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Nurvv Run - Insoles and Coaching App

You probably have heard of running watches and maybe even already use one, but have you ever wondered why they don’t collect data from your feet rather than your wrist? No, me neither, but someone clever from NURVV did. NURVV released a brand-new product, the NURVV Run to the market in January of this year. What’s different about it, is that it collects data directly from footfall rather than interpreting what wrist movement infers. This has many potential benefits, greater accuracy in regards to step count and cadence but also additional key biomechanical data which they believe can guide you towards better running economy and also injury avoidance. In association with the NURVV app you can view your runs, obtain information about your biomechanics and running health then ultimately create pace workouts that lead you towards better running form.

< You can also see our video review on YouTube here >

So how does it do that? Well each insole has 16 individual sensors which collect data 1000 times a second. The key components that are recorded then result in information on your cadence, step length (from left to right i.e. half stride length), foot strike, foot balance and pronation. This data when compared to generally agreed ‘ideal’ biomechanics, provide you with a reference to where you should or could potentially be when it comes to running form. Remember NUURV’s main emphasis is all about your biomechanics and deciding how healthy they are, and how they can be improved. This is not information that any wrist watch in the world can provide! 

What is in the NURVV Run box in order to gather this data? Well before you get to that step you will need to order the product based on your shoe size and gender. You will also need to download their app which will sync the data from the trackers and provide you with visual information on how you’re doing. Once you’ve done that you are ready to get set up. Load up the app and have a look at the Help & Support section in the Settings area. In here are clear videos on how to set up the equipment correctly, it’s worth spending the time doing this. You will receive 2 insoles, 2 trackers, charger with cable and 2 adaptors (only required for some shoes).

NURVV Run can be used in both indoor and outdoor runs, both road and trail. The insoles have a year warranty and are meant to be mud and rain proof. You can also pair it with most running watches, use the app or indeed just use it on its own. When it comes to the NUURV Run bear in mind there are essentially 2 key aspects, the first is recording your runs and alongside that getting information on your running form, health score (poor form is likely to lead to injuries) and training load. The second is creating your own “Technique Workouts” where you decide the effort or speed of your run and NUURV calculate your ideal cadence and step length to achieve it.

Now for the test. Road and Trail – both outdoors, I didn’t get to try it out indoors in great detail as no gyms are currently open! When I test kit, I like to break it down into areas of focus, here we go!

Utility of the product

Here is some guidance on how to set up the NURVV Run. Ensure you charge the trackers initially, they hold 5 hours of charge. Once paired with your phone via the app, you are ready to go but you may find you need to do a firmware update as I needed to, so allow time to prepare everything before your initial run. The trackers need a firm twist to remove from their shoe housing and also the charger. Remember to remove the charger cable from the charger before removing / inserting the trackers to avoid damage.

I would suggest initially take your phone with you on a trial run in order to see how everything works, once you are familiar with the product you could leave it at home by choosing to either synch the trackers with a compatible watch or just start using the activity button on the right tracker. If you are running outdoors you will need up to a minute for the trackers to synch with GPS (which is normal). Once you’ve started recording either via the app or the tracker you can start, just remember to pause whenever you stop or in between intervals etc. Once finished you go from the pause status to ending the run. To do this on the app you will need to hold down the stop button for a few seconds and if using just the trackers for at least 4 seconds.

1st Part - Health Score and Recording Runs

Once you have recorded your run you can take a look at the biomechanical data. The data you obtain is interesting and hangs around those key components I mentioned earlier: cadence, step length, foot strike, balance and pronation. You can also look at normal running stats: calories burnt, distance, pace, time taken but interestingly altitude change is not included. At this point you need to start looking through each of the aspects and reading the information and guidance the app provides on how to improve them. It tells you what for example cadence is and how to improve it.

It’s important to bear in mind there are many things that affect your biomechanics and they are not necessarily just from your natural running form. It could be anything from training too hard, running on an uneven surface, running with a friend, fatigue during a run due to hot weather, tired shoes but this data could help you understand more about your natural form factors and improve form once you strip them out as you are not in a laboratory environment.

You can delete runs by swiping left but annoyingly, at the moment you cannot rename any of your runs, they all just appear as ‘quick run’.

You need to add at least four runs before a health score is generated. Once that’s done you will get useful information on an ongoing basis about whether your overall form is improving from run to run.

As suspected my balance between my right and left foot is asymmetrical (due to hip surgery five years ago) and I found it fascinating looking at the pronation and cadence scores. If you are coming back from injury or indeed want to stay injury free, looking to tweak your running economy, need some technical guidance, maybe your new to running or indeed a veteran, you will find this data not only interesting but also helpful.

It’s most effective on flat, even surfaces. The data you obtain is very different on uneven or trail surfaces. This is fairly intuitive to anyone who runs road and trail. This is for two main reasons, the first is that running trails requires your feet to change how they contact the ground based on the topography of the land, uphill, downhill, the second is that there will be no consistency in comparing trail runs when looking at biomechanical data. Concerned about this I had a chat with NURVV and they are already aware of this. They will be adding the ability to identify whether it is a trail run, road run, track etc in the app. You will even be able to tag the shoe. Remember all of these factors and more affect your biomechanics. Perhaps your running shoe is not so good for you, or perhaps it’s fatigued and you need a new pair, you could in the future deduce that from the data. NURVV have really just scratched the surface on how the information collected could be used.

