I've been breaking in my new running shoes the last couple of weeks, or more precisely, I've been breaking in my feet to my new running shoes. They are truly minimal, with only a 4 mm heel drop, a flexible sole, and no arch support. It's made me realize just how minimalist running is different from running in a traditional shoe.
First, landing on the heel or even the mid-foot seems awkward. You have to touch down first on the ball of your feet, then soften into the heel. It is toe-heel-toe, rather than heel-toe. The transition takes time and practice, because you really have to feel out how much weight to apply before you settle into the heel. You have to experiment, trying out slightly different amounts of bend in the ankle and knee to decide what feels the most comfortable. I'm still exploring this new territory.
But as I forge ahead, I've realized that minimalist running magnifies every sensation. Whereas before when some of the cushioning was being done by the spongy shoe, now all of it must be done by the body. It is running with the volume turned up. First you feel the road pushing up on your toes as you touch down. That force is transferred through your foot to your ankle, then up your Achilles tendon into your calf muscle. From there it flows through your hamstrings into your hips, where it rebounds off of your abdominal muscles and returns all the way back down to your feet. It isn't painful, but a gentle, elastic push and pull.
This is running for people who love running. Therefore it isn't for everyone. For those who run because they want to stay healthy, or to lose weight or for any of a hundred other reasons, this amplification of the running experience isn't what they are looking for. But for those who delight in the texture of the road beneath your feet, the forces rippling through your body, the sweat dripping down your back and the wind dancing across your bare skin, this kind of movement is the ultimate experience.