I started Barefoot running about two years ago. I did not want to actually run barefoot due to concerns about stepping on rocks. So I bought one of the older generation Nike Free shoes. It still looks similar to what is pictured on the Nike website right now. About 4 months ago I bought Vibram FiveFingers. Lastly, 3 days ago I bought New Balance Minimus shoes.
First, my results from each shoe:
Due to the thick sole, especially on the heel, your stride is not significantly different than in regular running shoes. The primary design difference I can see is that the heel cushioning is minimized. As you can see from the picture, there is still a large arch. The shoes are very tight, and are meant to be laced tightly. You do not feel the road any more than you do with regular running shoes. I could run in the shoes, but preferred not to because the lack of cushioning hurt my feet and resulted in a sprain in the instep. I stopped using them after about 3 weeks.
The bottom of the shoe is nearly flat. Because the heel is so flat, you are able to land on the balls of your feet rather than the heel and in fact prefer to due so since it is not comfortable otherwise. It’s hard to put the shoes on and you need foot powder since you cannot wear socks. I ran in the shoes about two weeks. After each running session my calves were very sore. I over trained though, and hurt my Achilles tendon which took two months to heal. The thin sole of the style I bought also means you can run only on pavement or grass. Small stones on other surfaces are extremely painful!
New Balance Minimus:
The Minimus has a fairly solid and hard sole. The heel is not as high as traditional running shoes, but is still too high for you to consistently land on the balls of your feet when running or walking. I only wore them two days and had to take them off for a period of time both days, due to the soreness of my heels. The heel was too high to land on the balls of my feet, as if I were barefoot, but too thin to cushion my steps.
When you walk barefoot or in socks, you tend to land on the balls of your feet unless you are purposely walking slowly. It is harder to notice where you land when walking but try it out and you’ll see this is the case. This uses your body’s foot arch, achilles tendon, and calves to cushion each step. When you walk with traditional running shoes, you land on the heels. Traditional running shoes force you to do so because the heel is so thick that is naturally what touches the ground first.
Unless you are used to landing on the balls of your feet, running while doing so, such as in the Vibrams, results in very sore calves. It is important to heed the warning and ramp up your run gradually so your body becomes used to doing so.
Otherwise, I do not recommend buying any minimalist shoe that has a thicker heel than the rest of the foot. The designers of any such shoe mistakenly believe barefoot running is the same as regular shoes, minus the cushioning from the sole. This is completely wrong and results in a sore heel. Barefoot running is a different style of running.
Regular running shoes are good for long distance running when you are not used to a barefoot style of running, and for bumpy surfaces. Vibrams are good for barefoot running where you want a little more protection than actually being barefoot. Minimalist shoes that have a thicker heel are useless for all purposes.