The idea is that the more you run with the NURVV Run the more information it will collect and therefore the conclusions and advice it will be able to give you both in regards to staying injury free and pace coaching (the second part of the app) and maintaining form will become more relevant and accurate. This appears to be done at most over a rolling 28 day period.

As you are running, it’s possible to look at the app to view the data live. When you are recording a run in the outdoor mode, you will see you cadence, pace, distance and time. On the indoor function left and right foot strike is also included. I’d suggest you put your phone away and view the data via a connected compatible watch. At the moment the audio function only, relays every 1km or 1 mile you have completed and when you start or stop and this could definitely be improved to cycle through data. Running and looking at your phone is not safe! Given all the data the app is collecting it’s a shame that you cannot cycle through all of that biomechanical information live.

You must also remember to pause your activity at the end of each run as any walking, or altered surface will affect the stats. NURVV are looking at adding an auto pause feature in the future.

2nd Part – Technique Workouts

Rather confusingly these are also known as ‘Pace Coach Workout’, ‘Pace Optimizer Feature’, ‘Performance Run’ and also ‘Pace Coach’. However, they are all the same thing. This option is displayed on the main screen where you start a run below the outdoor or indoor options.

What does it do? Essentially it provides you with a target cadence and step length in order to achieve the pace or time of an intended run. It does this by allowing you to choose from a reference historical run and an intended effort.

If you go into the help section you’ll get some advice on how to create your base run, but in reality, you could choose any historical run. In summary NURVV recommends it should be over the same distance to that of the target and of a consistent pace. I was concerned by how they calculated effort based on a run so I dropped the helpful people at NURVV a line. It’s all about your pace, so if you run an elite time of 4 minutes per mile, the score will be close to 100, if however, you are on a relaxed jog it’s going to be a lot lower than 50, these are your effort scores taking into account your own personal stats. I believe it would be a good idea to create a mini library of reference runs over different distances with different efforts.

For example, you ran 5km last week and you want to run it quicker. Select the 5km from last week, set the target for your training run, on a sliding scale of Easy 0 to Hard 100, your reference run will have been assigned an effort score based on your pace (as mentioned above). I found I could only select somewhere around +/- 25 from my base score. Selecting 8 points increase in difficulty and therefore aiming for a faster run, I am then taken to a screen which shows me both the base (reference) step length and cadence and the workout target. In this example my base step length is 1.17m and target 1.42m to 1.49m. Cadence 151spm to 158spm from 147spm. How do NURVV come up with this, well by pulling together your personal stats, comparing it with datasets and referencing it against expected biomechanical changes. Specifically, to quote an email to me from Grant who is head of Biomechanics at NURVV, “the suggested cadence and step length ranges you receive start from the basis of the general understanding of how each performance aspect changes as running speed increases (amalgamating a number of large datasets) which we then combine with your demographics (height, gender) and baseline run characteristics (pace, cadence and step length) to make sure that the recommendations you receive are relevant for you as an individual in terms of your physical characteristics and also your running style.”

In the help section on the app NURVV talk about 3 different workouts; recovery, running faster and intervals. You will find though that the pace coach does not reference this at all when creating your workout and it sort of feels like this was going to go somewhere but sits there for further development in the future. This would however be a really useful feature and although the guidance is there, it’s relying on the user to keep going through the help section rather than offering prompts or bracketing efforts. The other aspect which is not emphasised is that increasing intensity or volume of your runs week to week should not vary by much more than 10% to avoid injury. Finally, this relies very much on you having created a steady reference run and knowing what is the appropriate effort to select. Effort for most people is how fatigued they begin to feel on a run, that’s why heart rate zone training is such an effective tool. I’m not sure many people would know how to select an effort correctly but I’m sure with prolonged use, you would get a feel for it, but knowing the algorithm will be based from your pace is useful.

Once you’ve set up your pace workout you can then either start it now or later. Once you start it you will have a screen which shows your current cadence and step length alongside pace, time and distance. You will be prompted both on the screen and audibly to either increase or decrease both these factors. I have to say I found this tricky at first, step length and cadence are inextricably linked. I recommend focussing on one first and then the other (I discuss this more later) and this tip would be helpful to the uninitiated. I managed to get there in the end though! I will also add, that it would be useful on the audio command to have a metronome for your cadence as an option, remember don’t run looking at your phone! Once you have completed your run, you will get summary stats as to how close including under and over the targets you were. It will then suggest another workout for you to do, based on how it went. Mine wanted me to take a slower run in order to get my step length longer.

