Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi E:motion Trail N1

I go through a lot of shoes.  More specifically, I go through a lot of trail running shoes.  Some of them, I wear a few times, put maybe 75-100 miles on them, and just realize that they aren't what I was hoping they would be.  Most of those either end up as a gift to a friend, or in a pile in the bottom of my closet.

Every once in awhile, I find that shoe.  You know the one I'm talking about.  The shoe that feels like it was made just for your stride, for your foot, for the terrain that you train on the most.  The shoe that was made for you.  

I've only ever found a few of those shoes in the probably 20+ different pairs of trail running shoes.  The first, was the NB MT110.  I loved that shoe, and I still love it.  There is still a pair in my closet right now, that I still pull out on occasion.  It's the first pair of shoes I've ever bough a second pair of when my first wore out. I ran my first trail marathon in them.  I'll always have an infatuation with those shoes.

The second pair, was the Salomon XT S-Lab 4.  I felt fast wearing those shoes.  They say that bright shoes affect your mental perception of how fast you run, well, it's hard to find something brighter that Salomon red.  Unfortunately (or not), the one pair of these I owned I got at a crazy online sale, and I could only find them for $180 after that.  Nope, not paying it.

I went through a few other pairs of trail shoes, finding some decent ones, but never anything I really fell in love with.  I even bought another pair of super expensive shoes that came in bright red and were designed with the ultra runner in mind.  I wanted to love them, but I just couldn't.  The tread chunked off, the fit wasn't right, and after two runs, I sent them back.  

I needed something that could handle high mileage training, have a smooth and comfortable ride, provide grip on gnarly terrain, as well as run good on the flat, and last for a long time.  I searched, I read reviews, I asked people through social media, I looked back through pictures at what other people wore during trail races.  

I remembered back to Western States...and Timmy Olson.

He managed to win two years in a row (so far) wearing the Pearl Izumi Trail N1s.  At this point, I figured I should give them a shot.  Yep, I fell for the marketing, but I'm not afraid to admit it.  I have to be honest, all the reviews I read on them were mixed.  Some people complained that they were far too stiff after a couple of runs.  I was willing to take a chance, because I think in this day of "barely there" minimalist shoes, people have gotten far too used to a shoe being uber-flexy right out of the box.  Do people not remember what it is like to have to break in a pair of running shoes?

I was skeptical.  I had nothing to lose, because I know I could always go back to my MT110s if these didn't work out...but I had to wonder....what if they are that good?  So I ordered a pair...

My first pair of Trail N1s. 

When I got them and took them out of the box, I was surprised.  Fairly light, but not minimalist.  Good tread pattern, but not overly aggressive.  Decent amount of cushion, but only the necessary amount, not too much.  And that upper; that seamless piece of ventilated beauty.  I fell in love with that upper the first time I put it on.  

(*I'm not going to bore you with the specific specs and marketing quotes about this shoe, you can get it from Pearl Izumi's website if that's what you are looking for.)

Taking them out for the first run was on my usual route around my house, which is the perfect trail shoe  proving ground.  Starts out with about 1.5 miles of road, then cuts to a sandy fire road, then a super sandy climb up to a ridge line.  Once on the ridge line, there are miles of trail options; rolling gravel double track, and gnarly, techy, lava rock encrusted single track with rolling hills, and steep climbs/scrambles.  If a shoe can survive a couple runs through here, I'd be willing to put it through anything.

Out on the run, I was surprised with how they did on the road.  They obviously aren't road shoes, but they aren't uncomfortable or clunky on the road either.  Good so far, but I wasn't looking for road shoes.  

On the sandy fire road, they did just fine...but I'm still not super impressed; a decent pair of road shoes would be fine too.  

I climbed up the sandy slope to the ridge line, and to no surprise, the shoes filled with sand.  Now, I won't hold this against any shoe, because they all fill with sand.  This is that deep, powdery, uninhabited beach kind of sand.  And it's about a 50 degree climb.  Unless you're wearing fishing waders, you're going to get sand in your shoes.  

Next, I hit the single track.  This shoe came alive...

Steep rocky climb?  Check.  Rolling smooth track?  Check.  Bombing down loose, rocky, technical steep descents?  Double check.  This shoe handled everything I could throw at it on the first run, and just sat there asking for more.  I ran hard, I ran fast, up, down, off camber, soft ground, hard ground, anything I could find.  At the end I looked down at my feet, and in my head the shoes looked back and said "Is that all you've got?"

Pearl Izumi claims these shoes have some sort of E:Motion witchcraft built in to them.  I'm an average man, so I have no idea what all that mumbo jumbo means exactly.  But I do know this...whatever it is that's engineered into these shoes, it works.  Don't just take my work for it, take a look around.  Take the ultra running community for example.  It's not often you see the elite runners wearing shoes that are a different brand than what their sponsor makes...but when you do, there's a good chance it's these Pearl Izumis.  And now I know why.  

The more I wear these shoes, the more I like them.  They were stiff at first, but after about 50 miles, they broke in perfectly.  If you try them, and don't like them at first run, give them some miles, these shoes will make you a believer.  I've got around 250 miles in these shoes, and I still love them.  It's pretty much all I run in, no matter where I'm running.

Tread comparison, new (obviously) on the left, old on right after 250-ish miles.  There's probably just a little less than half the tread left in the forefoot.  Note:  The terrain around here destroys most shoes pretty quickly due to the grittiness.  These PI's have stood up much better than most shoes.

The red and black one still has the cardboard insert in it, but as you see in comparison, the upper has held up amazingly well.  Especially considering all the run-ins this upper gets with shard volcanic type rock.

In fact, I just bought another pair to keep in the box until I break them in for my fall 50 miler.  I love my Pearl Izumis.  No longer do I have to decide which shoe to buy, only which color.  I plan on running these things into the ground time, after time, after time, after time....

New ones in a new color...just waiting for a run.

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