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VFF TrekSport - A Race Experience Shoe Review and Lessons Learned

Last December 2010, I bought a VFF TrekSport during the BarefootWear's store opening at the Trinoma Mall supposedly as replacement for my more than 5 year-old Reebok Trail Crossback shoe. After all, it has already served me well as a weekend casual shoes and has also been my strider for two of the toughest trail runs that I joined last 2010. It's outer-most sole has surrendered after the 2010 Biodiversity Run at UPLB, and it was only thanks to Mr. Quickie for the quick fix.

I chose a size of 39 (W4485) - that's one size larger than my VFF Sprint (size 38, W112). That was because when I fitted the size 38 of the TrekSport, the fit feels tight, and the velco strap also does not have much overlap left anymore even without the socks on.

The Road Test

I first used the TrekSport on a short practice run from V.Luna to UP Diliman. Since it has a total of 8 mm sole (4 mm EVA midsole, and 4 mm Vibram perfomance rubber outsole), the TrekSport offers much greater support for rough and rocky terrains unlike the thinner sole versions of VFF. Thinking that it is more comfortable than the VFF Sprint, I wore it without socks on.

The road going to UP is a combination of concrete and asphalt surface. These surface aren't slippery as it didn't even rain so I won't be able to test the grip that the shoe could offer. To my dismay, after some half an hour of running or around 3 to 4 kilometers, my right foot got burning blisters under and on the sides of my big toe. I ended up buying 6 band-aids to protect my blisters from further aggravating, but it didn't helped that much ending my run after a total of 6 km easy run.

What puzzles me is that my left foot didn't have a blister or any kind of injury unlike what happened to my right foot. I concluded that maybe my right foot is much wider than my left foot, or the right pair of the TrekSport that was given to me have a factory defect.

Lesson learned: Wear socks on the VFF TrekSport even if the sole feels comfortable.

First Race - A Rocky Hill Challenge

The first official race of my TrekSport was during the CIHM 2010 in the rocky islands of Corregidor. It was a leisurely run on the combination surface of asphalt, rough and rocky hills on grass, hard soil, uneven trails, downhill and uphill terrains.

The grip of the TrekSport during this race was tested. I felt so confident while speedily running on a rocky downhill terrain, not worrying too much whether I'll slip sidewards or trip forward because of the outer sole's grip patterns. The TrekSport grips easily on the ground and hugs my feet evenly. The lightweight design gave the feeling of running barefoot. Another noticeable thing in comparison with my VFF Sprint (thinner sole) is that I don't feel the ground much -- the temperature, the rocks, the thorns, and etc. That made my run effortless on these combination of terrains.

After the race, my calf muscles were somehow sore, well that was also how I felt when I first raced on a barefoot-type shoes. But there's more pain on my toes that I did not felt before. Both the big toes and little toes of my left and right foot are aching. Upon checking, the skin and flesh between the joints of my big toes and ball of the foot are swelling. I also noticed that my little toes have curved inwards maybe a little too much. Thanks graciousness, the toenails are still alive! Mabuhay!!!

I concluded that maybe, my little toes are longer than the usual toes of other people, or the toes of the TrekSport that was given to me are shorter than the usual toes of other TrekSports and VFF shoes (another factory defect?)

Lesson learned: Before buying, accurate measurement up to the smallest of the toes is necessary when fitting a VFF shoe.

Second Race - A Wet One

Barely a month after the CIHM 2010, having already signed-up for the Road-x-Trail run way back November 2010, it was again time for the TrekSport to be tested - this time, at the trails of Nuvali. One of the not-so problematic problem I had before going for the race was how to clip the timing chip on the TrekSport as it does not have a lace where I can tie it on. A string of wire did the trick.

Attaching a timing chip on a TrekSport
The race began in the afternoon, and ended up in the evening. The terrains of Nuvali are a combination of concrete, asphalt, hard soil, grasslands, some rocky trails with downhill and uphills, and a few river crossing and traversing.

The TrekSport did performed well, specially on the slippery part during one of my river traversing. There were rocks on the river filled with green, slippery moss but still I was able to maintain my balance without tripping over and planting my face on the river mud. The grip was superb, and the lightweight TrekSport was also a great comfort when I needed it the most during the killer steep inclines going out from the river. If I have wore a rubber or running shoe, my feet would have felt so tired already during the ascend. The TrekSport was still light even when it was already wet from the river waters, except that sands still got inside, and that's where the socks proved somehow helpful.

