The Soft Running Shoe That's Still Fast

Credit: Courtesy pearlizumi.com

Nobody's ever accused Pearl Izumi of making a cushy running shoe. Their footwear over the years has tended to be firm, with harder midsoles that deliver a fast ride. But, the company's new E:Motion Road N3 will cater to more runners who want a softer shoe for easy days or long runs.

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The new shoe isn't altogether surprising, given the trend toward thicker, softer soles led by the upstart Hoka One One. When such shoes are too bulky, though, it tends to be squishy and lacks the responsive feel that only a firmer shoe can deliver. Happily, the N3 bridges both types of shoe, managing to feel well-cushioned, while still having a snappy transition from heel to toe that lets you run fast over long distances. With it, Pearl Izumi now has a competitor with premium (and pricey) high-mileage trainers like the Brooks Glycerin, Saucony Triumph, and Asics Gel-Nimbus.

The N3 stands out from these other shoes in the way that it is so smooth you'll likely think you're wearing a more nimble, lightweight trainer. We especially like how its sole quickly gets you up onto your toes after heel striking. Credit the slightly rounded bottom — Pearl calls it "Dynamic Offset." Rather than a traditional rocker, where the heel and toes curve upward (think of the runner on the bottom of a rocking chair), Pearl uses an aggressive toe spring that starts farther back under the ball of the foot than most others.

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True to Pearl Izumi's heritage, the upper is plush, eliminating any chance of irritation. Its seam-free construction is comfortable enough that you can wear the shoe without socks. The N3 gets even softer mesh — the underside of the tongue has a satiny feeling — and thicker foam padding around the heel. The upper isn't quite as luxurious as you'll find on the aforementioned competitor's shoes, but gives you plenty of comfort without weighing you down.

One nitpick: We found the padding around the collar and tongue to be a little too thick for our liking. That, combined with laces that are far too short, could make it difficult for runners to really get a snug fit in the heel.

[$130; pearlizumi.com]