Tag Archives: road running shoe

Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi EM Road N2

Has Pearl Izumi produced a well-balanced running shoe in the latest version of the EM Road N2?

Having had a positive experience running in the Pearl Izumi E:Motion (EM) Road N1 racer-trainer running shoe, I looked forward to having a go in another of their models. Fortunately, the company provided the EM Road N2 model – technically the second version of this shoe, the Road N2v2. For simplicity, I will refer to it as the Road N2.

Pearl Izumi states that this neutral model provides “the perfect balance of light and fast with just enough cushioning and durability.” Is this true? You can see the verdict below.

pearl-izumi-em-road-n2-14-men

The first thing noticeable about the EM Road N2 is the nice low-to-the-ground feel. As for the fit, while the shoe initially feels snug – a bit like a tennis shoe – it loosens up after some break-in miles. There’s enough room for the toes to splay naturally up front, but the forefoot appears to be a bit firmer than on the Road N1 model. In fact, the forefoot firmness seems to fall midway between that on the Road 1 (more flexible) and the Trail N2 (less flexible). For most, it should be just about right in terms of protecting sore toes and feet.

The Road N2 weighs 9.1 ounces, the same as the Trail N2, but it’s heavier than the N1’s 7.7 or so ounces (the forthcoming version of the N1 will weigh 8.6 ounces). In today’s running world, it’s a mid-weight shoe.

The fact that Pearl Izumi pays attention to the small details is reflected in the shoelaces. They’re just the right length, not too short or long.

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Upon hitting asphalt and concrete roads in the Road N2, one feels a pleasing amount of spring and energy return. Although it’s a relatively low shoe, heel strikers can pound away at will thanks to the brand’s dynamic (variable) offset midsole. The dynamic offset midsole eliminates forefoot slap and provides a light rocker panel feel, which easily transitions the foot from heel to mid-foot and on to the forefoot. This is a shoe that can be used by any type of runner, but mid-foot strikers will likely feel the most at home in it.

The heel cushioning on the Road N2 is not too soft, nor hard (more New Balance than Mizuno). The overall underfoot cushioning is what I would describe as soft-landing but firm in movement. Had I been blindfolded, I might have guessed that I was running in either the New Balance 890v3 or a pair of Asics Gel-DS Trainers. The key point is that my feet never felt beat up after runs in the Road N2.

What’s quite impressive about the Road N2 is the shoe’s excellent directional stability. This is not a floppy, sloppy, running shoe. You need not worry about your feet hitting each other, and there’s no sense of wasted sideways motion. Although the Road N2 does not feel fast like the Road N1, it’s a great tempo trainer. Set a pace and the shoe lets you almost effortlessly lock onto it and stick with it. And there’s a comforting uniformity in that each footfall feels the same and the ride feels the same on both feet. (It’s sometimes disturbing to run in a pair of running shoes in which the left and right shoes seem to have been manufactured in different factories.)

On a gravel-covered dirt trail, the Road N2 feels protective like the Road N1, but is less slippery due to a more traditional sole pattern. Using this shoe on a rainy day would not be a problem – something that’s not necessarily true in the Road N1.

It’s off-road where one realizes that the Road N2 provides an excellent mid-foot fit and support. On a hard-packed dirt trail the shoe feels limber but stable – and it winds up being a fine runner on a hard rock trail. You don’t feel the rocks underfoot and there’s virtually no slippage.

The Road N2 is a hybrid running shoe that would be a good choice for travel, especially when the traveler does not know what type of surface her or she will be running on at his/her destination, or whether the surface will be wet or dry. This shoe will pretty much have things covered whether you’re landing in Milwaukee, Seattle, or San Diego.

Verdict:

The Pearl Izumi Road N2 should work well for the person seeking a durable, protective shoe that can be used for slow, moderate or aggressive training runs on roads and trails. The shoe may work especially well for those who prefer to put in their miles on tracks, running at a rock-steady pace. The Road N2 can serve as a type of metronome for those oval runners.

