Despite not having much luck with running in the last few weeks, I took the toe shoes out to the trails to give them a try. The best news is that they seemed to break my streak of miserable runs, and I had a lovely autumn run on paths through the woods. Here's my full report:
Bark running trail: These shoes are the business! I love the way I feel like I'm running totally barefoot, and yet not getting splinters. They have plenty of arch support, and I definitely can feel that my running stride is much more natural than it is in regular running shoes. It's really a joy to run in them. I did notice that while I thought I was doing a good job at holding my ChiRunning style, I don't really do it for very long at a time. These shoes will remind you any time you revert to a lazy, heel-striking or flat-footed running style. So it's almost like doing a constant drill when you start out with them. Unless your running form is excellent, I'd recommend planning on a few twenty-minute runs in them and work up from there. I did find it a bit exhausting as my muscles obviously aren't used to running like this all the time.
Gravel Running Trail: Part of the woodland trail I was on was 1/4 inch crushed gravel, and the rest of it was very finely crushed gravel. Some of it was covered in leaves and some not. On the finely crushed gravel, the shoes were fine. When I got to the 1/4 inch crushed gravel though, especially the part that was covered in leaves (so I couldn't see the pointy rocks), I kept getting poked in the bottom of the foot. The shoes do protect you to a certain extent, it's certainly not like really running on gravel would be, but any rock that is pointing upwards will definitely be felt in the bottom of your foot, and I didn't find that part of the path very pleasant to run on. On rocky paths or gravel paths where you can see the path, it's easier to avoid the pointy rocks, but it does take a lot more attention, so it's a different feeling from the kind of running where you can look around or let your mind roam. Also, I noticed on the downhill segments you can't descend heels first like I usually do. I had to adopt a completely new downhill running style, and I started to feel it in my shins. Again, I'd give these shoes a wearing-in period of shorter runs and don't do too many hills off the bat until you get used to the different foot positions that you use in them.
Grass: Terrific, I can run on the grass when it's wet, muddy, or the trees are dropping sticks and spiky seedd pods all over the place. These shoes have reasonable traction to them, so the wetter portions of the grass weren't a problem either.
Pavement: Wouldn't do it. Even the short sections of pavement between the grass and the trail were not very comfortable.
In general, these shoes are wonderfully comfortable. I'm a barefoot kind of gal anyways, and they make me wish to have a pair just for knocking around town in. When these are too worn out to run in, I'm sure that's what I'll use them for!