Learning to love running, AKA training for the zombie apocalypse

I could never run for any significant distance, even as a child.

I came last every single sports day, and was frequently awarded the Best Sportsmanship medal for my apathy. I was not good at physical exercise, but I was good at other things so that was OK. 

Over the last decade I'd occassionally gotten it into my head that I would try running. My results generally ended up like the gif below:


I cheered a loved one on from the sidelines as they completed a marathon and was content in the knowledge that that would never be me, after my previous failed attempts at running showed me that I had a tendency to hold my breath when I run. Imagine if I tried to hold my breath for 42km? Surely I'd be dead.

Is this the part where I tell you I've successfully ran a marathon? No. But I have ran for 5km on a treadmill, and for me that is huge! So lets talk about that journey.

Like many people I had heard of Couch 2 5K. Seemed reasonable, likely a good idea, various people had recommended it to me as a potential option to consider. But I had no interest. I figured it could probably work well for most people but to me it just sounded boring and if it's boring I wouldn't stick to it.

A friend however told me about Zombies, Run!, and that seemed hilarious. Furthermore after some research I discovered that they had a 5K version similar to C25K . Could I get to 5km if someone in my ear was telling me that my very survival depended on it?

What is Zombies, Run! 5K?

ZR5K is a downloadable mobile app that, through a guided storyline, teaches you how to run or helps you improve your running abilities. Starting with getting to the town of Able, your put through your paces by Dr Maxine Myers and Sam Yao in communications. Each week, the walk / run drills get harder and harder to ensure that by the end of week 8 you're ready to run your first 5km. Most of the time the guided story has you completing drills within the township, with the occassional need to leave the township when other (fictional) runners are not available to complete missions nearby. The story recommends running 3 times a week, though I wasn't always consistent with this as I'd alternate with lighter cardio / heavier strenght training days, with each week typically involving the same walk/run breakdown until the final week.

The final week shakes things up a bit and on the 3rd run you're expected to run 5km to a neighbouring town. Spoiler alert - you will encounter zombies!


My Experience

I'm struggling to begin explaining how much I loved doing this app, and how involved and interested I was in the storyline. I genuinely went from feeling like my heart was going to explode after 15 seconds of running to comfortably running for 10 minutes and completing a 5k run in 45 minutes. Excellent timing? Maybe not but, considering where I started, its something I am exceptionally and annoyingly proud of. 

I remember when I was in week 2, looking ahead at week 3, and saw that week 3 contained a 5 minute run. My first thought was "LOL, no. Will need to repeat that week indefinitely". But during my week 2 training I realised that, as part of a free form run, I had actually ran 3 minutes and I was pumped! 5 minutes might actually be possible!

And that's what I found so captivating about it. I was getting a little better every week. Everytime I thought "Nope" I tried anyway, and I got a boost! Psychologically I found that by achieving something I thought I couldn't felt so rewarding and - extra bonus - I wasn't eaten by zombies. Absolute win in my book. 

One thing I find funny about myself though is that my motivation to run seems to be solely tied to training for the zombie apocalypse. If I tell myself just 5 more minutes on the treadmill for my warmup on non-running days it's akin to torture and I struggle a lot more. 

I also learned the importance of rest days, even with cardio. I, hilariously naively in hindsight, assumed that once I ran 5km that the next time I attempted to run for 30 minutes it would be easy. 2 days later I'm back in the gym, I'm on the treadmill and my knee starts to ache. I listened to my body - as you should - and slowed to a walk, prioritising stretching in the days following. 


I did find it strange when I started the next app - the Zombies, Run! original app. The ZR5K storyline takes place between the first 2 missions of the original app, and the intro missions on both apps are very very similar. It felt jarring to hear the people who have been training me for months go from encouraging and confiding in me as their new to Runner 5 to now speaking to me like I'm a complete stranger! How could they forget me so quickly? I thought we were friends!

But in saying that, maybe I just need to get out more. 

Regardless if gamification helps you exercise more and build healthier habbits then I absolutely recommend Zombies, Run! 5K