Zwift Running - A Bitter-Sweat Tale

I’ve been using Zwift since there was just one route on Watopia, but this is the first year that I haven’t suspended my subscription over the summer. The reason – Zwift Running.

For me, there are no decent running routes out of the front door (IRL), so having something to keep me occupied on the treadmill has been great.

Unfortunately, I’ve also found myself getting increasingly frustrated with some of the issues and the development of running on Zwift. The most annoying thing is how small/simple some of this stuff would be to solve/implement.

So rather than grumbling to myself, I thought I’d do a (not-so) quick write-up to share some of my thoughts and grievances.

So that this isn’t just a slew of criticism, I’ve included a possible solution to each problem.

Software:

Most of Zwift’s roads are inaccessible to runners:

Problem:

I seldom run more than 5-6km on a treadmill. Sadly, the available start points mean that, unless you’re running ultra-marathons, most of Watopia’s (and other World’s) course will never be seen by non-cyclists.

The other day I decided to run up the Alp-du-Zwift. When explaining this to some non-Zwifters, they simply could not wrap their head around the fact that I was going to have to ride my bike there, then get off and run.

Solution:

Loads more start points for runners – preferably no more than 10km apart.

Ghost Runners, or lack thereof:

Problem:

There aren’t any! Aside from acting as a temporary stopgap to flesh-out the presently diminutive Zwift running community, the motivational benefits of being able to run against a previous PB, a set speed, or a chosen workout would be great.

Solution:

Add some!

Challenges, Missions, and Drops – or again, lack thereof:

Problem:

There are little things that have kept me coming back to Zwift cycling month-after-month. Currently, I’m unable to run Italy, California, or Mount Everest. The creative side of something like this could be done in very little time (as evidenced here: https://zwiftinsider.com/lejog-challenge/) and the functionality already exists from the cycling platform.

Similarly, things like missions and (more recently) Drops, are just more of those small motivators that add up to keep me engaged. So far, there’s just been one mission for running.

Solution:

Bring these perks over to running.

Bugs:

Problem:

There are still some kinks. I remember Eric Min’s birthday run when 50% of the runners were routed the wrong way within the first 30 seconds!

When I ran up the Alp Du Zwift, I wasn’t expecting the same roulette-style unlocks as the cyclists get, but I was also surprised the user interface was mashed over the top of the route-specific interface.

Solution:

I guess you’re aware of these things and are working on them/they’re on the list.

Hardware:

My Milestone/Zwift Run Pod works flawlessly – said no one, ever. I don’t have one, but I see a lot of complaints about these. I guess you get what you pay for, but it would be great if runners looking to test the water with Zwift didn’t have to shell out 100 bucks or more to get something that worked.

I had a Polar foot-pod, which was equally bad. I then bought a Tread Tracker, which works very well, except for a couple of occasions where a Zwift update has stopped it from transmitting speed (an essential metric, some would argue). The last time that happened it took numerous emails to support and two (premature) escalations to convince them that a Zwift update had caused the issue.

Continuing with the Tread Tracker, this seems like the sort of hardware that Zwift should be investing in. Consider this – it has an arm on it that moves up and down when you adjust your incline. Fit a digital angle finder to it and you’ve got a device you can slap under any treadmill that could then transmit both speed, and incline (something that only elaborate homebrew solutions or retrofitted gem-modules can currently do).

Ultimately, Zwift Running will really hit its stride when there are treadmills that Zwift can control, but since that’s probably a few years away, it would be great of some of these simple things could be given some consideration.

Adding to the list - is it just my setup, or do others see these too - no biggies, just minor annoyances

  • why are the Run Valley spawn off points AFTER the start banner
  • why does zwift keep changing my shorts length to micro shorts every couple of weeks
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First a question. Is running in Zwift still free? Now, a comment. I just started the intro to running training plan as a break from a previous cycling training plan that I completed so I don’t have much to add the list of comments so far. That being said, we should probably start the run behind the gate and not in front of it. I am definitely interested in continuing to run but I am afraid that I will lose my cycling fitness if I stay away too long.

It is still free.

Thanks!!

It is free, but we can assume that the plan is to make it good enough to start charging a fee to those who don’t already pay a subscription for the cycling. Personally, I think it has the potential to be so good that people would even be willing to pay a little extra on top of their cycling subscription to access the running features. Currently, though, it seems a long way off.

That said, there’s plenty of stuff in the original post that could be implemented very quickly and it would make a big difference to the platform.

My $.02 allow runners to create and open group run instead of having to invite people you follow.

Simple notification that “Scott is starting a group 5k at 6-7 pace” to all runners and allow them to join in.

I have a Stryd foot pod that works great, but agree the tread tracker with an angle monitor would be awesome.

If Zwift allowed a separate pairing for incline there are already battery powered Bluetooth Inclinometers that cost about £30 ($40) that could transmit the data. You wouldn’t even need a treadtracker, you could just stick it to the side of any treadmill.

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Zwift can successfully read incline from my Treadmill. But, currently it does nothing with it (Power, altitude, calories etc) It does, however, pass along cumulative elevation-gain to Strava. It does not read negative elevation (downslopes), yet.

I’m saying that even if a separate pairing was available, Zwift is still limited. I remain hopeful that Zwift will improve its core functionality especially with inclines.

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Good comments but look at it from my point of view on the expectation curve. When I was a young runner treadmills were exotic things, virtual running was science fiction and communicating with people all over the world so easily was straight out of Star Trek.

We take a lot for granted, sometimes it’s nice to step back and enjoy what we have. I have no doubt Zwift will continue to innovate and they aren’t even charging (yet) for this service (runners)!

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I would like to see the incline changes front and center on the screen. Where the incline is displayed is really out of line of sight and I would really need to be focused on the top right corner of the screen to catch the changes. I would like to see the incline % pop up center screen as it changes.

Agree with all of these comments and would echo the point about having more route options for runners. Not just more starting points, but shorter loops and routes for those of us who consider a 5k an accomplishment. There are a LOT of long, long, roads with no turns or intersections in Watopia. (-:

5 Likes

Additional note - I recently noticed that runners still can’t create their own workouts (without some pretty fiddly XML editing). It would be great to be able to create a workout based on HR zones.

Will,

Some really valid points that you’ve made.

I have recently started to use the running feature of Zwift more frequently and like what it does…BUT…it really falls short when compared to the cycling component.

I feel that the “Ghost Runners” would be a great idea and being able to choose a pace runner would be next level.

Some more for the list:

  1. Sprint sections
  2. KOM sections
  3. Drop accumulation
  4. Fastest Sector Times (PB displayed on screen)
  5. Ability to find friends during an activity and join them (after start screen)

I’m sure there’s more but these would help rejuvenate the fire.

North Pole Engineering have just announced a product that optically measures speed, cadence, and incline and transmits it to Zwift. It costs $99, is available from their website and will be appearing in the Zwift store in the near future (with free shipping).

This is a very significant development. If it works well it will make a big difference to the running platform.

This, in addition to the appointment of a new VP of Running, there’s reason to be excited and optimistic about the future of Zwift running.

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The Runn Smart Treadmill Sensor

Connect any treadmill to your favorite fitness app with Runn™

I have been looking at this, now I see how it works. A optical sensor looking at the pattern on the belt.

I am sure it can be done cheaper, like a cadence sensor with a magnet.