As the rain began pouring and winds breaks on us, the TrekSport also kept my foot warm. I changed to slippers after more than an hour of getting my feet soaked in the rain waters. A day after the race, it was then when I noticed some plantar pains on my right foot, and the bulge of blisters on both of my big toes that has already swollen, as seen from the photos below:

As I checked the TrekSport's toe designs, I thought that what caused my toes to swell and get blistered everytime time was the traction design of the big toe. Since it is built for trekking, the rubber grips are too hard that at the long run, the outer grips' bending on each stride caused the blistering and swelling on the skin between the joints of my toes and ball of the foot. Or... perhaps I didn't wear socks with enough/thick cushioning to protect my toes from getting beaten.

TrekSport's toe traction design
Lesson learned: If you keep getting injured from your shoes, quit it!

The Surrender - Trek and Hike, No More Running

After these recurring injuries that I keep on getting from the TrekSport, I decided that the TrekSport would just be as nice as a "fashion" shoe during the weekends and casual attires. But I can't turn my back from the beauty of trekking and hiking. So I still used the TrekSport during my Mt. Maculot Hike, Mt. Cabuyao to Mt. Sto. Tomas day trek, Bohol out-of-town vacation, and Mt. Pinatubo Trek during those times when I was off from running the trails.

The TrekSport performs well and better for hiking both on the rocky terrains, slippery muds, and sandy streams. The last run that I did with the TrekSport (between January 16 and June 4, 2011) was during our descent from Mt. Pinatubo. And just like during my races, the TrekSport still did not fail to re-injure and put blisters to my big toes and curve-in my little toes.

Trekking at Mt. Sto. Tomas
TrekSport served me well in all my walks and vacations
Watery, sandy streams at Mt. Pinatubo
Lesson learned: If you can't quit from using it, accept those injuries as a fact of the TrekSport

Finally Befriending the TrekSport

Before I got to befriend the TrekSport (befriend meaning it no longer caused injury to my feet nor to my toes), I still tried racing with it during the Zambales Fun Run held last June 12, 2011. The race was great as it started and ended on the beach side. The surface was soft sands and asphalt road. The soft sands on the beach side of Zambales was the most challenging. And the light-weightedness of the TrekSport is really a big help in each stride when running on a beach or sand. But still, my big toes got swollen after the 10k race distance. My two little toes in contrast seems already getting used to being forcedly-bent by the TrekSport.

The last race where I was able to finally find a trick, or a workaround to my long-enduring big toe problem with the TrekSport was during the Merrell Adventure Run (click the link to know more about the race).

Before wearing the TrekSport, a not-so-bright-but-helpful idea popped up to my mind. Since the race is a comeback-vengeance race, I wanted to perform well on this. And to do so, I have to prevent an apparel-caused injury as much as possible. So, here's what I did:

Mummy Toes
I cushioned the underneath of my toes - the joint bone and flesh between the toes and ball of the foot with cotton, and taped it with a medical tape. That did the trick, I no longer feel the TrekSport toe's hard grip rubber as it touches the ground. And the result was positive.

I was able to conquer all the slippery, slimy muds and all the challenging trails of the 10k route in Timberland. I slipped many times, fell on the ground twice, but most of the time I was running a trail-race pace evenly. The TrekSport wasn't able to grip much on those slimy muds, but it definitely gave me enough grip that helped me race faster while preventing dangerous slips. What's more? There was no apparel-injury even after I finished the race. Big toes are a-okay! Little toes - still got bent though!

With other VFF Barefooters
Muddy race at the Merrell Adventure Run 2011

The TrekSport is a good trail-minimalist shoe. I have read other reviews regarding this but there wasn't an instance where they experienced the same problem as mine. Maybe the shoe that was sold to me was one of the unfinalized or test prototypes (that made me their hamster) for this model. I used it indoors on a gym, outdoors as casual shoe, on trekking and hiking, mountain climbing, and I could say it definitely is a good shoes for outdoor activities. As for trail running, just don't forget the proven doctor - a cotton and medical tape or a much better toe cushioning.

You may refer to LivingBarefoot for a more technical review of the VFF TrekSport.

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