Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi Project E:Motion Road N1

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PI Road N1 Side

It’s not often that I spontaneously buy a new type of running shoe.  But that was the position I found myself in when I went with my wife to help her pick out some new shoes at the best shoe store in the area, Vertical Runner in Hudson, OH.

First, I think a bit of a lesson is in order – be careful in trusting the expertise of running shoe salespeople, especially when it’s not a running-focused store.  My wife got her first shoes from someone who had been “trained by Brooks” on selecting shoes.  While the young lady got one variable right (neutral running form), she missed a few other key ingredients.  My wife spends most of her work day in high heels as a hospital administrator, and has never really run before.  The Brooks Pure Cadence sounded good on paper, but the low drop and limited cushioning were a complete miss.  Fortunately, the store took the shoes back after ~20 miles, so we decided to go to a better source for try #2 (note, I had intentionally removed myself from try #1, to let my wife find her own space in developing as a runner).

Well, after finding her some Mizuno Wave Riders (which she has had great success with), of course I couldn’t resist the smell of new shoes, and felt I deserved a reward for letting her and the shoe experts work out what was best.  So I asked about their zero/low drop offerings, as I’d been looking at that as my next step from the Kinvara’s and Gel Lyte’s I’d mostly been wearing.  I think I had the Saucony Virrata in mind, but they were generally lacking in size 13’s in anything in that range.

PI Road N1 TopThe only shoe they did come out with was the Pearl Izumi Project E:Motion Road N1’s.  These didn’t look like a low drop shoe, and frankly I’ve had issues with dropping the first perception that, well, they looked a bit “clunky”.  The flat and thick-looking sole made almost entirely of EVA doesn’t fit your perception of a minimalist (or, more accurately and as Running Warehouse has taken to calling the almost-minimal category, elemental).  Vince (the owner of Vertical Runner) started talking about the “dynamic offset” technology of the Pearl Izumi Project E_Motion shoes, and stated they were a 3mm drop.  So I went ahead and tried them on, and was taken in by the comfort of the shoes.  After a short trial run, I figured I’d give them a go.

After getting home, I did a bit more research on the shoes and discovered they are listed by Running Warehouse as having a (measured) 7mm heel-to-toe drop.  Not the direction I was looking to go, as I already had shoes in that range.  But they were so comfortable, I figured I’d still give them a chance.  What makes these shoes unique (at the time for me, at least) was the unbelievable conformity of the upper.  It literally had a snug-yet-slipper-like feel, conforming perfectly to my feet while seeming very breathable.

And I’ll be honest, they don’t run like a 7mm heel-to-toe drop shoe.  I have had no issue running with a midfoot strike in these shoes, and after over 250 miles there is no sign of heel wear.  Now, there is no sign of heel wear in my 6mm-drop (listed) Asics Gel Lyte33’s, either, so it’s possible I can run in any shoe in that range without heel striking to a significant extent, but I never consciously had to adjust my footstrike with these shoes.

What the shoes don’t give is a fast feeling.  I’ve never felt comfortable with the thought of running  a tempo or repeat workout in them, let alone a race.  I can’t even bring myself to try.  At just over 8 ozs. of weight (for a men’s size 9), it is slightly heavier than other shoes in the category.  And the sole just doesn’t feel right for speed.  At 15mm, it’s not that thick – maybe it’s just the stiffness of the EVA.  And it is a loud shoe, probably the loudest I own at this point – the EVA has very little pliability so it doesn’t feel like a cushioned shoe.

There is something else a little odd about the underfoot feel of the shoe; they feel a little like a stability shoe due to the raised surface where you’d find a medial post.  Don’t get me wrong, these are neutral shoes, but they don’t feel “as neutral” as similar shoes.  This may play games with my head a bit, so I imagine things like increased IT band soreness and the other things you’d associate with stability shoes (and this is the reason I seldom if ever run in the Lunarfly’s anymore), but a lot of running really is in your head, so such perceptions matter.

Wear marks after 250 miles, mostly on the lateral side, none on the heel, a bit at the medial side near the toes.

Wear marks after 250 miles, mostly on the lateral side, none on the heel, a bit at the medial side near the toes.

You would be right to be concerned about the wear on a shoe where the ground contact is mostly made with EVA – and this shoe does have notable wear after 250 miles, mostly on the outside edge for me.  But with so much material available to wear through, it actually seems like a pretty durable shoe, and I’m confident they have another 250+ miles in them.

So to summarize the good about this shoe:

  • One of the most comfortable and conformable uppers you’ll find, with a great design around the heel as well – zero risk of hot spots, and you can probably run sockless in them (though I haven’t tried)
  • Good durability – these shoes seem capable of handling high volume and may even adapt a bit to your running after the first few dozen miles
  • Lightweight enough to consider as a racing shoe – falls in the midrange of the “elemental” category
  • There seems to be some reality to the “dynamic offset” technology – despite the measured 7mm heel-to-toe drop, these shoes do not promote a heel strike
  • Oddly, these shoes don’t smell.  I recall reading somewhere (but now can’t find it) that there is something incorporated to reduce the odor in the shoe, and it seems to work

And the not-as good:

  • The bulky-looking and flat sole design doesn’t give the impression of speed, and it’s hard to shake that (which may make it hard to pull out these shoes for a workout or race)
  • The stiffness is higher than many runners seeking a more minimal feel may desire

So what you end up with is a good shoe for eating up the mileage, suitable for short- to medium distances (and long runs for some runners), resulting in decent value for the $115 price tag.  But it’s not an exciting shoe.  As for this runner, he’ll happily use up the miles available via anticipation or 7-12 mile “general aerobic” runs.  But I probably won’t buy another pair as the Kinvara’s and Gel Lyte33’s (version 1, I haven’t tried version 2) can also serve that purpose for me, and I’m just a bit more comfortable with the feel of those shoes.  But I might be persuaded to try the new Pearl Izumo Road N 0 (N-Zero) when it comes out.

If you are interested in the Pearl Izumi Road N 1’s, they are readily available from Amazon, Optimal Run, and Road Runner Sports.

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  • TheRobbie22

    Hey Greg, great reviews on the new Pearls. We have them over at Road Runner Sports as well if you think your audience might be interested:

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Rob, I’ve added a link to Road Runner Sports to the article as well.