"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

La Sportiva Vertical K Review

I bought the Vert K's almost as soon as they were released.  In fact, I might have even pre-ordered them.  The very first day that I owned them, I ran 10 miles on the treadmill and was thrilled.  They felt great.
Yellow morphodynamic midsole

After putting many more miles on these shoes I can safely say that they fill a niche that is somewhat under targeted in the shoe market.  light weight, cushioned shoes, with a low drop (4mm).

I was very surprised by how well they gripped even in the worst mud that I had the chance to run in.  I attribute this not to the small lugs, but to the waves in the morphodynamic midsole that provide flex points, but also increase traction when required.  They feel incredibly light when holding them and then fit like a slipper.  The tongue only has one seem, which seems to improve the fit of the shoe and supplements the booty-like scree guard that Sportiva is known for on several of their shoe models.

In the past Sportiva shoes have been too narrow for my feet (skylight 2.0 and crosslite 1.0) so I haven't been able to really test out a shoe from this well respected shoe maker.  However, the vert k's have a significantly wider feel.  I still wouldn't say that they are as wide as many other minimalist type shoes that I have run in, but better than the aforementioned sportivas.  Along with the wider fit and unique tongue, their is also a small bungee on the heel of the shoe to help one put it on and off, however it seems to be placed on the wrong side of the shoe to be very helpful (imho).

Unique tongue gives a slipper-like fit
What really appealed to me about the concept of the vertical K is that they are lightweight and cushioned, something that a shoe like the MT110 is lacking.  This allowed me to climb with the comfort of light shoes and quick turnover, but to bomb steep hills with the help of a midsole that compressed more readily.  This is achieved through the use of Sportiva's morphodynamic midsole which is also featured on the quantum, and electron.

I was pretty much madly in love with these shoes until I hit some pavement in order to connect a couple trails.  here, the grooves in the outsole can be felt SIGNIFICANTLY, and while it didn't hurt on a mile of roads during 15 mile run, I can see this causing discomfort in longer races or training runs.  However, the grooves to provide excellent flexibility, and as mentioned earlier, good traction.
Grooves in the fairly wide forefoot

There is no rockplate in the Verticle K.  The protection is supposed to come the highly compressible midsole material.  I found this to work well, but by the end of a 23 mile run on rocky terrain, a combination of the grooves in the forefoot and the occasional rock poke through, again had me feeling a little wary about using them for anything further. 

These shoes come with a very thin insole, and removing it reveals some nasty looking seems in the footbed, which were extremely uncomfortable even through socks, when I ran without the insoles.
Handled the mud very well

Overall, the fit and concept of these shoes is excellent.  I loved the roomy, wider fit, that allowed me to get into a pair of sportivas.  Traction was great on all the conditions that I tested the shoes, including mud, rocks, sand, and erosion netting.  The scree guard on the upper does a good job of keeping debris out of the shoes and the laces can be tucked inside.  I experienced no problems adjusting the fit, despite the built in scree guard.  The downsides were that the shoe had a strange feel on pavement, which wasn't as noticeable on dirt roads or trail.  I did find the cushioning to result in a great feel on hardpack trails, but seemed to suck up extra energy on really sandy trails (I think they would be best on the sometimes rocky, but solid and try trails I ran in San Diego recently).  Furthermore, high volume feet cannot take out the insole, but rather I would suggest sizing up .5 sizes.  Finally, the concept of a cushioned light trail runner is a great idea, but a light rock plate would have been nice to both minimize the feel of the waves underfoot and beef up the protection just a tad.

There are not many other shoes in this category (light and cushioned).  Other competitors for this niche seem to be the Rogue fly, the upcoming MT1010 and Kinvara TR.  After running in these, I can only imagine how soft Hokas must feel, it is definitely an interesting ride, and I like to rotate these shoes in for several runs each week, but don't think that I would ever race more than a marathon or 50k in them.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great review. I was trying to decide whether to buy a pair and with the help of your review I think I will.