NPE Runn Review | Zwift Treadmill Sensor + Garmin

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NPE Runn Review

I needed ZERO persuasion to do an NPE Runn Review. Why? Because North Pole Engineering (NPE) Runn is going to be THE running success product of 2020. And on that unbiased note, let’s get started, at least you know what’s coming 😉

Actually, this review is probably going to be a bit more interesting than any of my imaginary rubber stamps. There’s actually a lots of nice things that can (and will) be done to improve this product. But that’s why it’s exciting. It’s ALREADY GOOD at its focussed task…broadcasting ‘correct’ treadmill speed and incline.

 

NPE Runn Review
Runn by North Pole Engineering (NPE)

This is a fairly long review, so here’s a summary and link to an NPE Runn discount code if you decide to get one.

Summary
  • Price - 95%
    95%
  • Apparent Accuracy - 95%
    95%
  • Build Quality & Design - 90%
    90%
  • Features, Including App - 85%
    85%
  • Openness & Compatability - 95%
    95%
92%

Summary

NPE’s Runn is a well-designed, consumer-grade, speed and running cadence sensor for treadmills which promises MORE in the near future once use is made of its broadcast INCLINE data. Runn is a perfect addition for Zwift runners seeking a simple, more accurate solution for home treadmills.

Furthermore, Runn is a nifty piece of hardware that quickly and easily slots into how your apps and sports devices currently work FOR YOU…there is no need for yet another new app from yet another new company.

Price-wise, Runn sits in the goldilocks zone. For sure, there are cheaper footpods and there are more expensive footpods too. Each competing solution has its merits but the NPE Runn is a strong solution for runners who use treadmills a lot or who want accuracy. Other runners with a liking for sports data-geekery, I suspect, will love 2020 as several new features are inevitable to this already successfully-selling product.

You can get Runn in the USA for $89.99, all you need to do is add the 10% coupon code THE5KRUNNER for a 10% discount at checkout, as shown below. Using that code supports this blog, thank you

Pros

  • Price – NPE could easily have charged more for Runn
  • Straightforward setup and installation – it is a sensor that just works
  • Broadcasts an accurate belt speed measurement at a level that is mostly suitable for semi-serious usage
  • Should work with all other standards-based sports equipment using ANT+/BLE/FE-C/FTMS
  • More accurate than your treadmill’s reported speed
  • Calibration will increase consistency with other devices

Cons

  • Cradle is only ‘great’ for home treadmill usage, less so elsewhere
  • Treadmill stickers won’t last indefinitely
  • Few other apps/hardware YET exist to make use of the grade/incline info

Skip ahead to the section which most interests you, I hope I have covered all the bases.

NPE Runn – What Is It?

It’s a running treadmill sensor that converts a treadmill’s belt movements into speed/pace and cadence then blasts them out as both ANT+ and BLE signals along with the incline/grade.

At its most simple level, this means that your Garmin and/or Zwift Run can display and record those signals from even the oldest of treadmills.

NPE Runn – Who Will Buy This

The two most obvious classes of runner who will buy NPE Runn will be

  • Zwift Run users
  • Treadmill users who want speed/pace recording to the sports watch

Here’s a caveat aimed at sceptical runners in warmer climates; imagine fellow runners who live in Canada or Sweden and the outdoor temperatures they have to embrace for significant parts of the winter months. Many of them already have or use treadmills because of the weather. Treadmills are more widespread and important than you might imagine.

There are also two other classes of runner who will be interested in NPE Runn…gyms and accuracy hunters.

Professional GYMs – NPE Runn Review

SMART treadmills are expensive and many gyms already have made significant investments in older types of treadmills. You would have thought that something like NPE’s RUNN is an easy route to transforming these legacy treadmills into smart treadmills. Unfortunately, I don’t think the product is quite ready for public, high-traffic environments.

  • The cradle is permanently affixed to the treadmill and is a trip hazard in a health and safety conscious world.
  • The Runn could be quite easily stolen from its cradle.
  • Even if permanently welded to a treadmill, it is the sort of product in a location that could be easily broken by a careless runner who is perhaps not so concerned about someone else’s property as they might be with their own.
  • The treadmills would need permanent detection markers on their belts

Of course, problems are just solutions waiting to happen and, in no particular order, our solutions might involve signing a H&S waiver, paying a deposit and affixing a piece of velcro.

Although that thick piece of velcro might put the Runn too far away from some treadmill belts. Hmmm.

