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The Nurvv Run smart insoles made me a better runner

My month-long review of the Nurvv Run insoles that can turn any running shoe into a fitness tracker.

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Amy Kim / CNET

The Nurvv Run insoles have made me rethink the way I run. I've been experiencing major knee pain after my runs and wanted to figure out if these $300 smart insoles could help improve my form and in turn help me run pain-free. I'll admit, I had ulterior motives beyond this review when I first started my testing. 

Running is a form of therapy for me, so I want to do everything in my power to ensure that I can keep doing it for as long as my body will allow. After a month of using the Nurvv Run in my regular running shoes, they've helped me make some changes that could have long term effects on my health and technique.  

There are two parts to the Nurvv: the insoles that house all the sensors, and the two trackers that clip onto your favorite running shoes. Each insole has 16 sensors that detect the pressure you're putting on your foot with every step you take. Together with the app and trackers, they can analyze everything from step length to foot strike balance in real time to give you feedback on how to reduce injury. While the insoles themselves aren't new, the company has rolled out major updates since their launch in the first half of 2020. 

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Setting up the Nurvv Run

Just slip the smart insoles under the regular insole of your running shoes and clip the sensors to the outside of the shoe, near your ankle. I was worried about running with extra hardware on my feet, but over time I forgot they were even there. 

You have to make sure those sensors are clipped in tight before every run, because they're hard to maneuver once your foot is in the shoe. Once they're in, they are supposed to stay on, but I did find they came loose on a few occasions and started flapping around my ankles mid-run. They're mud, rain and sweat resistant, although I wasn't bold enough to jump in a puddle to test this out.  

On paper you should get about five consecutive hours of run time, but I haven't maxed them out considering most of my runs are around 30 minutes (roughly 5K). I've been able to squeeze about four 30-minute sessions before having to recharge. 

Going for a run 

Once everything is in place and you've turned on the trackers, the next step is to pair them with the Nurvv app. They paired relatively quickly, but sometimes I'd have to reboot the app to get them to connect. The app is also tricky to navigate and going back to a previous page often meant I'd have to leave the app altogether and start again. 

But once you get past the teething problems and the Nurvv Run are paired, you can see the information from the insoles pop up in real time on your phone screen. Each sensor will light up a different color based on the amount of pressure you apply which is fascinating to watch live. Big jumps would turn them red, and light taps would turn them green.  

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John Kim / CNET

If all the sensors are active, then you're ready to roll. There are three ways to start a run: You from the app if you're planning to take your phone with you; link to your smartwatch and go phone free; or ditch all devices and start a run directly from the trackers. The indicators will flash green when the trackers are connected to GPS (built-in) and will start tracking when you press the side button. 

The Nurvv is compatible with a long list of smartwatches including the Apple Watch and Garmin watches, but it had a hard time connecting to my Apple Watch -- I think this could be fixed with a software update. 

During a run you can see your standard metrics like pace, distance, elapsed time and heart rate on your phone or on your wrist if you've connected to any Bluetooth heart rate tracker like your watch.

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John Kim / CNET

But the real fun starts after your run. The app breaks it down into different metrics that go beyond what any smartwatch or fitness tracker could give you like cadence, step length, pronation and foot strike (this shows what part of the foot you land on). 

Click into each category to see your data mapped out over the course of your run, plus a detailed explanation of what each metric means. This was extremely helpful for me, especially because the app offers suggestions on how to improve each metric, both during and post run. 

I learned that I could use work on all fronts, but what resonated the most with me was learning about my pronation and foot strike balance. I learned I was favoring my heel during runs and I should distribute the force more evenly throughout my foot to reduce impact on my joints (aka my knees) and reduce injury. It also recommended I strengthen specific muscle groups in my legs to help with balance and gave me specific exercises I could do.

A personal running coach in your ear 

Once you've logged about four runs, you can start doing coached runs to meet a goal, such as improving your time or a recovery run. Once I was able to make peace with having a robotic voice in my ear, I found the coached runs helped keep me in check with my optimal step length and cadence. 

This would be helpful if I was training for a  race, but the coach didn't give me much else to work on. That said, I haven't tested a recovery run yet to see whether that would provide any more feedback about balance or pronation. Unfortunately the coach doesn't seem to factor in hills, which are plentiful in San Francisco where I run, and it expected me to maintain the same step length and cadence even when going up a steep hill. 

The app also gives you a running health score so you can check to see if the tweaks to form are paying off. After logging five runs on the app, it seems like I've been putting the feedback into practice because my data is on an upward trend on all fronts. 

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John Kim / CNET

The verdict

I haven't worn these long enough to know what the long term effects on my knee pain will be, but so far I've noticed a few improvements in my running form and speed.  The real benefit so far has been knowing what I can do to improve my form during and after a run, or specific exercises to strengthen my muscles. 

I can also see the Nurvv helping me shave a few seconds off my PR (personal record) next time I'm training for a race. The company says the insoles will have to be replaced every three years or so, but you can keep the trackers and pay around $170 for just the insole replacements. In short, if you're an avid runner, and looking to take your workout to the next level, I would recommend at least checking them out.