A new craze has hit the running world and, believe it or not, it doesn’t involve getting a race T-shirt, a finisher’s medal or even paying an entry fee.
Yes, Pokémon Go might seem like the latest smartphone app game craze due to its ’90s kid nostalgia of the original collectible trading cards and TV series—and it definitely is—but it’s also much more than that. It’s arguably the first virtual creation that transcends the digital domain and brings a next-level, fitness-enhanced gamification to the great outdoors—namely roads, bike paths, trails and parks—especially if you’re a runner.
Currently, it is only available throughout North America and Europe, but on July 20 the app will launch in Japan, the birthplace of Pokémon, and spark the start of a worldwide takeover.
If you haven’t played it yet, Pokémon Go is a free app-based augmented reality game from Niantic (available on Android and iOS devices) that entails finding, capturing, training and battling a variety of virtual geo-targeted Pokémon critters against a backdrop of real-life scenery. In other words, you can only see the cartoonish creatures through the app on your smartphone or tablet screen, but with use of your device’s camera lens and GPS coordinates, the app makes Pokémon seemingly come to life wherever you go.
Here’s the thing, though: If you’re a runner, you can advance through the levels of the game faster—basically you can cover more ground with your Pokémon avatar and get to PokéStops (notable real-world features like a statue, park bench or a waterfall) and collect Pokémon more quickly by running instead of walking—although there is a distinct danger when running while mostly looking down at your phone. (If you’re playing the game out on the run—or even walking—by all means, be careful! And We highly discourage playing while riding a bike or driving!)
Seriously, though, you could go for a two-hour run and play the game the entire time, so long as you could stay off traffic and avoid bikes and pedestrians. There are numerous crowd-sourced web-based maps that point out where the rare Pokémon are located, and those can be a helpful resource when planning a Pokémon-infused long training run.
For better or for worse, think of what could emerge by integrating Pokémon Go into running:
- Races that not only encourage runners to play the game during a run, but actually design courses based on where eggs, balls and Pokémon are located.
- KOMs on Strava leaderboards based on Poké points.
- Virtual trail running adventures that create newfangled FKTs (Fastest Known Times) on some of the world’s iconic mountains and trails.
- A Pokémon-enhanced rim-to-rim-to-rim run of the Grand Canyon.
- New track & field events that require running, jumping, hurdling and throwing while also capturing virtual critters.
- The opportunity to get young kids involved in running with fun, game-oriented fitness intervals
Whether or not it’s the future of running, it certainly seems to be at the tipping point of what’s next in the ever-blending realms of wearable technology, GPS data, augmented reality gaming and fitness, recreation and adventure.