In summary the coaching tool is a good way of altering your pace or effort on a run but by maintaining some of the key biomechanics. My only issue is the focus on step length. The app correctly gives background information on how this can be lengthened, i.e. through strengthening, ballistic training and flexibility. Generally speaking step length is a bioproduct of these and not something you develop in a run. If I told you to increase your step length during a run you would be tempted to elongate your stride by letting your foot land further in front of you, which may encourage heal striking and therefore result in poor form!

The App – is easy to use and has lots of features for you to explore. I feel the data is presented clearly and the graphics slick. You can link the trackers via the app to some sports watches, these are at the moment Garmin and Apple focussed, but they are adding more options onto the list (which available on their website) but I wasn’t able to test this feature as my watch is not compatible. This allows you to interact with the live data feed during your run rather than viewing it on the app.

I think it’s worth spending time clicking on the help and information points as that’s where the detail really is. It would be nice in future if this was more interactive when recording a run or looking at the data and is they key missing component in the functionality of NURVV Run.

Comfort

The trackers weigh around 22g each and the insoles 55g each. They are light and to be honest I didn’t really notice the weight difference. I suspect if you are going out in your lightweight racing shoes then you will notice, but the emphasis on this product is training so working harder in training is a good thing. Would I wear them on race day? Of course not but then again neither would I my training shoes!

The insoles fit snuggly in the shoe and when running on a flat surface the trackers did not bother me one bit. Once I was on trails though, on any cambered surface I did find them beginning to rub against my ankle, and although this was slight, it was uncomfortable. I understand there are some shoe designs where rubbing is more likely than others.

Notes

Remember this is just the beginning and it’s very easy to see what’s not there with a new product, but it’s important to identify those features.

This is not a coaching app in the true sense, it will not tell you when to do intervals, or to get out on your long run or a hill session. I mention it, as the product says it has a Coaching App. I spoke to NURVV about this and they say it’s coaching around your running technique for better form and pacing and that is very true. They have certainly paved the way for it becoming more towards traditional coaching but that’s not their strategy here, at least for the moment.

It doesn’t display altitude in the app and for a trail running guide who works in the mountains that’s a big thing! If I still lived in London and ran along the Thames it would not be! I understand however this is something which will be added on an update.

I will not be using them for trail running. Biomechanics on running trails really get shifted all over the place. It’s an all-round work out. From different cambers, to adjusting your stride for uphill, downhill, dodging branches, I think you get the picture! The data would be inconsistent and different every time. This product currently relies on you providing consistent data to a flat surface environment. Having said that, it’s still really useful to find out about your biomechanics as there will be a translation onto trail, you’ll just need to work that out on the flats first.

I won’t be getting rid of my running watch. The data, the battery time, the ability to upload to Strava, follow routes, their weight etc is just way too useful. Plus, I need to wear a watch to tell the time anyway! I can’t use it with my Suunto 9 (although I suspect this will change as they are constantly adding more models). For those Strava fans, you can still manually upload the data from NURVV but if you are using a watch the GPS data from NURVV will be sent to your watch directly.

The problems

If you don’t experience any problems then maybe you don’t need fixing? Some elite runners have really weird biomechanics and that’s basically their most efficient way of running with their structure. However, they also have great cadence which tends to see off most issues. Most casual runners don’t so there could be some potential benefit here even if you are already fixed, plus most runners get injured at some point!

Be careful about changing too much in all in one go. I’d recommend focussing on one aspect at a time, changing gait can lead to injuries in itself. This is maybe where the app could guide you a bit more. It could be disheartening opening it up and finding that all your biomechanical data was poor and then you’d struggle to know what to do first. Prioritising aspects would be key and altering any style should be done very gradually. I would always recommend cadence first, as it’s a proven aspect of improving running economy and realistically a lot of other issues get resolved if you get that one down.

The technique workouts could do with more development, both in creating a workout and feeding back into the next. For the creation, it would be good to select the type, recovery, faster or interval and receive interactive guidance on the effort. At the moment it still feels very modular. Finally finding out how you perceived the effort would be useful in feeding back to create the follow-up run.

The app receives a huge amount of information, again live guidance on running form is what I expected, so I was surprised not to see workouts that focussed on balance, foot strike and pronation.

The user should be able to identify different runs: hill, trail, track, intervals, speed etc, then the data will be more meaningful and useful. I would also be really interested to see whether they can include infographics on how key biomechanics changed during a run.

There are quite a few tweaks here and there that need to be done, and from what I understand from NURVV have some of these in their development pipeline. I have found them to be a company that are very helpful and so enthusiastic about this product. They are listening to their community and improving it on a regular basis despite having to launch into COVID-19, if they can do that, they can do anything! This is clearly the start of the journey for NURVV Run and I’m excited to see where it takes us all.

Conclusion

A fascinating bit of kit with fascinating data. This could be the product for you if you want to find out more about your biomechanics and want to stay injury free. It’s not going to replace your running watch but it could replace your visit to the physio or spending big bucks on gait analysis. With the amount of information, the product collects and the passion of NURVV I’m sure this product will improve, hopefully motivating you to become a stronger runner and without injury.

Simon James, Trail Running Guide and Founder of Run the Wild