NPE Runn ReviewRunners seeking accuracy – NPE Runn Review

There is a whole book that could be written about treadmill accuracy and I’ll cover some aspects of that later but everyone reading this NPE Runn review will likely already have the opinion that our own treadmills and the treadmills at the gym report the wrong speed. We probably occasionally think, “If only the gym would get the engineer round to calibrate it. Grrrr.

Well now you can do it yourself…easily

  • NPE’s Runn reports the belt speed/pace and that can easily be calibrated by you in about a minute.
  • NPE also broadcasts grade/incline which could add further meaning to the reported pace/speed (grade adjusted pace).

In a hot gym and on a cheap, bouncy treadmill I find the reported treadmill speed nearly always underestimates the speed compared to the HR effort my body is experiencing and I am told that a further 0.5% incline above flat is required to mimic air resistance. Yet when I leave the gym that same, laboured heart rate could translate to a pace per km that’s 20 secs better than it was on the treadmill. Maybe I should buy a fan? Or relish the sweat?…or calibrate the treadmill.

Multi-Treadmill Users

You might have a treadmill at home or use various treadmills at your gym during the lunch break. It might be tricky, in a practical sense, for you to move your Runn (cradle) from one treadmill to the other until the cradle is designed differently and assuming that the treadmill owner is happy with you painting white marks onto their treadmill in the first place.

Other than the portability of the cradle and white markings, there is no significant issue with having to calibrate multiple treadmills other than that the Runn cannot store different calibration factors for several different treadmills.

NPE Runn Review – In More Detail

So let’s move on now to discuss Runn in more detail and start off with what you get in the box

NPE Runn Review – In The Box

NPE Runn Review

Yep, that’s it. The Runn goes into the cradle and the double-sided sticky tape fastens the cradle to the treadmill. The stickers go on the treadmill belt and the micro USB cable periodically charges the Runn. #Simple.

NPE Runn – Getting Started Basics

The actual installation is a little more finessed than this but in principle, this is what you do and it’s FAIRLY EASY

  • Stick the cradle on the rear frame of your treadmill…not underneath!…rather, at the back.
  • Stick some bits of white tape on the belt under the Runn, >12″ apart. The more the merrier
  • ( Turn on ANT+. Optional )
  • Pair it.
  • ( Calibrate it. Optional as Runn is supplied factory-calibrated)
  • Run.

Here are 7 indicative images on what you have to do as part of the straightforward installation process, the only thing I’ve not mentioned, that’s shown in the images, is that Runn needs to be adjusted to just over 6mm/0.25″ above the belt

The double-sided tape that sticks the bracket to your treadmill is actually pretty strong stuff and the bracket will take a BIG whack before coming off but the white belt stickers will have a relatively limited life. I would estimate that the belt stickers will stay attached for 10s of KM rather than 100s. When I first read about the white stickers it seemed they were fairly poor at adhering to the belt, however by the time I got my Runn I reckon NPE had taken that criticism on board and have improved the quality of stickers. But in the longterm, things just aren’t going to stick onto a dirty, sweaty and contoured moving surface…aka a treadmill belt.

So you will probably fall back to using Tippex/WhiteOut/Snow Paint on your home treadmill, although a better solution might be to apply floor paint to a belt that’s been thoroughly cleaned with alcohol. Here is a template you can use for that.

The white stickers (or snow paint) are important. The time taken for EACH SINGLE sticker to pass the 3-inches from the start to the end of the Runn is what is used to determine speed/pace. So the more stickers you have, the more frequently the speed/pace is updated ie THE MORE ACCURATE IT WILL BE

Pairing To Zwift

Zwift users know what to do here. Pair and Go…super simple but don’t calibrate Runn in Zwift.

NPE Runn Review

Pairing To Sports Watches

To enable/disable ANT+ broadcasting, double-tap the white button. You then pair Runn as a footpod to your Garmin, Coros or other ANT+ watches.

If you have Runn paired to Zwift then there are no spare BLE channels and a BLE sports watch, like Polar or Suunto, will be unable to find the Runn device to pair to it. Conversely, if your Polar is paired to Runn then Zwift won’t find Runn.

Displaying & Recording INCLINE Data

NPE Runn Now Transmits & Records Incline |

Advanced Usage – Runn Factory Reset

Factory Reset: Press and hold the rear, white button to return to factory settings. The factory-calibrated level of accuracy is for 5mph/0 degrees incline

This is an important point. The factory calibration is correct. Or, at least, you should assume it is. If you want to calibrate Runn to be wrong ie to match your treadmill’s displayed speed, then you can do that if you like. Personally I wouldn’t do that.

