VJ Lightspeed Review

An in-depth review of the VJ Lightspeed trail running shoes.

By on May 28, 2024 | Comments
VJ Lightspeed

The VJ Lightspeed. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

The VJ Lightspeed ($200) is one of the most appropriately named shoes my feet have ever met. Also, it is one of the narrowest, which aptly aligns with the shoe’s mission: to run fast and light over challenging terrain. It was designed for seasoned trail runners and athletes who can steer the trails with nimble quickness and control. This shoe is a racer. When I slipped them on for the first time, I felt light, bouncy, and speedy — relative terms, of course — but I felt athletic. It may have had something to do with the shoe having a really light actual weight of 8.4 ounces (238 grams) for a U.S. men’s 9.

The VJ Lightspeed offers advancements and changes to the brand’s traditional line-up. It’s durable from top to bottom, with the acclaimed superior outsole grip that outperforms practically every other trail shoe. It uses a new supercritical foam in the midsole and has a forked propulsion plate, pushing it to be even more of a tour de force. This shoe doesn’t fall into the plush and highly cushioned category but offers a very comfortable and responsive ride. It has total stack heights of 29 millimeters and 23 millimeters at the heel and toe, giving it a 6-millimeter drop.

I recently had the opportunity to lace them up and jump into a race on my favorite hometown trail. The Chubb Trail Race 25k, held outside St. Louis, Missouri, is both mildly technical in the hills and smooth and fast along the river. Overall, these shoes hit the mark on the tough and demanding terrain. They were the perfect choice for a hard 15-mile confident push.

The shoe really lights up the afterburners and shows its best self with a controlled midfoot-to-forefoot landing. It can handle a heel-to-toe landing but requires proprioceptive skill, strength, and control.

Unlike other VJ models, it is recommended that you go with your regular shoe size for these. VJ has had some issues with their shoe sizing; thus, do a little research if you are considering purchasing another model. I still ran in a half-size up from my normal size with no issues. I prefer and need extra toebox room in narrower and more aggressive shoes. Similar to other VJ models, with the exception of their winter-specific training shoes, the Lightspeed only comes in a unisex model.

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VJ Lightspeed Upper

VJ Lightspeed - lateral

A lateral view of the VJ Lightspeed.

While substantial and due attention has been given to the grippy outsole of the VJ Lightspeed, it is worth noting that the upper is another area where designers have employed the keenest of material science research. The shoe steps away from the engineered mesh to a durable and fully integrated wrapped upper, which is very tough and surprisingly thick for such a light and speed-oriented shoe. However, it duly protects.

One concern may be its breathability during the hotter months, an element that wasn’t gauged since I logged miles in these shoes in the winter and spring. The thick Kevlar-based fabric is highly flexible and protects against sharp elements of an unpredictable trail while adding warmth on chilly mornings. The inside of the upper feels like soft felt. Despite the shoe’s blade-like fit and slim toebox, my feet didn’t feel constrained, largely because the upper material still allowed for toe movement. I experienced no unwanted rubbing or hot spots. This shoe was built off a very narrow last.

The upper is white with intermittent wind-like gray lines and red dashes sweeping from the toe to the heel. It has a thick toe bumper but is less protective than the original VJ models. The designers more than likely weighed the benefits of an overall more durable upper with the weight costs of a reinforced rubber toe and medial and lateral embossments. The exterior heel cup is fortified with only a modicum more of bumper protection, but it provides firm lockdown support.

The laces are wide and long enough for a double knot with staying power. Or, if desired, there are two additional lace holes at the ankle joint. Once those laces are tied, the semi-gusseted tongue stays firmly in place. The tongue is constructed minimally with a soft felt underlayment and a combination of open mesh and thin, light rubber at the top.

Like all other VJ shoes, the Lightspeed comes equipped with the proprietary FitLock midsole wrap. Simply stated, FitLock is approximately an inch-and-a-half wide, malleable-but-stiff piece of thermoplastic on the medial instep that extends up from the midsole to the laces. For swift movement over unpredictable terrain, it improves midfoot control and stability — especially since the shoe is narrow at the mid-step and heel.

VJ Lightspeed Midsole

VJ Lightspeed - medial

A medial view of the VJ Lightspeed.

