Running on Zwift: Speed, Accuracy, and Devices

Running on Zwift: Speed, Accuracy, and Devices

ON February 20, 2020 by Zwift

To enjoy all of the fun, camaraderie, and training efficiency running on Zwift has to offer you will need a few things: a device to run the game on (e.g. iPad, smartphone, Apple TV, computer), a treadmill, and a way to get your running speed (pace) into the game.

While all three are critical ingredients, speed is the input that moves your avatar in the game. This post look at the many options for getting speed into Zwift and which may be best for you.

Treadmill Speed

Before talking about speed tracking devices it is important to agree on what speed means. There are actually a couple of different speeds to think about, both of which could be different and both of which could be considered “correct.” 

First and most obvious to the treadmill runner is the speed displayed on the console. For most treadmill users the console is the source of truth and is an accurate measure of the speed they are running. For the purpose of the article, let’s say we set the treadmill to 7mph.

Now that we have the treadmill set to 7mph, let’s consider the second “speed” – the speed the belt is actually moving. While the console display might suggest that the belt is moving at the 7mph you requested, the belt might actually be moving at a slightly different speed. How much different you ask? Some testing shows that the difference between the console reading and belt speed could be off by as much as .3 or .4 mph!  These fluctuations in speed can come from a variety of causes including consistency of power to the motor, how long or how frequently the treadmill has been used, maintenance, and a number of other culprits. 

Given that there can be a couple of different ways to think about speed and all can be “right” it’s no surprise that there are a lot of questions around what device to use and how they compare. Let’s discuss…

Tracking Devices

When evaluating which speed tracking device is best for you it is important to consider many variables including which of the speeds discussed above you want to anchor your performance to, what kind of running you plan to do on Zwift, your budget, and where you’ll be using the treadmill. We’ll tackle a few of those considerations below.

Bluetooth Enabled Treadmill (BLE): Many newer models of treadmills have Bluetooth built in and can transmit your speed directly into Zwift. Getting speed from the treadmill is often considered the “best” way to experience Zwift because your avatar will almost always move at exactly the speed you set on the console as that is the same value being transmitted to Zwift. Of course, this is also the most expensive solution and only works if you plan on doing most of your treadmill running at home.

From a good, better, best experience standpoint, we’d consider this the best possible experience. If you’re sold and want to see a current list of compatible treadmills, we keep a list here. (Sidenote: Not all treadmills that advertise having Bluetooth will connect to Zwift so make sure you reference the list to ensure what you’re getting will work.)

Belt Speed Sensors: A second option is a class of devices you can use with an existing treadmill. These devices measure the speed of the belt and are probably the most accurate experience available outside of the BTE treadmill option. Because the speed the sensors broadcast, even if accurate, may differ from the treadmill console and because they require setup, charging, and possibly calibration, we’d consider these better in our good, better, best array. For those that deem belt speed the most accurate determinant of speed, this option may even be better than a BLE treadmill set up if you are unbothered by potential inconsistencies with the treadmill reporting and the belt speed sensor’s output.

While there are only a couple of these devices currently in the market, the most popular option is the newly released Runn by North Pole Engineering. The Runn attaches to the outer rails of the treadmill and uses optical sensors to measure the speed of the belt. 

Considerations with the Runn include:

  • Cost: it’s $99 at the Zwift Store and turns almost any treadmill into the equivalent of a Bluetooth treadmill
  • Other metrics: it also broadcasts cadence (in beta) and incline
  • Portability: Though it’s designed to stay affixed to the treadmill, it can be moved with a bit of effort and some additional mounting supplies.
  • Fit: not all treadmills accommodate easy installation of the Runn and may require a bit of problem-solving for secure installation. While most of these issues are easily solved, some people will prefer a product that is unlikely to pose any installation headaches.

FootPods: The most common and perhaps the most talked-about devices used to get speed into Zwift, footpods attach to the laces of the runner’s shoe and calculate speed by tracking various elements of a runner’s gait. While fantastically portable and easy to use, footpod data can vary the most from the speed on the console and can fluctuate over the course of a run if a runner’s form varies due to changes in speed, incline, fatigue or other factors. For these reasons, footpods are deemed a good option for the on-the-go runner that may Zwift in gyms or hotels.

There is a wide range of footpods in terms of price, features, and accuracy.  There are plenty of reviews to be found but the two most often used devices (that also best represent the range of available options) are the Zwift RunPod and the Stryd. The RunPod is the lower-cost option that works as a full-time option for many runners and an entry point to test Zwift for others. The Stryd is generally more accurate than the RunPod and offers a range of outdoor run tracking features including outdoor (but not indoor) run power. 

Footpod considerations include:

  • RunPod $40, Stryd $219
  • Stryd offers run power and a range of outdoor run racking options, the RunPod is for Zwifting
  • Both offer cadence tracking in Zwift
  • Stryd generally provides a more accurate experience
  • RunPod uses a replaceable battery lasting several months, Stryd is rechargeable 
  • Both devices are highly mobile for runners that want to Zwift on any treadmill

Run Speed Apps: the final options for running on Zwift are apps that connect directly from your phone to Zwift but are not actually tracking your speed. The user must input the speed they are running and the app then transmits that speed to Zwift to move your avatar.  The most popular app for this purpose is the Treadmill Smart Speed app. It is available on the app store for $2. While it does provide a great experience because your avatar always moves at the exact speed you want, some people consider it less immersive because it is entirely manual and is not a direct representation of the speed being run. Additionally, the Run Speed App does require you to have two devices (ie. a tablet or computer and a phone) in order to work properly.

The Bottom Line

Running on Zwift is awesome. Speed matters and it is important to start with what speed you care to measure.  Runners have different needs and therefore the device or Zwift setup that is right for you may differ from other Zwifters. Decide what matters, explore your options and then, most importantly, get moving. 

As we always say, our mission is to get more people, more active, more often. This includes using any device or setup that works for you and running anywhere, anytime!