Here’s how…

Advanced Usage – Speed Matching Calibration

If, for the sake of consistency, you want all your TREADMILL, ZWIFT & GARMIN speed numbers to match then perform a calibration of the NPE Runn before calibrating Zwift, like this…

  • Complete the full physical installation and then set the treadmill speed to 5mph (8.0465km/h) with zero incline. There is NO NEED to run on the treadmill while this is happening.
  • Double-tap the rear, white button to turn on the right LED
  • Single tap the rear, white button, you will see alternating left and right LEDs as the white strip passes Runn
  • Press and hold the rear, white button for 6 seconds. The LEDs will alternate left to right when calibration is active.
  • Runn now automatically calibrates (the procedure doesn’t say that you need to run here but I would have thought you should)
  • LEDs will now turn off (If Runn is on mains power this is not the case)
  • Use Zwift/Garmin’s display to show that a correct 5mph speed (8.0465km/h) is being broadcast by Runn. If it’s different then re-start.
  • Runn is now calibrated
  • Now calibrate Runn WITHIN ZWIFT. This calibration is guided by the Zwift app and you will calibrate at 3 speeds relative to you level of running.

Instead, relying on the Runn’s calibrated speed should mean that your watch and Zwift agree BUT your treadmill’s displayed pace may be different – that’s fine. That’s what you want, in my opinion.

NPE Runn Specifications & Settings

  • Dimensions – 92 mm x 38 mm (3.6″ x 1.5″)
  • Strip Dimensions: 0.25” x 0.75”
  • Supports Bluetooth Smart & ANT+, more specifically:
    • ANT+  supports the Stride Based Speed and Distance Monitor ANT+ Profile and the FE-C profile which also incorporates incline
    • Bluetooth supports Running Speed and Cadence, plus FTMS support
  • Bluetooth is ‘always’ on. There is no on/off button
  • Supported Incline Range – all physical treadmill incline/decline angles should work
  • Battery Type – chargeable via micro-USB
  • Battery Life – over 10 hours.
  • Accelerometer: senses cadence

NPE Runn – LED Patterns

The LEDs give you some feedback on the device’s status

  • Left LED – BLE is connected
  • Middle LED – USB power active
  • Right LED – ANT+ is broadcasting
  • White Strip Detection – Left & right LEDs alternate as the strip passes under
  • Calibration – All 3 LEDs perform the reverse sequencing pattern when calibration is active.
  • Factory Reset – All 3 LEDs perform the forward sequencing pattern when the button has been held long enough for the reset request to be activated (about 10 secs). The pattern stays active until the button is released.

NPE Runn – Firmware Updates

From April 2020, firmware updates will be supplied over BLE using the Configurez iOS/Android app. Changes in Firmware v3.0.2 Include:

  • ANT+ cadence and incline enabled without the need to have a BLE connection active
  • Improved strip detection to prevent data dropouts under specific conditions
  • Fixed the BLE interface to allow use with RunSocial
  • Tighter integration with North Pole Engineering GymTrakr app
  • Zeroing out accumulated data when BLE connection is deactivated
  • Fixed jump in distance

 

NPE Runn Review

 

Alternatives to NPE Runn

NPE Runn Review

There are several alternative ways to get treadmill speed or running speed while you are running indoors. It depends on what end-use you want an alternative for. Treadmill running speed can come from any of these

  1. IF PRICE IS NO ISSUE AND YOU WANT THE MOST ACCURATE PACE AND/OR RUNNING POWER: Use STRYD – If you come here regularly you’ll know I like STRYD but it’s not cheap, although it gives you the benefit of running with the SAME power and speed indoors and outdoors. STRYD will broadcast pace/cadence over ANT+ and BLE just like the NPE Runn. STRYD currently does not handle INCLINE, except through its app.
  2. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A HIGH-END GARMIN: Use Garmin ‘Virtual Run’ mode – certain higher-end Garmins will broadcast heart rate, speed and cadence to Zwift using BLE thanks to a firmware update in Jan 2020.
  3. COST: Zwift (Milestone) Pod – This is a nice Zwift product and it’s cheap but it can be sometimes fiddly to pair and keep working. it will not broadcast ANT+ to older Garmins and only one device can use the BLE channel (ie Zwift) so it will never simultaneously support Zwift and your newer Garmin/Polar/app/Suunto.
  4. EXISTING FOOTPODS: Garmin run pod – These only work with ANT+ which means they won’t link directly to Zwift, you’ll need to buy an ANT+ dongle.
  5. EXISTING FOOTPODS: Polar Stride pod – This is BLE only. So only one device can be paired ie a watch OR Zwift

Of those 5 options, I would only recommend considering options 1 & 2…or NPE’s Runn of course!