Most runners will find the Road N2 to be a very competent 5K, 10K or half-marathon shoe, and some will find it protective and stable enough to run a full marathon. The Road N2 is not the flashiest shoe on the market – and perhaps not in Pearl Izumi’s own catalog – but it does most everything quite well.

Yes, this is a well-balanced shoe. All in all, it’s another clear water pearl from this brand.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2v2 retails for $120.00.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-pearl-izumi-em-road-n2/

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Ready to Run

Zoot Banyan soleZoot Sports Banyan

Running Shoe Review: Zoot Banyan

A few weeks ago, I would have told you that I do not like running shoes with soft heel cushioning and a bouncy ride. That was true until I wear tested the Zoot Tempo Trainer model provided to me by Zoot Sports. That shoe is impressive, and so I decided to purchase another model from Zoot, via Road Runner Sports, to see if I would be equally impressed with it. I selected the Zoot Banyan. Read on to see the verdict.

The men’s version of the Banyan comes in a tri color scheme that Zoot describes as black, green flash and safety yellow. I would describe the colors as bold black, lime green and electric green but I’m color blind. The color scheme in the women’s version is so jumbled that I won’t even attempt to describe it. (My wife says the color mix on the women’s version reminds her of Disney toys.) You can look it up online at the Zoot Sports site.

The Banyan has a virtually straight last, which means this neutral trainer can be used by minimal to moderate pronators. The Banyan’s fit is excellent and the shoe is comfortable; neither tight nor loose. The lacing system is off-center to relieve top-of-the-foot pressure, and it has a secure gusseted tongue. The shoe has a firm heel counter, which is protective, but you will not feel it as there’s plenty of interior padding around the ankles. The Banyan’s soft heel padding carries on a family tradition.

The Banyan has a low to the ground feel but this is not a minimal shoe. After a number of runs in the shoe, I thought of a way to describe its ride. If you could breed a Mizuno shoe (with a traditional 12mm heel drop) with a current Asics running shoe (most of which have an 8mm heel drop), their offspring would feel like this. It may not be totally coincidental that the heel drop on the Banyan is right in between the Mizuno and Asics levels at 10mm. Heel strikers will feel right at home in this model.

The Banyan is lighter in weight than the Tempo Trainer (9.4 versus 10.3 ounces). You might think this difference cannot be felt on the road but it is most definitely noticeable. The Banyan has a blown rubber forefoot, a ZVA midsole and a set of durable rubber pads in the heel. There are a total of 8 pads or pods underfoot, five up front and three in the rear.

There is a concern about these pads/pods, which is that they are glued on the sole. Will they stay on for 300, 400 or 500 miles? I don’t know.

One consumer noted on the company’s website that the Banyan running shoe is “a bit stiff out of the box.” This is a statement I disagree with. I found the shoe to have an almost broken in feel right from the start. And the sock liner seemed to be perfectly matched to the shoe, something that’s increasingly rare these days.

The Banyan’s forefoot sole looks like those found on a more traditional running shoe as compared to the Tempo Trainer. The appearance and feel of the forefoot sole reminds me of early 90s running flats, and the shoe appears to be more flexible than the Tempo Trainer. The Banyan is a less expensive shoe, but for the savings, you get a reduced amount of protection for your feet.

The Banyan is well padded enough to provide an enjoyable and bouncy ride on concrete. On asphalt, the ride is comfortable and steady. This would be a fine shoe to use for a 5K or 10K organized run.

The Banyan feels competent on crushed gravel, but the features that make this shoe special do not stand out on this surface. Because of this, I would choose another shoe for long training runs on crushed gravel trails or tracks.

The Banyan shines on a hard-packed dirt trail, as it’s both flexible and stable enough to deliver a fun run. If this was a car, we would say that it has a great suspension. I’m looking forward to locating a grass-covered trail for a Sunday drive in the Banyan.

Verdict: The Zoot Banyan is a very good to excellent shoe for urban and suburban pathways. It will appeal to those who like a bouncy ride combined with a soft heel strike, and those who prefer a lighter, non-minimalist, shoe for fast paced training runs.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-zoot-banyan/

The Zoot Banyan retails for $110.00. Since writing this review, I have had feedback from two runners, each of whom has run 300 to 500 miles in their Banyans. They have experienced no material or construction flaws with the shoe.

