I don't think the minimalist shoe is a great place to start for people new to running, unless they're willing to start really, really gradually and build up their foot strength. Otherwise, it can cause some calf strain and soreness.
How do you know when you're ready to race?
Give yourself at least two to three months. Once you can either continuously run or run-walk in those 30 minute intervals, you ought to sign on the dotted line for a 5K.
What's the value of racing?
It provides accountability to a goal, which is motivating. Plus, it's exciting. There's a big difference between exercising in general and training for something, because you know you've got to prepare for your D-Day, so it brings purpose to your workouts. And it also shows progress. In your first workout, you may have run a mile and a half in 30 minutes. And now you can do a 5K in 30 or 35 minutes.
Any other general advice for new runners?
Mix up your routine. It's a great motivator to run one day, and then try, say, a Zumba or cycling class. You feel good about coming back to that second run of the week because you're not doing the same darn thing every day. And truly listen to your body as you train. Some people do my Zero to Running program in 10 weeks, but it took me three months to do it when I first started. Listen to your body, and don't push through pain. Also, don't compare yourself to your neighbor, or your husband or wife who runs. Everyone is unique.