Photo courtesy of Zwift.

Preparing for a marathon can be a lonely experience, especially in the dead of winter when the weather makes running outdoors an unappealing proposition. But a new virtual training program is connecting treadmill runners from all over the world, and you can use it to get ready for this year’s marathon.

Zwift, a fitness company founded in Long Beach, Calif., in 2014, is partnering with organizers of the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon to offer racers free access to the first-of-its kind, customized program that makes indoor runs more engaging.

“We’re committed to ensuring our runners have the best race experience possible, and that includes helping them throughout their training and giving them the best tools available to accomplish their goals – Zwift Run helps us do that,” says Patrice Matamoros, CEO of Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon (P3R), a nonprofit organization that sets up races throughout the city.

Here’s how it works: Participants create a Zwift account and pair a Bluetooth-enabled treadmill, foot pod sensor or smart shoe to the app to unlock hundreds of events, including workouts, group runs and races that will take them through digital environments everywhere from London to Richmond, Va., to New York City’s Central Park. Other features include real-time tracking data and post-run metrics.

Photo courtesy of Zwift.

Zwift Group workouts are designed specifically to prepare athletes for Pittsburgh’s marathon, which twists and turns through 14 neighborhoods. More than 40,000 runners are expected to pound the pavement on May 3-5 in seven events,  including a 5K, Pet Walk, Toddler Trot and the 26.2-mile trek.

During P3R’s Half-Marathon Kick-off Training event on Feb. 9 at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Zwift representatives were on-hand allowing people to try out the program.

First-time marathon participant Courtney Poullas, who is an official blogger for Pittsburgh’s race, began training on the Zwift app in January, running five days a week on her home treadmill or outside. She says she loves watching her virtual self keep pace with other “Zwifters” from across the globe. More than 1.1 million people have signed up for an account so far.

“Being able to run ‘with’ others will make the treadmill miles less monotonous,” Poullas says, “and will help keep me motivated.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.