Monday, October 21, 2013

Pearl Izumi Trail N2 and M2... the wonder shoe

What am I to do now that I no longer have any races to write about for a while? Gear reviews. After Brooks changed my beloved Cascadias I realized it was time for a switch. I wandered around happily in the Salomon Speedcross 3s for a bit before settling on my new love, the Pearl Izumi Trail N2s and M2s.

Here's the thing about footwear reviews, unless your foot is similar to the reviewer's it doesn't really matter what the reviewer thinks of the shoe because you will probably have a very different experience. So what is my foot like? It's not narrow and it's not wide, but it's a little flat. I over-pronate a little but not a lot. My toes are all pretty short and my 2nd toe is longer than my big toe, but even my pinky toe is only marginally smaller. This means that I normally like a rounded foot-shaped shoe over a pointy toe shoe.
Yes, I kept all of my toenails this season.

Though I am a footwear nerd, I have yet to write a shoe review because shoes are such a personal thing and what works for me night not work for you. At the end of the day, people care little about the technical details of the shoe and more about what the overall feel is like. Well, my friends, we'll get through the boring stuff (my favorite stuff) fast and I will tell you why these shoes are so magical.

 M2 top and bottom view

N2 top and bottom view

First off, what is the difference between the N2 and the M2? Not much. In the words of PI the difference is that the M2 has "Bi-lateral stability support is trail tuned to keep your foot on top of the midsole platform in technical terrain." What does this mean? The M2s will help control over-pronation. This feature is pretty minimal compared to the typical "stability" shoe and the pronation control is accomplished through placing mid-sole foams of different densities in areas that stabilize your foot's side-to-side rocking movement. Really this just helps keep your foot strike from getting sloppy as your form degrades throughout a race.

Other than that here are the deets that both shoes share. They have a dynamically off-set midsole which will naturally encourage more of a midfoot strike. The lugs are multi-directional so that you will have good grip going both uphill and downhill. A seamless upper provides amazing comfort and it is nearly impossible to get blisters from the shoe itself. The shoe is not physically capable of absorbing moisture, so unless you are wearing a really crappy sock, water drains very quickly. The laces are wavy which makes it pretty much impossible for them to come untied. The drop from forefoot to heel is 9mm so it's not minimal but it's also not a monster.

Alright, now that all of that is out of the way, what do I actually think about the shoe? First off, from the minute you put them on you will be in foot heaven. No rubbing on my pinky toe, no squishing my toes together, no sloppy heel fit, no weird arch support. Just simple goodness. The seamless upper let my toes stretch out as needed and didn't cause any hot spots.

On my first I run took the N2s to some very technical trails in Golden Gate Canyon State park. They felt sublime and let my foot do their thing without any pinching, squishing, or rubbing. The one tricky thing was that the sole platform was much wider than I was used to with my narrow Speedcrosses. This feature definitely made me feel more stable, but I kept nicking my toe on rocks and narrowly avoided some face plants. After two runs, my body got used to this and it hasn't been an issue since. I had a few awkwardly placed footfalls and the rockplate gave adequate protection and the toe bumper, though minimal in appearance, was placed well in the spot where my toes actually hit things.

Now that I've been running in them for a few months across a variety of terrain and in a couple of races, I can honestly say this is the best all-purpose shoe I've ever owned. The cushioning is soft enough that I can wear the shoes on pavement and the lugs don't grind down too fast. The grip is good on the rocks out here and the platform keeps you stable on scree and pebbly stuff. Because the upper is so breathable, very fine silt and sand does get in. It performs extraordinarily well on hardpack and did better than I expected on ice. In muddy conditions it does gunk up pretty fast and I would probably still choose a luggier shoe if I was running in sloppy mud or snow.

I would have to say that these are my ideal ultramarathon shoes because my foot expands a good bit during races and I feel that there is adequate room in the forefoot to accommodate that swelling. That said, when I take them out for shorter distances there is a little bit of sliding in the forefoot but not enough to say that it has a "sloppy" fit. I'm glad I own both the N2s and M2s because they serve different purposes. I tend to use the N2s for quicker faster efforts and I use the M2s on longer training runs and longer races because they noticeably help me keep good form longer.

A lot of local running stores are carrying these shoes now, but for friends who don't have a retailer nearby I recommend going to this site where you can type in your current shoe model and see how the fit compares.

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