NPE Runn Review

Complications, Thoughts & Opinions

  • STRAVA causes complications if you are using a Garmin and Zwift to each send workouts to STRAVA, clearly, you will get duplicates. The widely reported trick is to not save the data when you end the Garmin workout. I would have thought that messes up your Firstbeat physiology metrics. Instead, myself, I would discard the Zwift workout which, of course, would mean that STRAVA will not get a pretty picture of my workout route and, if you were to do that, it may also mess up any Zwift plan you have bought [IDK].  For a triathlete also syncing bike data from Zwift I’m not sure I can think of a catch-all solution here but for a plain runner, you just have to decide which link you want to cut.
  • I ran with STRYD and Runn both broadcasting their workout stats. I can’t really see the point of anyone else owning both of these devices, so just get either STRYD or Runn otherwise it’s like having two power meters on your bike…pointless (I have 3 ATM…which is VERY, VERY pointless 😉 ).
  • Accuracy – If you want to slightly increase Runn’s accuracy (responsiveness) then more white stickers will increase the sampling rate and the frequency at which any speed change is broadcast.
  • Manual/Curved Treadmills such as the TRUEFORM RUNNER – Slowtwitch tested Runn on their TREUFORM and found a high degree of accuracy from the RUNN.

Treadmill Speed Accuracy

Q: Which speed do I want?

A: I’m not sure, YOU tell me. Here are your choices

  • The displayed speed on the treadmill is the TARGET speed. Factors linked to the motor quality will mean that this IS different from your actual running speed
  • Runn measures belt speed – The belt speed IS slowed by the impact of footstrike (this is measured) and then the motor accelerates the belt at and after de-weighting at the toe-off time (the effect on the runner is INCORRECTLY measured). This speeding up when your feet are in the air (Source: STRYD) is recorded by the treadmill, but it isn’t experienced by you as the runner.
  • Actual running speed – this can only be measured by a footpod. And my regular readers know what I am going to say next…”Get a motion capture device” aka STRYD.

To have the treadmill-based speed mimic your outdoor speed is even more complex; for starters just consider the incline, air resistance and energy return from the surface. ie a positive gradient and a bouncy surface will all make you slower yet a lack of oncoming wind will make you faster.

NPE Runn Review

Accuracy Charts: I’ve got some data I might add back in here later, along with some more tests I have planned but at a simple level that is mostly pointless as I’m 99% sure that the Runn accurately reports treadmill belt speed.

If I start to look at Runn alongside STRYD data, perhaps incorporating a variable number of white stickers for Runn and then considering different inclines and other running pods, then it gets quite complicated, quite quickly. Even if I were to do that, I suspect that we shall see some developments in this general market fairly soon which will add even more new features to check out. #Undecided on what to do.

Bottom Line: Many people will be happy with the speed reported by NPE Runn TODAY.

Futures – NPE Runn Review

Whilst I think the future of Zwift Running is relatively limited and that it will never catch on in the same way as it has for cycling, it is nevertheless a notable, growing and important market for running equipment suppliers. Even putting Zwift to one side, many of us want to capture our treadmill workouts from work gyms or hotel gyms as well as from a treadmill we might have at home.

Runn IS good now, mainly because it fills a gap in the sensor markets by EASILY acquiring treadmill data. But it can be even better, in my opinion, like this

  • The product cradle needs a re-think for the professional gym market IMHO.
  • Incline/Grade is broadcast but nothing is done with it (yet!). This is AT LEAST crying out for a CIQ data field showing INCLINE.
  • Incline/Grade – Zwift could also take this data from Runn and perhaps incorporate an alert to remind you to raise/lower your incline setting to match the terrain in Zwift. This has to be a manual mechanism as there is no way for Zwift/Runn to automatically control the physical incline of your treadmill (unless you have a smart treadmill)
  • Incline/Grade – could be incorporated into a CIQ app to generate grade-adjusted pace which has similar usefulness to power or effort.
  • Incline/Grade – could perhaps be incorporated with other data like your weight and GCT data from your pod or HRM to give a power figure. But I’m not sure this would add anything useful over and above what you could get from grade adjusted pace eg power calculated in this manner could not be used on a device outdoors.
  • Incline/Grade – perhaps this could be combined with data coming from the STRYD sensor to produce a more ‘correct’ power figure that takes into account grade.
  • Ability to store treadmill calibration profiles. This would help runners who take their Runns to more than one treadmill but it could also help gym owners who might rent them out to gym members by the hour whilst not wanting to leave them permanently attached to a treadmill.

