Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pearl Izumi Trail N2 Shoe Review


The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 is my first experience with PI shoes, though I've been very happy with PI apparel, such as their tri shorts and singlets. These shoes caught my eye at last month's Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k here in Colorado, where it seemed like ~40% of the runners there had either the N1 or N2 trail shoes. I was wearing the flashy but entirely-not-protective-enough Salomon S-Lab Senses for the race. As it turns out, the Golden Gate Canyon trail is composed of loose, broken, sharp rock that feels a lot better with cushion and a strong rock plate underfoot.

Golden Gate Canyon Trail
After the race, I started looking for a protective, cushioned, lighter weight, everyday training and (possibly) racing shoe with a 6-10mm drop, because 4mm offset taxes my calves and lower leg tendons, especially with the 2-4 mile long climbs that I have been enjoying lately. Running Warehouse specs the N2 stack height at 27mm-17mm, but with the rocker technology, they feel like a 6mm drop shoe. Depending on your running style, they might feel as low as a 4mm drop and as high as 8mm in other shoes. At 10.5 ounces, I thought they would feel sluggish, but not nearly as much as similarly weighted, but much clunkier shoes, like the Saucony Xodus or Brooks Cascadia.

The first time I tried them on, I noticed how tall I stood. It's a lot more cushion than my other every day shoes, Salomon Ultras and Senses, and Montrail Rogue Flys. This cushion is what I was looking for, but it made me feel a bit unbalanced, and my first few trail runs were cautious, as I noticed the shoe torquing laterally a bit when I'd land on a jagged rock. That said, there was no pain at all from the rock, as the ESS rock plate protected the point from penetrating, and the firm cushion in the midsole absorbed much of the weight of my impact. Like with any new shoe, the ride took some getting used to, but now I feel wholly confident in how well they will respond to various surfaces.

The N2's are fairly stiff if you take them in hand and bend them from heel to toe, but the rocker offsets this, as I've found a very smooth heel to forefoot transition while running both uphills and downhills, and I can keep up a quick cadence while grinding out those long climbs.

The inside of the N2 is comfortable with no seams chafing my feet. I feel confident that I could run a 50 miler without fearing for blisters. However, concerning the shape of the shoe, I have a very narrow heel and slightly narrow forefoot, and the PI shoes tend to be wider in both these areas, with the N2 as no exception. I've noticed that my feet will slide around (mostly side to side) if I wear thin socks, but with thicker Smartwool socks my feet stay in place. I've considered sizing down to a 9.5 for future PI purchases -- I'm a 10 in all other running shoes -- but I think my toes would bang up against the box.

The N2 carbon rubber outsole has been far more durable than the Senses, Ultras, and Rogue Flys, and it's probably on par with the Saucony Peregrines. However, the N2 lug pattern far outshines all of the aforementioned shoes, as I've been on sharp, technical, rocky trails and have yet to slip with these. They do occasionally slide sideways a little on sandy, downhill switchbacks.

Today I ran at Golden Gate Canyon State Park again, on many of the same steep, rocky, technical trails that are part of the race course, but this time I had my N2's for protection, and I found that my calves were far less tired on the climbs, my feet didn't hurt at all, and I could totally bomb the downhills, my favorite part about running mountains. The N2's are quickly becoming my favorite go to trail shoe for both technical as well as buffed out trail runs. For a marathon or 50k trail race, I might go with something lighter and less protective, but for my next 50 and 100, I'd be hard pressed to find a better shoe than the N2.

Floated right over these rocks with the Trail N2

Specs from Running Warehouse:

Weight: 10.5 oz (size 9)
Stack Height: Heel (27mm), Forefoot (17mm)
Available Widths: D=Medium
How It Fits (based on width D) 
  • Sizing: Standard running shoe length
  • Heel: Medium
  • Midfoot: Medium volume
  • Forefoot: Medium
  • Toe-Box Height: Low
  • Arch Structure: Medium
  • Shoe Shape: Semi-Curved
The EM Trail N 2 is a minimum feature, minimum neutral trail shoe designed for racing and daily training. it is built with a semi-curved shape.
  • 1:1 Energy Foam in the forefoot cushions the foot on impact and returns energy back to the runner for a resilient ride.
  • 1:1 Energy Foam heel crash pad cushions the foot on impact and returns energy back to the runner for a resilient ride.
  • E:Motion is a EVA foam that offers a ideal balance of cushioning and support.
  • Dynamic Offset is a new midsole shape that works with the foot as you travel through the gait cycle, delivering a smooth responsive ride. 
  • Seamless Upper improves next-to-foot comfort, offering a supple, sock-like fit that moves with the foot.
  • Bonded Toe Cap protects the foot from hazards on the trail.
  • SBR Tongue resists water absorption without sacrificing comfort or breathability.
  • Ortholite Sockliner provides amazing step-in comfort and long-lasting cushioning.
  • Strobel Last with the upper stitched to full length fabric for a comfortable underfoot feel.
  • Carbon Rubber Trail Outsole provides multidirectional traction and durability.
  • Flow Line follows the patten of the gait cycle.
  • ESS Rock Plate consists of hardened foam that protects the foot from sharp rocks and stone bruising.