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Running on Sunshine

Running Shoe Review: La Sportiva Helios

Is the lightweight La Sportiva Helios running shoe fit for both trail and road?

LS Helios (sole)La Sportiva Helios (side)

At first glance the Helios trail running shoe looks more like a racing flat than a shoe built to take you bounding and pounding over mountain and urban trails. It is heavier than it looks (8.1 ounces) but it is bold in appearance, at least in the grey and orange color combination. The Helios is also available in a more conservative, tamer grey and red color scheme.

La Sportiva describes the fit of the Helios as medium/wide but, trust me, it’s anything but that. I could only get my narrow feet into the shoe — a half-size up from my walking shoe size — by removing the provided insole, substituting it with a thinner sock liner from another trail shoe, and wearing a very thin pair of socks. I would label the fit as narrow/tight.

Although the Helios is a neutral shoe, it’s built on an almost straight last which provides some low-to-the-ground stability. It is a minimalistic shoe with a 4mm heel drop, but with a good sized EVA midsole. The shoe has a two-piece upper and comes with a gusseted and highly padded tongue which does not move around. I changed the lacing pattern on the pair provided to me by La Sportiva, eliminating the use of the extra eyelet which sits a full inch in front of the standard eyelets. This made the shoe feel more flexible up front.

The sole of the Helios looks like nine ocean waves headed toward shore. It is most definitely a wave patterned sole.

There’s a blue rubbery surface on the top of the slip-lasted midsole which implies a softer ride than the shoe actually delivers. The Helios’s cushioning was initially unimpressive on crushed gravel. This changes when one speeds up the pace and then the sui generis soft rubber underfoot seems to take hold. According to the manufacturer, the orange Frixion AT sole is “soft, resilient and lightweight rubber… for road and trail.” One immediately gets the feeling that this is a shoe designed and built for those who prefer to put in relatively fast training runs.

I found that the Helios absolutely comes alive on concrete. Suddenly, you can feel the bounce from the soft rubber which makes it easy to lift one’s feet higher for a quicker ride. Since the Helios is heavier than it appears to be, I think it may be durable enough for more than the occasional run on roads. Warning: Your actual mileage on concrete may vary.

The heel cushioning on the shoe is more soft than firm but it gets the job done. The heel pad looks awfully small, but this is not something you’ll notice while running.

The shoe’s inherent stability kicks in on asphalt when, again, a quicker pace is rewarded with a smooth ride. The Helios should perform well on any organized run from a 5K to a half-marathon.

On a hard-packed dirt trail, the Helios provides a good but not a great ride. Luckily, I happened to find a grass-covered trail on which this model’s pliable sole delivered a blissfully enjoyable run.

I think the biggest issue for many with the Helios will be the fit. You may want to consider a full size up if you try this shoe and note that the toe box is lower than most in height. The shoe is simply snug from back to front, something that a certain number of trail runners will prefer as opposed to a wide, loose-fitting shoe.

The La Sportiva Helios is a hybrid shoe to consider if you train on city or suburban sidewalks or run on minimal to moderately punishing trails at whatever altitude. Just don’t be surprised if someone asks you if you’re wearing racing flats!

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-la-sportiva-helios/

Outside magazine’s Buyer’s Guide supplied this verdict on the La Sportiva Helios: “Our favorite shoe for guys with consistent, midfoot-striking, form who want a really natural feeling, slipper-like fit without getting all caveman about it.” (Well, that’s clear.) And Running Times added these comments: “Some testers had a hard time getting into the Helios, which runs significantly short (try them on in a shop and consider sizing up). Once fitted, however, the Helios brought wide grins to our test team members, because of its light weight, outstanding security, conforming tongue, comfortable upper, strong traction and smooth cushioning. As one tester said, ‘The extra ounce over the weight of the La Sportiva Vertical K was a small price to pay for the added protection and all-day wearability.’ The responsive performance and feel of the Helios were enough to inspire confidence on most surfaces and, one tester commented, it ‘excels as conditions deteriorate.'”

