Formed in 1981, VJ is the outcome of decades of footwear craftsmanship, hailing from the small town of Orivesi in the dense forests of central Finland.
You may know them as an obstacle racing shoe, promoted by Jonathon Albon but there’s more to the brand. Their shoes have helped many athletes in various all-terrain sports including trail running, OCR, sky running, and orienteering achieve their dreams and win world championships.
As a company they give a nod towards social and environmental responsibility, I do believe they could do more, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
I was sent the VJ Ultra, the Finnish brand’s cushioned trail running shoe designed to keep you comfortable after longer mileage on technical trails.
- Fit Scale – 4
- Gender (details) – Unisex
- Midsole stack – 22mm/16mm
- Outsole – Superior Contact
- Upper – 22% DuPont Kevlar®, 78% Nylon
- Lug depth – 4mm
- Weight – 265g (UK 8)
- RRP – £149 from VJ Shoes
Some of the key features
FITLOCK ENSURES FIT
Innovative system designed to improve the fit of the shoe, making it feel like part of your body. Integrated with the lacing, the Fitlock system tightens the shoe on the inside and under the arch of your foot.
DURABLE MESH-UPPER WITH DUPONT KEVLAR®
Durable and breathable upper is a mix of Kevlar® fibres and nylon. It excels in the toughest of terrains and endures all conditions.
A bit about what I like/dislike in a running trainer.
I am not someone who likes too much cushioning, I train and race in “racing” style trainers, the Salomon S/LAB sense SG, or if it’s really muddy then a set of Inov-8 x-talon. Light, responsive, and fast. But not very durable, I probably get 300-400 miles out of them. Stepping into 100k and 100-mile training and racing I wanted to find a pair of trainers which gave a touch more cushioning. BUT, all of them feel at best sluggish at worst like you’re on stilts. If, like me you’ve struggled to find the “in-between” shoe then wait no longer.
“In rides the VJ ultra”
You could save yourself some time and just go and buy a pair, or you could read on and go buy a pair, but you need to buy a pair.
A bit short, I was advised to size up .5 or 1 size, the advice was correct.
The toe box is wide enough for your toes to spread out, it’s comfortable but it’s still snug enough to hold your foot in place. Some have commented it’s too tight for an ultra-shoe, I disagree. The Ultra is the widest shoe VJ make.
The VJ Ultra 2 uses a single slab of relatively lightweight EVA with a flexible rock plate. The rock plate adds rigidity to the forefoot but doesn’t restrict flexibility and it certainly doesn’t make the trainer unstable, and doesn’t feel like a traditional “Max” style trainer
Best grip on the planet?
VJ have a patented Butyl rubber, is so tacky you may notice a “sticking” sound when waking around and during the first few runs. I live on the Mendips, 4 months of the year it’s ankle-deep mud, I know what grip is, 4mm lugs probably won’t cut it, but I’ll be sure to find out. I have worn them on very steep inclines and declines, over wet rock, on loose stones and I can say they’re up there with the best. It’s what you would expect from a brand centred around OCR racing.
The VJ Ultra has a soft suede-type material on the underside of the tongue. That material also extends around the edge of the tongue. It provides a bit of comfort and protection.
An idea of what they’ve put up with.
Numerous mountain runs lasting 2-6 hours, steep up and downs, rocky, rooty; everything a mountain offers. Probably about 45 very steep hill reps (33% gradient), a boat load of rolling Mendip hills, hard pack trail, a bit of mud and some road. Most of my trainers give up the ghost at the “fold” that occurs when you walk/run up steep terrain, not the VJ Ultra.
374 miles, (yes, I keep a spreadsheet) At this point I’m usually praying to the running gods that my trainers don’t fall apart, there is zero sign of any shredding, damage, folding. There’s a little bit of degradation on the sole but it’s kind of what you would expect after so many miles.
It’s green, sickly green/yellow, the only time I’ve ever wanted to get my trainers covered in mud, unfortunately we’ve gone through a dry spell, so they remain bright, and green and weird yellow. Categorically the worst thing about this trainer is the colour. Please can we have a black version?
£149.00, I’m not one to pay over £100.00 for trainers, I like to wait for a sale, but the VJ Ultra is such a good trainer that seems like it will last for a lot of miles. It’s a similar price point to its rivals.
If you’re looking for a bullet proof, off road (with a little on road) cushioned/ultra-trainer then you really can’t go wrong with the VJ Ultra. It has decent grip on all terrain (yet to be tested in deep mud) it will give you the confidence to run fast downhill, the ground feel and responsiveness really is good and is miles away from a traditional “Max” ultra-trainer. The cushioning will protect your legs on the longer runs. Other reviews have suggested the VJ Ultra is more suited to the runners at the front of a race, it’s certainly a trainer I’ll be wearing when racing ultras, but I do think it’s a trainer for everyone. They may not be for the fashion conscious, and some may want some carbon at the £149.00 price point.
Having never really considered VJ before I’ll certainly be trying out other trainers in their range.
About the author: Stuart Leaney is the current course record holder at Centurion Wendover Woods 50 and 100 mile races and a regular winner at Centurion Running events.
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