What do you do when your favorite running shoes vamoose from the marketplace?
Lisa Douglass, who is 48 and has been a runner since middle school, faces that exact dilemma. Pearl Izumi running shoes will soon be no more.
“In the morning when you look at your shoes and say which pair am I going to wear,” laments Douglass, who runs about 50 miles weekly and is a member of the “Save Pearl Izumi Run” Facebook page. “I say, I really want to wear my Pearls again.”
But those happy-making moments are numbered for Douglass, as well as the other 138 members of the Save Pearl page, faithful retailers who sold Pearl running shoes for the last 13 years, and thousands of runners who have been drawn to what is a cult-brand shoe.
Last August, Pearl Izumi, which has long been a leading apparel and accessories brand in cycling, announced that it would disappear from the running market around the start of 2017. The question is, will dedicated fans of the shoes actually miss their Pearl Izumis, or will they miss what Pearl Izumi running shoes mean? We’ll soon explain, but here’s a hint: We’re old enough, wise enough, and likely already own the tools needed to transcend what is really a modest setback.
Considering that Pearl Izumi is not exactly Asics or Nike, the reaction to its departure from running was thunderous. Despite its miniscule market presence (according to some Web-based sources, Pearl owned less than 2 percent of the running-shoe market), the news of its retreat made multiple running and sports-themed sites. Outside Online ran an “elegy.” Up came the despondent Facebook page.
“Hopefully Pearl will reconsider pulling the plug on the run side,” wrote Facebooker Kevin Patterson on the Save Pearl page. “I doubt it but here’s to praying.”
OK, so Pearl Izumi makes some very good running good shoes. I’m a big fan of the company’s Trail N2 v3 ($125; pictured above)—it’s light enough (around 11 ounces), generously cushioned, and features a nylon plate embedded in the midsole’s forward half that adds protection without delivering stiffness. The quick-drying but roomy upper doesn’t shackle your toes, though the wide forefoot can trip up a tired runner. That said, I’m laboring to complain. The editors at Outdoor Gear Lab showed the most recent version of the Trail N2 almost nothing but love.
But a requiem via Facebook? For a shoe brand whose second biggest US market is the pretty but lonely state of Montana?
What most runners dedicated to Pearl running shoes really fear is the loss of what neurology scientists call a “cue”—a mechanism that informs our minds to launch into a habitual behavior.
“To deal with…uncertainty, the brain spends a lot of effort at the beginning of a habit looking for something—a cue—that offers a hint as to which pattern to use,” writes New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg in his 2012 book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. “If [a rat] hears a meow, it chooses a [certain] pattern.”
Pearl Izumi fans like Lisa Douglass likely only needed to spy a pair of her Pearl Izumi running shoes before entering the three-step “habit loop” that Duhigg celebrates in his book. The cue is followed by the “routine” (running) and then the “reward,” which could be anything from a post-workout hormone rush to a celebratory beer or chocolate-chip cookie.
“The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges,” writes Duhigg.
Changing the cue can wreak havoc on a habit, which is likely one reason, consciously or otherwise, that Douglass currently owns five pairs of Pearl running shoes—three of them unused.
“I’m going to stock up even more,” she says.
Luckily, age and experience can help us contend with good but challenged habits. Many folks, by the time they’ve reached middle age, have learned at least something about dealing with anger, frustration, and disappointment. If a client rudely and loudly complains to you, explains Duhigg, that could easily be a cue for you to yell right back. But you’ve learned to override reflexive emotions, and instead enter into a positive response.
“This is how willpower becomes habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time,” writes Duhigg.
So here’s the real question that Pearl customers face: As great as their shoes might fit and feel, can they find a different pair and sustain the habit loops that they’ve built around the sport of running?
Truthfully, no matter what your sport, you’ve probably been around long enough now to rise above a discontinued favorite model of running shoes, an overhauled pair of skis, a reshaped tennis racquet, or a thoroughly new set of golf clubs.
Somehow runners like Douglass and all her fellow-mourners, come the end of Pearl’s presence early next year, will continue to put one foot ahead of the other.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” says Douglass, who runs six days a week, “but I might try the Brooks Pure Flow again.”