Let me start off with a little bit of personal information: I hate running, or jogging. I have this problem that whenever I run, I start thinking to myself after a few minutes: why am I doing this? And then I have to stop. Another piece of information about me: I do love hiking, survival, climbing and any kind of self-defence. After a rough period in life, I’ve found that I am much happier and more comfortable in my own skin if I feel strong. I used to try and explain this to my friends by saying: ‘If ever a zombie apocalypse were to occur, I want to feel like I’d be able to survive it.’ And then I read about this app called Zombies, run! and it was perfect.
This is a book review of course, but I would like to start off by telling you a little bit about the app that started it all. Six To Start created the app in 2012 and it’s basically an audiobook with different seasons and episodes, and you are the main character. The idea was to incorporate fitness into a cool story where you are the hero of the tale, which is great for your confidence. You are Runner 5, and as you walk or jog outside, you have a radio connection with a lovely man named Sam, who coaches you through the post-apocalyptic world where you complete a mission every time. He tells you to RUN!, to pick up stuff and every now and then you hear zombies breathing down your neck and you are forced to sprint. As the story continues, you find out more and more about what has happened, different characters and what you can do to help. During the first episode, you are in a helicopter, which crashes, and you have to run for the gates of your township, in order to escape a horde of zombies. The thing is, in the beginning you know very little about how the zombie apocalypse came to be. Who Runner 5, your character, actually is, is quite unclear, but is also left up to you to fill in, which is great. Mind you, this app does make you a little paranoid, but it’s so much fun. It doesn’t even feel like a workout; you’re just running for your life.
You don’t really need the app in order to enjoy the book, but the setup is much the same and it was based on the bestselling app. The book Zombies, run! is also a combination of fitness routines and just a great story. The book is written as a ‘ministry of recovery publication’, as a guide to ‘keeping fit and living well in the current zombie emergency’. You will find fitness routines here, but also a lot of how-to’s, on how to protect your home, barricade a door, keep your spirits up, map your area and find other survivors. In addition there’s the story of what happened during the apocalypse, different kinds of zombies, a few recipes and case studies of other survivors. If you like any kind of story that deals with a subject as though it is real and happening right now, this is just the book for you. Once again, mind the paranoia in you.
The book is divided in seven different parts. Section one is ‘the home front’, where you will learn some exercises to build muscle and stamina from home, as well as some basic chores to keep you occupied and healthy. Section two is ‘venturing forth’, which is all about scoping your neighbourhood, and how to walk and run, or even swim and cycle, safely, while recognizing any kind of danger. Section three is ‘building a community’, where you will read testimonies by other survivors, learn how to take care of others and yourself with food and medicine and just work and train together after the apocalypse. Section four is ‘fit for battle’, which teaches you how to actually kill a zombie, how to make weapons on your own and how you can prepare yourself for that fight. Section five is ‘fit for survival’, and this section mostly focuses on how to be prepared and vigilant at all times. Here you will learn what items to pack and collect and how to stay alive, basically. Section six is ‘food for heroes’, on where to find food (and water!) and how to prepare it. And the last section is ‘your ministry and you’, in which the ministry thanks you for your service (and for staying alive so far) and shares with you their plans for the post-apocalyptic future.
I very much love books that deal with these fictional situations of creatures as though they are real. I also enjoyed encyclopaedias on dragons or faeries very much when I was little. This book pretends to be in the midst of chaos, and after reading a few pages on how to survive, you get right into it. I tried to barricade my door. I checked my stored food supply. I suspected passers-by of being zombies. Soon, you are convinced this book will save your life. And even though there isn’t an actual zombie invasion going on right now, I do believe this book is all we will need if it does happen. And if it doesn’t happen… well, it’s just a fun read.
The idea of building an app or book that makes a workout feel like less of drag and more of a battle for survival was brilliant to me. But then I found out a bit more about the fan base this story has, and I found an even better component to it. And yes, because it is a story, a lot of fanfiction is out there and people create a whole background for their personal Runner 5. But what I found, and it really touched me, was that this story has helped a lot of people with depression. Not only is there a community of support to this story, that can be found on forums and Tumblr, but when depressed it can be very hard to do anything at all. When you use the app, however, there’s someone constantly telling you that you are their hero, that you’re saving everyone (simply by walking!) and that you’re doing great. This is such a powerful message. The same goes for the book: you will get excited about going outside and scoping the area and train a little. Just moving about a little is another massive leap for someone with depression. The app and the book can all be done at your own pace and you will still be the hero of the story. So, for someone struggling with a low self-esteem, physical difficulties, obesity, depression or whatever that holds them back from going outside, this story can be an actual lifesaver.
Of course you don’t have to exercise in order to enjoy this book. You can read it for fun or to study some zombies, without actually doing the workouts. But this really is one of those experiences that you have to try out for yourself. You can just try the app, and I guarantee you will actually look forward to running, simply to find out how the story continues. But the book is a great addition or can even be read on its own. You may actually start to do some squats, because survivor Sara Smith told you that’s what she did in order to live. You may try the rationed risotto recipe. You will certainly have a good time reading this book, just as fiction. For now.
Fitness award: zombies breathing down my neck are the only motivation I’ll ever need to run
Naomi Alderman & Six to Start, Zombies, run! (London, 2016)