By Steve Wood, (Cherry Hill, N.J.) Courier-Post
You stretch, put on your headphones, and take a jog, hoping it will be the run of your life.
But within 100 yards, you're hearing creeping guttural breaths and groans that aren't your own.
Now you're running for your life. But from what?
Just when you thought the only thing deader than zombies was another storyline about zombies, another one emerges. However, this one - an app called "Zombies, Run!" - will likely leave you breathless and your body a fraction of what it was.
"I realized I could run a lot longer than I thought I could because I was having fun," says runner Laura Means. "It's the adrenaline. I remember the first time I ran I was like 'I'm going to be done,' and there was a very climatic ending to the first episode and I ran an extra 20 minutes because I was just amped. . . . I liked the idea of a game that only lets you progress if you actually exercise."
APP REVIEW: 'Zombies, Run!' a creepy way to stay fit
Whether used in a park, on a treadmill, or by a creepy abandoned building, this narrated game places real-world runners in a post-apocalyptic world where they must outrun zombies and collect supplies to keep themselves and the rest of humanity alive.
"It starts screwing with your head," Means, 25, says. "Stupid little tricks that I know they do in movies . . . like cracking branches and moans get steadily louder . . . and when they're chasing you, there's radar blips and you're like 'Oh, shoot!'"
Performed by professional actors, the story plays out in one- to two-minute acts scattered throughout the music play lists runners already have on their devices.
"I get annoyed with the songs," says Means, a counselor in Mount Holly, N.J. "I want the song to be over. I want to find out what happens, and this is my own play list."
Her play list fits the mood, with such power tracks as Cake's "I Will Survive," The Beatles' "Help" and Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet With Butterfly Wings."
Like other social exercise apps like The Nike+ Running App - which allows friends to leave comments on your Facebook account which are verbally read to you through earphones - Means heard about "Zombies, Run!" through Facebook.
"(A) friend of a friend was raving that he spent the best $8 of his life, and never ran before," Means, 25, says. Still, Means wasn't fond of running. "And I've never liked zombies," Means says. "Ever."
Then her friend Jesse had her watch Shawn of the Dead.
"And I still didn't get it," Means says. "So he decided that he was going to give me a class on zombies."
After sitting through classics by director George A. Romero, some remakes, bad '80s horror comedies and even Evil Dead The Musical, Means was transformed to full zombie devotee.
"I really enjoyed the idea of what people would do in a post-apocalyptic setting," she says, while acknowledging "There isn't much to get, really. Every zombie story has the same basic outline."
See Zombies. Flee Zombies.
Each mission a runner embarks upon is about a half hour and there are currently 30 missions available. Every mission brings you closer to uncovering the mystery of how zombies came to populate this world.
"Zombies, Run!" employs a form of sprint-interval training used by many athletes; joggers are spurred to run quickly with adrenaline-rushing alerts that zombie are near and getting closer. Sprint away or fear losing valuable virtual items.
"That what makes this app neat," Means says, suggesting that running without the zombies does not provide enough distraction from cramps or other discomforts. ". . . The game aspect is fun, but it's not fun to make yourself so tired you want to vomit."
Call it silly, but it's certainly efficient.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Physiology suggests that 2.5 hours of sprint interval training produced similar biochemical muscle changes to 10.5 hours of endurance training.
For those looking for fewer bursts and longer periods of rest, runners can increase the run length from 30 minutes to 60 minutes by increasing the number of songs that play between story clips.
To save time, Cherry Hill, N.J., mother of four Lacey Swartz has tried to work "exercise back in my life more naturally" through chores and hobbies, including hanging laundry outside and working in the garden. But Swartz says she can make time for running away from zombies.
"While using this app on a fancy phone feels a bit contrary to my current approach to life and 'exercise,' it does line up with my love of storytelling and creating fun memories with family," Swartz says via email. "My 4-year-old likes to go for a zombie run with me."
The primal workout is loosely guided by a GPS.
"They give 'directions' but you don't have to do anything navigation-wise," she says. "In fact, the app is riddled with warnings to please, for the love of God, watch for traffic." So you don't join the undead.
The app offers about 40 runs of game play. After each workout is over, the app presents a mind exercise. Runners stockpile items automatically, such as medicine, ammo and water, but then upon returning home, must decide who in their base needs those items more (such as doctors or soldiers).
While you may lose yourself in the game, you're also likely to lose pounds. Exactly how many will come in a feature update, according to the app's website. "There's no way to coordinate runs yet," Means says, "and I say 'yet' because it's a common request they get."
In addition to calories burned, an upcoming update to the app is also slated to track metrics such as speed, distance and time.
Tracking the screams is up to you.