I also ended up calibrating the pod again — I did a Zwift 101 run afterward — when the paces I was running on the treadmill didn’t seem to match the app. Calibrating definitely helped.

As I ran, there would be messages on the screen. A few that I took screenshots of were:

  • Did you download the Zwift Companion app?
  • You got this, have fun with it!
  • Here comes the archway to Tempo.
Here’s an example of a message from Zwift showing the upcoming archway. (Screenshot)

I was using a phone screen, and I will admit it was cooler with the large screen of a TV, but I still enjoyed running with the phone screen. If I had a treadmill at home, I’d probably use a laptop or TV if I had a good way to display it, but that didn’t seem like it would work at a public gym. A tablet would also be a cool way to display the screen, but I only have a really old one and I’m not sure if it would work for this.

I enjoyed how the run was split up into sections. Even though it was only 2.6 miles, having to change the speed on the treadmill and run at different paces made the run more interesting. There were also different types of scenery to look at in the app — and even appearances by Santa’s sleigh!

Since I was at the gym on a trial day, I decided to do the two-mile Zwift 101 run after the BibRave group run. I felt like I was already getting more familiar with the app. My phone was not fully charged, but it was able to last for both of these runs, although the battery was very low when I finished the Zwift 101 run.

Here’s the Zwift RunPod attached to one of my shoes. To conserve battery, you may want to take the pod off when you aren’t using it. I’ve seen comments from other BibRave Pros in our internal communication app that make me think that’s a good idea. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

After running on Zwift, I would love to do more runs with the BibRave group and test myself with runs like the tempo run. I am considering joining Planet Fitness — primarily to have access to a treadmill for Zwift. There is a place on Zwift Companion to create a meetup, and it would be fun to keep connecting with fellow BibRave Pros through the app.

It took a little getting used to, but I feel much more confident using the app now and I am excited to get a chance to try it again.

If you are interested in running on Zwift, you can save 15 percent on a Zwift RunPod at Zwift.com with code “BibRave15” (good for a total of 1,000 pods). The pods are $29.99, or $25.49 with the discount.

My avatar stretches before getting started with the tempo run. I, however, did not actually stretch. This screenshot also shows the chat feature. (Screenshot)

Are you on Zwift? Feel free to follow me — Vanessa Junkin! Maybe we can do a virtual run together sometime.

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