Virtual Running on Zwift in 2022

Zwift running first launched waaaay back in 2018. Since that “beta” launch, not much has changed. Almost all of the development focus has been on cycling, where the subscriber base is. The only two running updates worth talking about were the release of the 400m “May Field” track, and running Pace Partners. There is the Zwift Run Festival in September, but even that is a fairly basic, low-scale series of events.

I believe Zwift may have overestimated how many people would take up virtual running. Running differs from cycling in that it’s usually far easier to lace up the shoes and head outside, even if the weather is less than ideal. Plus far fewer people have treadmills at home. Zwift Running does have it’s merits though.

What do you need to run on Zwift? Firstly, a treadmill of course. Any treadmill will do, but for most treadmills you will also need a footpod that can transmit pace or power (a STYRD or Garmin pod). If you have a “smart” Bluetooth enabled treadmill that broadcasts speed/pace data, then you already have all you need! My rental treadmill broadcasts speed over Bluetooth Smart, and I use my Wahoo RIVAL watch for cadence and heart rate data.

How much does it cost? Zwift running is actually free! Yes, that’s right. Totally free. So little has been added to Zwift Running that it’s technically still in “beta” phase and completely free to use. Want to ride also? After a free trial period, a Zwift cycling subscription with cost you US $14.99 per month.

What are the routes like? You can run on any of the routes that you can cycle on, plus there are a handful of dedicated running routes (mostly in Watopia). From what I’ve seen so far, the May Field 400m track is the most popular with runners. Other routes are sparsely populated. I find it disappointing there are so few running-specific routes around the 5km mark. Globally that is the most popular running distance. Today I ran on one of the “shorter” routes, a 10km loop around the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Can you do structured workouts? Yes. There is quite an extensive running workout library on Zwift. I’ve yet to try any of the workouts, but I’ve browsed the library and they look good. Unlike a smart trainer, a smart treadmill will not change the pace/speed automatically like a smart trainer in ERG mode. It’s still something you need to change manually. Imagine getting caught off guard during a recovery period if the treadmill suddenly ramped up to sprint pace!

You can also join a Pace Partner at a designated speed/pace. Don’t expect massive groups like the cycling Pace Partners attract though, there’s simply not the running user base on Zwift yet. I’ve never seen more than two or three other runners with a Pace Partner. There’s no “drops multiplier” for running with a Pace Partner either.

Is Zwift Running fun? Let’s face it. Running on a treadmill is boring. Having the “gamification” of Zwift does make it slightly more palatable. It’s nowhere near as immersive as cycling on Zwift. One of the big draws of Zwift for cycling is the thousands of other riders on course at the same time. Running simply does not have that. Still, it sure does beat staring at the garage wall or watching YouTube while pounding out the miles on the treadmill.

Would I pay for it? Hmmm, that’s a tough one. In it’s current form, probably not. Or if they do charge, it had better be far cheaper than the cycling subscription. Zwift Running does have A LOT of potential, but I have my doubts as to whether the cost to develop it would result in enough new/ongoing subscriptions for Zwift to invest their resources into it. I’m not holding my breath for any short-term feature additions that’s for sure.

If a number of new routes were added (especially in the 5km range) and and perhaps a few other interesting new features then yes, I’d be far more inclined to subscribe. For now I am glad it’s free and will continue to use it when I simply cannot get outside to run, or if I fancy doing an indoor run-bike brick session.

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