There’s no one shoe to fit all conditions you’ll encounter running, so here’s a quick guide to when I use certain models and the type of terrain they work best.
The MAXx is an awesome shoe. Surprisingly, this is VJ’s first foray into a more cushioned shoe and they nailed it. So much so that it won an Editor’s Choice Award from Runner’s World. Whenever somebody who has never tried a pair of VJ’s asks me about them I point them toward the MAXx. It’s so good I wrote another paragraph about it.
The MAXx is an awesome training shoe that you can rack up the miles in. I’ve used it for everything from a 12 mile obstacle course race to a 100 mile snow running race in Wyoming. The tread on the bottom is the least aggressive of the trail lineup so that it runs smoother, lasts longer, and has more rubber sticking rocks.
Fit: True to size. Built a bit roomier than the others to be more comfortable for everyday training, longer races, or for people who need a wider forefoot.
Cushion: More cushion for training or over half marathon races.
Outsole: Least aggressive but still grippy enough to work well pretty much anywhere in training or ultra racing.
JON ALBON BUILT THIS SHOE. Maybe not every single pair of them but he had a ton of input on the shoe and he designed it specifically for the rigors of skyracing. What does that mean? It sticks better and goes downhill better than any other shoe I’ve ever tried (and I’ve tried quite a few). It’s low to the ground feel, and a small amount of memory foam-esque cushion in the forefoot and heel, gives it unmatched stability on rough descents. It also has a thin and flexible full-length rock plate to keep your feet from getting too banged up on all those rocks. It’s the shoe nearly every VJ athlete chose in Tahoe to handle the snow covered rocks and bomber descents.
Fit: Racing fit. That means a bit narrower than the MAXx. Sometimes they feel a bit snug in the forefoot but you get used to it and learn to love it. Less wiggle room means less chance for you to slide to the outside of your shoe and roll an ankle.
Cushion: Less cushion than the MAXx, more than the iRock3. I race and train in it up to about 25 or 30 miles.
Outsole: Pretty aggressive but wider lugs built to stick to rocks and a good amount of mud. Great all around outsole for most racing.
This shoe craves wet grass, mud, and more mud. It’s a stripped down racer designed to keep you upright when the trail disappears into a total mess. There is no rockplate because, again, it’s designed for mud. That being said it has been in VJ’s trail lineup the longest and has long been the favorite model of OCR nerds around the world. At OCRWC in London, this past year, the amount of iRock 3’s on the start line was staggering. I brought them out both days there and couldn’t imagine tackling that muddy of a course in anything less grippy.
Fit: Racing Fit. Similar to the Xtrm but slightly more forgiving with fewer overlays on the upper. Some people prefer it to the Xtrm because it’s a little more gentle on your pinky toe.
Cushion: Not a whole lot but the big lugs actually give it a slightly cushier feeling than you’d expect. Still, not a whole lot and that’s because it’s meant to be used on softer surfaces.
Outsole: So incredibly grippy. Mud, slop, wet grass, loose off trail stuff. If there’s somewhere you usually slip and fall this shoe is likely the perfect fit.
Ice Ice Baby. VJ stopped, collaborated, and listened. They took what they are most known for (metal studded orienteering shoes) and mixed it with their Finnish love for winter to make the perfect winter training companion. I used to go on winter runs where I’d hit some ice, do this awesome slow mo dance, and then slam really hard into the ground waiting for a passing car to put me out of my misery. Now, I hope it’s going to be super icy so that I can put these on to go watch everyone who isn’t me writhing around on the ice and feel intellectually superior for my taste in shoes.
Fit: Similar to the MAXx but very slightly roomier to accommodate a thicker winter sock.
Cushion: Slightly less than the MAXx, more than the Xtrm, but seemingly just the right amount for winter running.
Outsole: 20 carbide studs adorn the outsole to keep you safe on the most slippery of days. There are still enough big lugs on the shoe to get you through most powder days as well.
The bottom line is that you should buy 10 pairs of each and then go from there.
Aaron is a Spartan Pro Team member, FKT tamer, and loves to go fast. Aaron has placed 4th at Spartan World Championships, 3rd in the Spartan Ultra World Championship, 2nd in the Broken Arrow VK and First in the Broken Arrow Triple crown.
Aaron has worked at running stores, including Runners Edge in Missoula, MT.
He can be found on Instagram.
Here’s a couple of quick tips to help you prepare for those events along with a couple more than will help you get ready for Ultra-OCRs once full on race season resumes.