 

NPE Runn Review
You can get Runn in the USA for $89.99, all you need to do is add the 10% coupon code THE5KRUNNER for a 10% discount at checkout, as shown below. Using that code supports this blog, thank you

 

NPE Runn Discount, Price & Availability

Price: $89.99

You can get Runn in the USA for $89.99, all you need to do is add the 10% coupon code THE5KRUNNER for a discount at checkout

 

NPE Runn Review – Summing Up

NPE Runn Review
You can get Runn in the USA for $89.99, all you need to do is add the 10% coupon code THE5KRUNNER for a 10% discount at checkout, as shown below. Using that code supports this blog, thank you

 

 

Summary
  • Price - 95%
    95%
  • Apparent Accuracy - 95%
    95%
  • Build Quality & Design - 90%
    90%
  • Features, Including App - 85%
    85%
  • Openness & Compatability - 95%
    95%
92%

Summary

NPE’s Runn is a well-designed, consumer-grade, speed and running cadence sensor for treadmills which promises MORE in the near future once use is made of its broadcast INCLINE data. Runn is a perfect addition for Zwift runners seeking a simple, more accurate solution for home treadmills.

Furthermore, Runn is a nifty piece of hardware that quickly and easily slots into how your apps and sports devices currently work FOR YOU…there is no need for yet another new app from yet another new company.

Price-wise, Runn sits in the goldilocks zone. For sure, there are cheaper footpods and there are more expensive footpods too. Each competing solution has its merits but the NPE Runn is a strong solution for runners who use treadmills a lot or who want accuracy. Other runners with a liking for sports data-geekery, I suspect, will love 2020 as several new features are inevitable to this already successfully-selling product.

You can get Runn in the USA for $89.99, all you need to do is add the 10% coupon code THE5KRUNNER for a 10% discount at checkout, as shown below. Using that code supports this blog, thank you

Pros

  • Price – NPE could easily have charged more for Runn
  • Straightforward setup and installation – it is a sensor that just works
  • Broadcasts an accurate belt speed measurement at a level that is mostly suitable for semi-serious usage
  • Should work with all other standards-based sports equipment using ANT+/BLE/FE-C/FTMS
  • More accurate than your treadmill’s reported speed
  • Calibration will increase consistency with other devices

Cons

  • Cradle is only ‘great’ for home treadmill usage, less so elsewhere
  • Treadmill stickers won’t last indefinitely
  • Few other apps/hardware YET exist to make use of the grade/incline info
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Bene

Also using the Runn, I have a question:

When you calibrate the Runn manually, it will be in sync with the display of the treadmill and copy the error of the treadmill? I mean, you set the Mill to 5mph and it will do its (wrong) thing. Then you tell the Runn that this is meant to be 5 and not 5.2 mph?

I use velcro underneath the cradle, it works fine. The cradle is designed to be able to lower the sensor area beneath the cradle zero.

At last, their support said something about Cadence via ANT+:

“Hi,

We are aware of an issue with cadence not reporting via ANT+, and we are working on an update to solve that! In the meantime, there are two workarounds that you can do to get cadence and incline:
Use Zwift Companion App
Connect your Runn to an app like Gymtrakr via Bluetooth at the same time as using ANT+ with Zwift or other ANT+ channel

We will post about the update on our social media pages like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We will also send out an e-mail to our Runn subscribers list.”

Bene

Runn also stated in the comments under Rays review they will sell extra cradles.

When Im rid of my influenca I just carry around, I will connect the Runn via BT to my Forerunner 945. Via ANT, it looked like this:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/4507192653
I saw it already while I was running because Cadence in the Zwift display dropped out.

Beside the Cadence issue (I think they will solve it), its a nice “just works” device. I don’t think the cradle is a problem in gyms, just tape it with velcro and store cradles and devices at the counter. Only a few customers can make use of it (when I look at all the people walking on the mills in our gym) and those will ask. The button could have been a better piece of hardware, it just feels cheap.
Also, their Support is fast and super friendly.