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Trail Running Shoes • April 11, 2024

VJ Lightspeed Review: I’m Proud of You, Cowboy

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What You Need To Know


8.2 oz. (200 g) for a US M9 (Unisex sizing)

Stack Height / Drop

29 mm in heel, 23 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)

Best For

Fast efforts on varied terrain

Key Features

SuperFoamance midsole, Branched composite plate, Superior Contact Butyl outsole, FitLock system

On The Run
Aggressive, high-speed rocker Excellent outsole grip The upper has a bite to it
Price / Availability

Available now for $200

Introduction to the VJ Lightspeed

TAYLOR: If you’ve never heard of VJ shoes, one thing can spell a lot out for you. VJ is extreme — extreme grip, extremely secure fit, and extreme durability. There’s no question why the OCR crowd (Obstacle Course Racing) loves their shoes. VJ is one of the few companies that can rock taglines like #bestgripontheplanet or throw an extra X in its naming conventions.

Until recently, VJ was known for the world’s best outsole, a firm, nimble ride, and a bulletproof upper in most of their offerings. Then, the VJ MAXx 2 was the first to come with a modern, softer, bouncier foam and more relaxed upper materials. All of us thoroughly enjoyed this update.

Debuting alongside the MAXx 2 is a new racing option that also comes with their new SuperFoamance midsole, Fitlock system, never-failing Superior Contact outsole, and a branched composite plate. The new VJ Lightspeed seems ready to bump this ship into hyperdrive.

At first glance, it’s easy to see where the inspiration came from. Light is fast. We haven’t really seen such a light construction paired with a superfoam and a performance oriented plate as of yet. One that does come to mind is the highly anticipated Adidas Terrex Agravic Speed Ultra. When entering the same category and price point as, arguably, the winningest trail shoe out there, you best bring your A-game.

What we like about the VJ Lightspeed

TAYLOR: On paper, the VJ Lightspeed reads as a downright speed demon — something Buzz Lightyear would no doubt grab for a rescue mission. For the most part, I do agree with a lot of its claims, because there are quite a few individual pieces that go into the construction of the VJ Lightspeed that make it one of the race day shoes worth looking into.

For starters, the geometry plays a huge role. More so than any of VJ’s other offerings, the Lightspeed is built for that forward roll. The overall silhouette easily calls shoes like the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 2 SG, Brooks Catamount 3, The North Face Vectiv Pro 2, Hoka Tecton X 2, Saucony Endorphin Edge, and Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro 2 to mind. All of these options utilize a more aggressive rocker for a snappy and smooth ride. The VJ Lightspeed certainly has that too.

The overall lighter, slimmer construction of the shoe creates a unique feel, even among the trail supershoes, but the closest comparison is definitely the S/Lab Puslar 2. The VJ Lightspeed is a narrower race-like fit compared to the masses (though slightly more generous than the Pulsar). Typically, with shoes that are so slim throughout, it’s hard to hold the average/wide foot on the footbed. The foot tends to bulge out and create even more support issues. I felt that the VJ Lightspeed utilized its strong upper and Fitlock System well for a very locked-in midfoot and keeping the foot centered over the midsole.

Underfoot, it feels similar to the S/Lab Pulsar 2 as well because both have that aforementioned rocker, featherweight feel, and very slim profile. What is stability anyway? VJ’s Lightspeed has a very unfiltered feeling. Because it also has a medium/soft reactive foam and plate, the ride’s personality matches some of the danger we felt in the Endorphin Edge. The lower stack of foam helps govern the plate/foam combo, but there’s a lot of energy ready to come out of this small package. As long as I struck mid/forefoot and ran at a higher cadence, I felt that I maintained control and moved fluidly. Those were the times when this shoe was pure fun to run. There were times it got dicey, but it’s an exciting shoe to wear in part because of the anxiety it induces.

With an overall stack of 29/23 mm, the VJ Lightspeed lands in the moderate stack range. The foam density, full rubber coverage, and forefoot fingered plate offer some extra reprieve from the trail invaders. I never overtly felt anything poking through to my foot. The protection was similar to something like the Brooks Catamount 3 or Salomon Genesis.

Grip brings some obvious pump-up value to the VJ Lightspeed. Even though these are the most subdued lugs of any VJ shoe I have worn, the Superior Contact rubber is extremely tacky and durable no matter the terrain. The butyl rubber compound convinces me every time that this is actually the best outsole in the business.

One of the issues we have experienced with such small lugs (3.5 mm) is that they shave off so quickly and then offer little to no grip on the trail. I do not foresee that happening nearly as quickly as even the Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsoles on the Tecton X 2 and Nike Ultrafly. In general, the VJ Lightspeed will last longer than most other race day options.

As a package, the VJ Lightspeed has a lot of ingredients that make you want to run fast. It is also a marketed race day shoe that will toe multiple start lines because of its durability.

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What we don’t like about the VJ Lightspeed

TAYLOR: VJ shoes always have a common flaw for me. I was hoping this one would be an exception, but here we go again. The upper, man!

What in the world is going on? The durability is a given, and the overall shape/fit is great, but the material choice happens to come with a lot of baggage. Most of the VJ shoes I have worn have chewed up some part of my foot, whether it be the heel or over the toes, and the Lightspeed is no different. The upper is bulletproof but very rough. I felt it was like a brand-new baseball glove. It needs to be worn in to pull out its true functionality, and I don’t know if I can ride out the break-in period.

What’s toughest about this one is that it happened at multiple places but all on different runs. First, my ankle was torn up by the front/anterior side of the heel collar, right above the top lacing eyelet. At the end of that run, I was left scrubbing the blood out of my anti-friction crew-length socks. Okay. That was an out-of-the-box run, so I adjusted the lacing slightly and put on some Body Glide for my next outing.

Then, it was the heel. It was much less of an ordeal — I came away with a hot spot but no blister. After that, it was the stitching at the end of the lacing chain over the toe box (on both feet). Again, no visible wounds, but I’m still feeling the effects three days later.

This isn’t the only gripe, but it is the major one. Maybe runners with narrower feet (I have average/wide) will escape without so many issues. I can’t say that with 100% certainty because it seems to come down to the material more so than anything else.

Stability will be a concern for some, too. The shoe rocks back and forth in the heel region, and both the rocker and slimness of the midfoot/heel play a role in this. As previously mentioned, the ride was awesome when I struck my mid/forefoot. So, if that’s your consistent strike pattern, you may even be able to forget about this comment. The VJ Lightspeed could quickly swap confidence for terror when a heel strike happened on more technical terrain or downhill. Be ready to battle the Ankle Slayer any time you slip this one on.

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Final thoughts on the VJ Lightspeed

TAYLOR: Lightning-fast shoes often come with a price tag and a price on the foot. That is absolutely the truth for the VJ Lightspeed. This shoe is fast, nimble, and so fun to run in! It’s actually up there with many of the best in the biz for performance. The upper tragically rains on its parade. We’re talking potential tropical storm like pouring. It’s simply too rough around the edges for me to justify paying race day money for it. But gosh, how I wish it weren’t so. I was able to run some of my fastest local times ever in the VJ Lightspeed. I just wish it didn’t come at the price of nursing wounds for a week after.

You can pick up the VJ Lightspeed for $200 from Inov-8 using the buttons below.

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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.

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