One of the main differences between the VJ Lightspeed and some other brand models is the advancement in midsole foam and plate technology. This marked shift places VJ in competition with other high-performing trail shoes, navigating the nuances and science of foam, comfort, support, and energy return.

The midsole is constructed with the brand’s new SuperFOAMance material. It is an advanced supercritical foam that is substantially more durable, lighter, and more propulsive than most traditional EVA or Poron-enhanced foams. It is a nitrogen-infused EVA and thermoplastic unit blend that is rip-resistant. The difference is significant and welcomed for a comfortable and enduring ride. I can’t reiterate enough that the midsole is cushioned, but not overwhelmingly so. A secure connection to the ground is not lost.

The SuperFOAMance offers the runner ample rebound for continued endurance and strong kicks across the spectrum of running gears, noticeably enhanced by an integrated propulsion plate. This sets the tone for a speedy experience. The Y-shaped propulsion plate is made from renewable castor oil. VJ says the branched plate offers sideways flexibility for better responsiveness on uneven terrain.

The Lightspeed has a built-in rocker from the lateral heel to toeoff. As mentioned in the introduction, if the runner isn’t equipped to control the foot through the gait cycle, it may be a challenging shoe to run in. The rocker design, advanced midsole, and propulsion plate all promote faster running with more overall stability aimed at midfoot to forefoot landings. Slower running with a heel-strike stride is completely doable, but the noticeable rocker and enhanced pronation are palpable.

VJ Lightspeed Outsole

VJ Lightspeed - outsole

The outsole of the VJ Lightspeed.

The VJ Lightspeed outsole offers the superior grip of the brand’s butyl-rubber-based material. As I do in every VJ review, I like to add that the Finnish company has invariably succeeded in living up to its motto of providing the “best grip on the planet.”

The Lightspeed has stepped down the aggressiveness of the outsole by using shallower 3.5-millimeter square-shaped lugs. This makes the outsole more amenable to a wider swath of underfoot circumstances, but it can still tackle technical areas with quick, controlled confidence. Specifically, the less aggressive lug height, smaller lug size, and narrow outsole slits at the forefoot — presumably for forward and lateral flexibility — combined with the new supercritical foam make this shoe more palatable and more enjoyable on harder surfaces. I did notice that the outsole of the Lightspeed is a little less vulcanized — for lack of a better term — than other models, which allows for increased flexibility but makes it prone to wear faster.

VJ Lightspeed Overall Impressions

VJ Lightspeed - top

A top view of the VJ Lightspeed.

The totality of the VJ Lightspeed initially took me by surprise. I stood at my door, hesitant for the inaugural run ahead. The whole shoe felt a little foreign, except for the durable upper. But as I started my run, I felt light, bouncy, and speedy. Concurrently, I felt excited to move, and an overwhelming sense of athleticism sprang up from my feet into my core. This is not hyperbole. VJ has expanded its collection with this shoe. I am confident the other models will hold their niches while the Lightspeed will step into its own as a speed-focused shoe.

Its development and design open more doors to runners seeking a VJ experience — the Lightspeed is a unique entry point into Finnish fineness. It pushes the agenda on fast and technical trails, but with its added cushion and significant rebound, it can also swiftly navigate rock slabs, hard-packed trails, and a modicum of pavement. The SuperFOAMance midsole and forked propulsion plate balanced by the FitLock system enhance this performance.

Every experience I have had with a VJ trail running shoe model has been unique and simply fun, and this one is no exception.

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Call for Comments

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Molly Schmelzle

Molly Schmelzle is a gear reviewer for iRunFar. She is relatively new to the reviewing scene but is a veteran competitive athlete, ultrarunner, and writer. Molly has authored biology-based research papers and numerous grants for funding opportunities. She has been coaching runners of all abilities with a particular focus on strength and conditioning training over the last 7 years. Together with her partner, a sports chiropractor with a specialty in running and endurance athletes, they are in the beginning stages of building a mobility and strength program for runners. Molly is a dedicated biologist for the state of Oregon and is a strength coach on the side. She enjoys running ultras in remote mountainous areas and will occasionally hop into road half and full marathons.