There are a variety of ways to get your avatar moving in Zwift. The traditional method is to use a footpod, like the Zwift RunPod or the Stryd. But you can also use the Runn Smart Treadmill Sensor or a direct-connected smart treadmill. You can even use apps like the TSS (Treadmill Smart Speed) as a rudimentary way to get running on Zwift.
Recently, however, Garmin has released an update to some of their latest watch lines which offers a brand new way to connect to Zwift. Let’s dig in and find out what it’s all about.
The Virtual Run Profile
All modern Garmin watches include Activity Profiles for various sports. Pressing the button on the top right will bring up the list: Run, Trail Run, Bike, Pool Swim, Open Water Swim and so on.
On the most up-to-date watches there is now a new Activity Profile called Virtual Run. It’s not there by default though; you must scroll to the bottom and click the plus sign to add it.
Time for a New Watch?
The difficulty for many will be that this new profile is only available on the very latest watches. Specifically the Forerunner 245, Forerunner 945 and the Fenix 6 range.
Owners of these watches will have received a firmware update which includes Virtual Run. Unfortunately, this new addition is not included on any other Garmin watch. Those who have older watches will have to decide whether to upgrade to get the feature.
Using the Wrist-Based Accelerometer
If you don’t own a footpod or any other device for getting your speed into Zwift, you can use Virtual Run on your watch with no other devices and get your avatar moving.
Simply select Virtual Run on your watch, navigate to the Pairing screen on Zwift and your watch should be listed as a device ready to pair as a Speed Source. You will also see it is available to pair as a Cadence and Heart Rate source.
A word of warning though: wrist-based speed is not the most accurate! Your watch is trying to gauge how fast you are running by measuring the movement of your swinging arm. This is notoriously unreliable. However, it will at least get you started and give you a sense of what running on Zwift is all about.
Pairing Old Peripherals
One major advantage of the Virtual Run profile is its ability to act as a bridging device for older ANT+ peripherals.
If you own one of the old ANT+ Garmin footpods or an ANT+ heart rate strap, the new profile allows you to pair those devices with your watch in the usual way and then rebroadcast them to Zwift over Bluetooth.
A further bonus of the Virtual Run profile is being able to record your activity on the watch as well as on Zwift, using the same sources. Some people like to have a backup of their activity for a variety of reasons.
Using the same sources of speed, cadence, and HR on both Zwift and the watch means consistency of data over the two activities.
It can be frustrating to see a different speed displayed on Zwift than is shown on your watch. Using Virtual Run the speeds should match. However, this doesn’t guarantee that your distance and time will match as of course you would have to start your watch at exactly the same time as you start running on Zwift.
Time to Run
Having the Virtual Run profile on your watch allows you to run on Zwift without a footpod or any other devices, pair old ANT+ peripherals with Zwift via Bluetooth, and record your activity on your watch as well as Zwift using the same sources for both.
If you’re lucky enough to have one of the most recent Garmin watches, Virtual Run is available now and may be the perfect addition to your Zwift setup!