Fantasy Fitness

We Tried It: Running With Zombies

Zombies, Run! presents an unusual and engaging storytelling approach to a fitness app.

By Hannah Wallace July 16, 2019

Image: Shutterstock

“Why do you run?”

It’s a fair question. Despite health benefits, movement motivation can be hard to come by, and some aspiring runners struggle to occupy their minds while they’re out on the road or the trail. 

For folks in search of creative inspiration, Zombies, Run! presents an unusual and engaging storytelling approach to a fitness app. This U.K.-made run tracker/game/post-apocalyptic audio drama is now in its eighth season, with enough recorded material to keep your runs entertaining for years on end. 

Originally created by award-winning novelist Naomi Alderman (author of The Power and a protégé of Margaret Atwood), in partnership with London-based game-maker Six to Start, the app is organized into individual episodes, called “missions,” in which two-minute-long audio-fiction scenes periodically play through your headphones while you walk or run.

Users are addressed directly in the story as “Runner 5,” a vital member of a tight-knit group of survivors led by stern special ops soldier Janine De Luca and goofily loveable radio operator Sam Yao. Together, you and your mates are tasked with negotiating all kinds of drama in zombie-apocalypse England—not just the undead and the virus they carry, but a whole slew of super-villains, evil scientists, malevolent computers, incompetent bureaucrats, mind-controlling hippies and a handful of surprisingly charming amoral opportunists. There are loads of explosions and action sequences as well as comic moments and even the occasional love story to keep you hooked. 

In between scenes, you can set your music or podcast app to play automatically. Every once in a while a computerized voice announces when you’ve “collected” a useful item (sports bras, first aid kits, bottles of whiskey, etc.) and tells you when zombies are hot on your tail—a game function, complete with groans from the undead, that requires you to pick up your pace until the zombies are evaded, or you’re forced to drop items to distract them. All settings are customizable, and there’s no need to interact with your phone while you’re running/playing. 

The free version of the app allows you to unlock one mission per week, or a yearly Pro Membership subscription costs $24.99 to unlock everything.

The app also hosts semi-annual “virtual” races for an additional fee, in which entrants can choose the place and time (within a two-week window) to run a 5k or 10k accompanied by a custom audio story for the occasion (the Halloween races are appealingly spooky). As with regular missions, the app tracks time, pace and distance. Racers can then choose to have their results added to an international leaderboard, where results are listed by time and also broken down by country.

Since its launch via Kickstarter in 2011, Zombies, Run! has united athletes, geeks and gamers into a passionate army of Runners 5 all over the world, where pace and distance are less important than participation. As Sam Yao reassures you in mission 1, “If you can go above a slow shamble, you’ll be able to stay out the zoms’ way.”

In response, Runners 5 like to say, “I run because Sam Yao tells me to.”

Local Runner Resources 

Manasota Track Club

A 40-year-old community of unfailingly supportive local runners of all levels, hosting regular meet-ups, popular annual races and Kids Summer Beach Runs.

The Trail Run Project

Sarasota’s parks and preserves present ample opportunities to run from zombies in picturesque southwest Florida settings.

Fleet Feet Sarasota

A running store that sells gear, offers personalized outfit and shoe fittings and hosts weekly running clubs.


Sells runners' clothing, shoes (including personalized fittings) and watches and electronics, and hosts races and relays throughout the region. 

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