An Elegy to the World’s Best Running Shoes
Seeing a beloved piece of gear get discontinued is a bit like going through a rough breakup. Pearl Izumi’s decision to terminate its Run line left our writer particularly devastated.
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The subject line was innocuous enough. It read, “Pearl Izumi Focuses on Cycling Business.” I expected an announcement of a new line of bibs, shoes, or jerseys, not the devastating news last week’s email actually contained: Pearl Izumi will terminate its running program, effective January 2017.
I stood up, exited my office, and stormed around my house firing off a string of expletives. I called my wife, who, responding to the tone of my voice, thought a family member had died. “Oh God, what is it?” she asked. “Well it’s not that bad, but…” I said. “Just tell me what’s wrong.” I told her. She agreed that it was, in fact, a massive bummer.
You see, Pearl Izumi makes (made…) my favorite running shoe—the Trail N2. The first iteration (it’s currently in the third generation) was the first runner that made me realize I didn’t need to be hobbled by blisters when training for a trail marathon. It nailed the cushioning balance for me. It made running significantly less painful.
And now it’s leaving me for good.
It all seems dramatic, I know. I imagine many of you seasoned runners have witnessed dozens of beloved shoes tweaked or “upgraded” into oblivion. But I am relatively new to this sport (I only really start running three years ago, when I trained for the 50-mile The North Face Endurance Challenge) and this is the first time I’ve lost a shoe I loved. Just like I thought I would never recover from Jackie Monroe telling me “it” just wasn’t there any more in my college dorm room, I’m not sure I yet have the coping mechanisms to say goodbye to this shoe.
I test a lot of gear for Outside, but the most intimate product relationship I have is with my running shoes. There are a variety of reasons for this. For one, I use them the most often. I make hundreds of pow turns on floaty skis. But I make hundreds of thousands of strides in a pair of runners.
Secondly, running shoes define my outdoor experience. Running is so simple. While I do adorn myself with a GPS watch and fancy ball-hugging underwear, all I really need are those shoes. If your shoes don’t work, you’ll be miserable. They affect how comfortable you are and how your foot interacts with the trail.
Which gets me to my third and final point: trust. A dependable pair of shoes is like a safety net—a control in a sport full of variables. Will this new flavor of Gu rock my gut? If I hammer on this downhill with tired legs will I injure myself? One question I haven’t asked myself in the last two and a half years: Am I running in the wrong pair of shoes?
For me, all the versions of the Trail N2 hit a perfect, simple balance. And I am not the only one who feels this way. The outcry in the first days post-revelation has been overwhelming, says Chuck Sanson, director of run for Pearl Izumi. A Save Pearl Izumi Run Facebook page was created within hours of the official announcement. Hopeful rumors have been circulating that this move is just a marketing stunt by Pearl. I (sadly) confirmed that it is not.
“You are breaking my heart, like a lot of people have been over the past couple of days,” Sanson says. “They always say you don’t know how much somebody loves you until you are gone and that is what we are realizing.”
While I assumed that the running side’s demise was the result of Pearl feeling too small and too core in a crowded market, Sanson told me the decision was more philosophical than monetary. “Our core business is cycling and we’ve got a lot of competitors and when you come under fire on your core business you have to circle your wagons,” he says. “While we had been having really good success in run, at the end of the day its hard—even if you are the number one brand in cycling—to create success unless you can really create focus.”
“It wasn’t a draw on financial resources but on the bandwidth, people, side of it.”
Maybe it’s for the best. There are many more shoe-fish in the retail-sea. Maybe, just like with my first lost love, I will end up for the better. Someday, as a more sophisticated runner, I may find a shoe that has features so perfect for my anatomy and style that I don’t even know I need them yet.
For now, though, I am going to load up on as many Trail N2 shoes as I can get my hands on before January.