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Run To You

Skora CORE soleSKORA_SS13_CORE-mens-single_961

Running Shoe Review: Skora Core

Is the Skora Core simply a visual work of art, or a beauty on the feet and on the road?

Years ago at the Portland Marathon Expo, I found a pair of Puma Complete Aello II running shoes. This extremely lightweight radiant yellow running flat, with Goodyear tire rubber on the back, is a work of art. So much so that I’ve never had the heart to put them on my feet and run in them. They should be in a glass case in some type of industrial/manufacturing art and design museum.

I felt a sense of deja vu when I opened the box of new Core running shoes, provided by Skora of Portland, Oregon. These shoes are singularly beautiful in their design and manufacture. And, yes, they do look a bit like the classic flats from Puma. This time, however, I resolved to place the charcoal, black and green tinted shoes on my feet and run in them in order to produce this report.

Skora does not call the Core a minimalist running shoe, but it is a shoe that’s designed to facilitate a mid-foot/whole foot running style. When you first stand in the shoe, it feels quite flat, especially when compared to a standard American running shoe with a raised heel. On taking the initial steps in the Core, it literally feels like you’re walking in a pair of moccasin-style house slippers. This made me wonder, as an instinctive heel striker, whether the shoe would be able to provide enough support and cushioning on the streets and trails of suburbia.

Initiallly I jogged in the Core on a crushed gravel road and felt the shoe to be firm — something I usually like — and supportive. After a few miles, running in this non-traditional runner felt almost innate. I think my running form, in response to the shoe, very quickly changed. In my mind’s eye, a video would have shown me adopting Deena Kastor’s flat, mid-foot, relaxed landing pattern. (The brain seems to readily determine that there’s no pay-off in this model for heel strikers, thus directing the feet to stay lower to the ground.)

On hard concrete, the Core’s ride is surprisingly cushioned. On asphalt, the Core feels like a pair of racing flats, meaning that you definitely feel the ground but on a short to moderate distance run it’s not going to punish the feet. I did not expect to feel any energy return while jogging in the Core, but found it to be a nice unexpected dividend; however, I ran with the floating sockliner in place and I think that helped. Some will choose to remove the sockliner.

The Core was truly impressive when I found a hard-packed natural dirt trail. It felt as if the shoes were anticipating my every move and turn — I can only compare it to driving a Mini Cooper, knowing that you can easily drive that automobile at close to its full capacity. “If you’ve got it, use it!” The Core’s an excellent trail runner that provides the confidence a runner needs to go virtually all out on a twisty trail. (What could be more fun than that?)

I would not run in the Core on a trail consisting of medium-sized and large rocks, but that’s the only surface I would avoid in this shoe. Fit wise, the Core is nice and narrow in the rear and in the mid-foot, while providing plenty of room up front. Some might find the length a bit too long — which matches up with the laces — but that’s better for retaining one’s toe nails than being too short.

I found the Core to fit a half-size larger than standard walking shoes, which is a true fit for most running shoes. The flexible and comfortable upper of the Core uses leather with sheepskin lining, so animal lovers and vegans will want to look instead at the Phase model which uses man-made materials. The men’s version of the Core weighs 8.1 ounces; the women’s version comes in at just 6.7 ounces.

The folks at Skora will urge you to transition gradually into their shoes, which is good advice. I felt a slight twinge in my dominant left heel and a bit of ankle soreness on that side after runs in the Core. But I had no signs of hip soreness, something that can crop up when using seemingly protective shoes that displace impact forces away from the feet and knees.

In the Core my feet felt released to work naturally. These running shoes allow one to run in style while enhancing an organic running style. (The company’s motto is Run Real.)

The Skora Core advances the notion of running real. As attractive and distinctive as they are, they should be used on roads and trails and not displayed in a museum case.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Skora Core retails for $155.00.

This article earlier appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-skora-core/

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