I had a pair of New Balance 550s earlier this year. They were great...until they got worn down and I started having knee pain...and running slower. Two weeks until my first half marathon and I knew I needed new shoes so I headed to a local running store to get a fitting. I hated every pair he brought out for me and he wasn't listening to lightweight and minimal. I left without shoes and headed to Niketown to try on some Frees.
There are a few different kinds of Nike Free running shoes. There are 7.0, 5.0, 3.0, and Run+. (All available in various versions as well.) Essentially, the 7.0s have the most cushioning, the 5.0s have a moderate amount, the 3.0s have the least amount of cushioning, and the Run+ has more cushioning than the 3.0s. (I really can't figure out any difference between the Run+ and the 5.0s, if you find out, let me know!) I tried on the 5.0s, which just felt plain awkward, and the 3.0s. Right away I knew the 3.0s were perfect. I happily left Niketown and couldn't wait to go for a run.
Now, because of the minimalist design of the 3.0s, you are advised to ease into them to avoid your muscles cramping and to avoid overuse. Since I was in my taper period for training all my runs were short, under 5 miles, so I didn't ease into them...and my calves...they HURT. The first week of running I had to stop a lot and stretch out my calves because they were BURNING. I got worried for the half, picturing myself taking 3+ hours to finish because of stretching. Race day came and I spent a good amount of time warming up and stretching my calves and legs out and you know what, I ran all 13.1 miles without feeling a thing in my calves. Score.
They run about a half a size small. I wear size 8.5 in normal shoes and got these in a 9. Though my last pair of running shoes were 9 as well. I find the width and toe box perfect for my feet, but I have non-narrow and non-wide feet, so I can see some people having problems with the fit.
If these shoes were people, they'd be contortionists. The deep grooves in the outsole combined with the mesh body allow your foot the freedom it needs to build up its muscles. Basically, your foot can move like it's not in a shoe, while it's in a shoe. (Note that pebbles and small rocks and twigs can get stuck in the grooves, so make sure you check the bottoms before going inside.)
These babies are comfortable. Super comfortable. I've never gotten a blister, never bled, my black toe nail faded away once I started wearing these.
The size 8 women's shoes weigh 6oz each. You can hardly feel them on your feet.
I don't know what it is, but once I ran in these shoes I instantly got faster. The first run I did in these was 4 miles, and not counting stoppage time, I finished an entire 3 minutes faster than the last 4 mile run in my old shoes. I can feel that my legs are much stronger and the muscle definition has become more visible since running in them. I almost want to say that these shoes have changed my life...almost...
Overall the ONLY complaint about these amazing shoes is that the shoelaces will NOT stay tied. You have to double knot them...even if just walking in them. I also notice that they are not as comfortable when I wear slightly thick cotton socks. Whenever I run I have to wear the slim Nike socks otherwise I'm just plain uncomfortable. I'm really hoping I get a Nike gift card so I can get a new pair. I'm in looooooove!