VJ XTRM Review

For Valentines - A new love affair with my VJ’s, and wondering how to tell my La Sportiva’s they are not the love of my life anymore by Mark Aston

I recently popped in to Up and Under to buy a new pair of trail shoes. I was looking for something with a bit more grip than my favourite go to shoes, La Sportiva’s Bushido's. I was persuaded to buy a pair of VJ-Sport XTRM shoes. Never heard of them! But its why I go to Up and Under, their expertise has never failed me. They do let you wear your shoes around the house to see if they fit, but you can’t really ‘test’ a pair of shoes until you are bounding down a 25% decline that because of the mud has only fractionally more grip than your local ice rink, but the rink doesn’t have big rocks or steep drops either side if you get it wrong! So it was with a little trepidation that I wore these bright new shoes up the Beacons, and I have to admit, they are stunning!

Salomon Sense Pro MaxJust a bit of boring techy background, but I think it needs to be said to provide some context. I don’t really get on with shoes that have big soles. I have tried Salomon’s Sense Pro Max (Photo) and La Sportiva’s Akasha. I think the way the concave (cupped) sole rolls doesn’t suit me. I think I could get used to it but have not found a real need to. I have done 100 miles ultras in Bushido's, so they work for me.

La Sportiva Bushido – A Great Shoe

As I mentioned above the La Sportiva Bushido II is my go-to shoe. In South Wales, there are a lot of forests and of course the Brecon Beacons. Clearly the forests have fire tracks, but even off the tracks on foot paths, the mud never gets too deep. A lot of the Beacons have clearly marked stony trails, to reduce erosion. Even off these, the drainage across the tops isn’t too bad, so deep lugs aren’t strictly necessary. The Black Mountains and Black Mountain can be a lot more boggy, but then the terrain isn’t too technical, so the shoe still works.

La Sportiva BushidoThere are three construction points of the shoe that are interesting. In the photo, in between the blue sole you can see exposed sections of rock plate. This really helps on the stones of fire tracks, and rocky paths of the Beacons. My feet don’t get too tired as the rock plate really does its thing and provides tons of protection. The Blue section is soft and sticky. You can see mine are wearing down a bit, but these shoes have done about 400 miles, so are in pretty good shape for all that. The Yellow section is the clever bit, it is a lot stiffer, which gives a lot more grip in the mud. Being on the outside of the sole, it really helps with side slopes. The shoes have a drop of about 6 mm, and a fairly low height to them. In summary, they are great. There is never a perfect shoe, since most runs are on all terrains, Tarmac, on mud, on bog, stony fire-track and wet rocks. This shoe seems to me to be the best compromise for all of it (in my area). The rock plate protects my feet, wet rock grip is good, and they just about do in deep mud.

To be honest if the mud is very deep, grip is not an issue, getting your foot out of being stuck is, whilst not leaving your boot behind! La Sportiva have even improved the shoe. Most shoe upgrades are usually for marketing, and often make the shoe worse, but to be fair, the improvements were really welcome. The little bit of stitching on the heel of the old version used to give me a blister after about 30 to 40 miles, the stitching is now gone. Those little tweaks are great.

VJ XTRM - First Thoughts

VJ-Sport XTRMSo to the VJ XTRM. If anything was going to get me out of those Bushido's, it would have to be an excellent shoe. After buying the shoes I did a quick google on them, 4mm drop! Oh no, great for 10 miles, but what about my long ultra’s. I think that was the last time I ever had any doubts about them! First the colour. I am not a fashion expert, but my teenage kids assure me that the retro colours are ‘sick’. Never really heard them say that about my shoes before, so not a bad start. As you can see from the photo, the profile is quite low. When running in them you definitely feel as if they ‘hug’ the ground.

