I was in the park when they got me. Not again, I thought, as I heard their desperate groans grow louder. But try as I may, I couldn’t outrun the zombies at my back.
No, this wasn’t a nightmare triggered by the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Instead, I was using Zombies, Run!, a new running app (iTunes, $7.99) that simulates a zombie apocalypse.
As “Runner 5,” it was my job to take directives from a dispatcher (via audio that played over my phone) to give zombies the slip, pick up supplies and save the human race from extinction – all during my usual morning run. Easy, right?
Not so fast: While scoring supplies is a breeze (as long as you keep moving, a robotic voice will regularly tell you what you’re “picking up,” be it antibiotics, fuel or water) my first two attempts at the game – during which I struggled to suspend my disbelief, buy into the unfolding storyline and sprint on demand – led to sudden death. (Apparently these are the really fast kind of zombies.)
As an experienced runner with a decent pace, I was embarrassed.
So I called up Adrian Hon, the London-based game designer who co-created the app. (He and writer Naomi Alderman came up with the idea after a member of Ms. Alderman’s running group joked that she was there to learn how to outrun the zombies.)
The secret, Mr. Hon tells me, is to pick up my pace by at least 20 per cent (no small feat) each time I’m told by the dispatcher there’s a zombie pack gaining speed. During the course of several eight-kilometre runs, this only happens once or twice. But this app’s raison d’être isn’t so much about pushing you to the limit as it is about exercising your imagination. There’s a detailed glossary you can refer to on your phone pre- or post-run, describing the supplies you’ll collect (the app keeps a running tally; after a certain amount you progress onto the next mission), the locations you’ll pass through and the characters you’ll encounter (like Sam, the main dispatcher, who ends up baring his soul during one pretty compelling transmission).
While the app itself is dense with information, there’s often dead air on the audio, during which it defaults to a playlist of your choice. Then all of a sudden – while you’re, say, enjoying the lyricism of LMFAO – you’ll be interrupted by Sam imploring you to, “Put on a burst of speed, NOW!”
Armed with Mr. Hon’s advice, I vow to run like there’s no tomorrow the next time a zombie warning sounds. It works and I survive my first mission. But while I’m mildly curious about how it all turns out – Will baby Molly survive? Does Sam ever find his sister? What really happened between him and the previous Runner 5? – it’s not enough to make me want to keep tuning in. I still can’t shake the fact that pretending to be chased by zombies is a little silly. But admittedly no more so than listening to a song called Sexy and I Know It.
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