VJ XTRM – Test Flight

My first major outing in these was over Pen-Y-Fan and back to Storey Arms via the Corn Du route. For shoes with deep lugs you don’t get any of that ‘wobble’ you sometimes get as the lugs move around. Following the tourist track up from Pont ar Daf, the shoes felt great. Once over Corn Du, the steep descent down the other side was a pleasure. Tons of grip on both the wet rock and the grassy sections, bouncing off the path to avoid those people coming up the hill. In short, for wet rock, and stony tracks these shoes work well. When you go out on tarmac, you ‘feel’ the sticky nature of the shoes gripping, and wonder if they will last more than 5 miles on hard track…….

The next part of my run went over Fan Fawr, down the other side to the Sarn Helen, via Cefn Perfedd. This section can be really boggy and provided a complete contrast to the tourist route up Pen-Y-Fan for testing the shoes. The grip was amazing, truly. Here I found my first problem. I’ve never been a great downhill runner, and my quads really started to burn. I guess that due to my increasing confidence in the shoes, my descent was just way quicker than I am used too. The last part of the day, was over Fan Frynych, and the direct route down to the Car Park on the A470. All I can say is that I have never left anyone behind on a descent before, but today I did. My regular running partner is way quicker than me, but today, he was slowing due to the greasy grassy sections, where I was just loving the freedom of flying down a hill. In short, they were the best shoes for grip I have ever worn! Simply amazing.

Inov8 Mud Claws

Inov8 Mudclaw Sole VJ XTRM - sole and tread‘Wot about Mud Claws’ I hear you say. The shoes on the right are mine, and they are excellent on boggy ground. I have to admit that I can’t really judge the difference between them, in terms of out and out grip. I think the main reason being that truly boggy ground is usually flat, so grip becomes less of an issue. Where I really need grip are those slopes with sheep eaten short grass that is really greasy. And both shoes work well there. Where I find the VJ’s have the edge is the low profile. They seem to hug the ground, rather than make you feel you are wearing footy boots that hold you high. 

General Wear 

One of the major issues with grippy shoes is the lugs wear out quickly. My Claws are about 3 years old because I rarely use them except when I know I am going somewhere specific. My VJ’s are wearing impressively. The shoe on the left has about 100 miles on the tread, and they look pretty much like new. I’d say about 50% of that mileage was either tarmac, stone path or fire-track. So my fears of them lasting only 5 miles due to the stickiness is unfounded.

Final Verdict
I was nervous at the beginning of the low drop, but they really don’t feel like a low drop shoe. Now if you have never worn 4mm drop shoes I’d be a bit careful, but if you are used to 6mm or 8mm drop shoes you should be fine. They certainly don’t pull my achilles anything like my INOV8 TerraClaw 220s. The main problem with low drop shoes is that after 20 or so miles and tiredness kicks in, running on your toes becomes nigh impossible. Unless you’re an elite, which I am not. Hence the trend for Hoka’s and Akashas as I’ve mentioned above. I have run 20+ miles in the VJ’s and never once did I think it was the wrong shoe. I’ll provide an update to this report, but I am confident enough in them to run a fifty mile ultra.

I’m sorry La Sportiva, but you have competition. The VJ’s are my new best shoe, for everything. The durability is there so far, so the restraint I put on the Mud Claws has gone. But ultimately the grip and confidence the VJs give you are just….Well lets put it another way. I don’t run to get 5 seconds off my marathon time, I want to run around woods and hills and enjoy it. These shoes are just fun! Confidence to let loose and go for it. I get a real pleasure out of wearing these shoes. They have
placed fun right back, front and centre of my running. So to be honest, if they do wear a bit quickly after 400 miles, they will still be my go-to shoe, because what is the point of any of it, if there is no fun in bounding down a grassy, muddy, insane hill.

My Bushidos will still be there, for days out where it is all fire track, and to mix it up a little. But Red and Yellowy Green is the new Black for me…..

And Finally….

I am not the only to fall in love with these shoes. Ian Corless has written a nice piece here, and he loves them too….

Huge thanks to Mark for this excellent review of the VJ XTRM trail and fell running shoe.

If you're interested in the Radyr and Morganstown Trail Races you can find out more at https://www.cribrhedeg.co.uk/

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