There is a trend toward running barefoot but I'm definitely bypassing that idea. I want the maximum cushioning between my feet and therefore my joints and the street. My shins were sore after two consecutive runs last week which meant it was time for new shoes. I had had the old pair a full year so I had pushed them beyond the recommended 500 miles. They always wear out exactly the same - the small diamond of cushion under the ball of my foot wears out and I replace shoes that otherwise look brand new. They're expensive too but worth every cent of preventing damage to my knees and hips.
Replacing shoes is easy. I go to the store and pick up the newest model of the Mizuno Wave 6. The whole thing takes 4 minutes. The only difference from year to year is the accent coloring. This pair is fuschia and black, last year was a hideous turquoise and chartreuse.
Buying the first pair, however, wasn't nearly so easy. I went to Total Runner in Southgate with my old shoes in tow. The man who helped me looked at my old shoes, measured my feet, watched me walk barefoot then had me try on seemingly every shoe in the store, watching me walk in each pair. Finally an hour later I left with the style I've stuck with for three years now. It was tedious, yes, but essential for a good, comfortable shoe.
I definitely recommend buying the first pair at a running or walking store, rather than a department store. I've found that running stores employ runners who can determine exactly which shoes will be the best, whether cushioning, stability or neutral, etc. I don't even understand all the terms, but he knew which shoes were the best for my feet. He also knew that running shoes might be a different size than street shoes. I wear a full size larger in running shoes which I wouldn't have thought if not for his help and advice.
As for socks, the only brand I wear now are Smart Wool. Wool socks? Absolutely! They're not hot or scratchy in the slightest bit. They're comfortable and wick moisture (pull it from my skin and push it to the outside of the fabric where it's absorbed as water vapor), keeping my feet dry and blister free. I've only found them at REI and paid anywhere from $4 to $11 for one pair. They come in different styles, but tend to run large.
In the winter I had a problem with blistering in the same spot every single run. They guys at Total Runner recommended slathering my feet in Vaseline before running. Sounds gross, but it didn't feel bad and it worked. A few weeks later the problem was gone. I hear Vaseline works for chafing too, but thankfully that hasn't been a problem!
With the old shoes, I kept one pair for yard work, kept a second pair for everyday shoes (I wear the current running pair exclusively for running) and donated the ugly pair to the YMCA. I'm not entirely sure what they do with them - donate to a school maybe? It seems asinine to get rid of a really good pair of shoes, but I have no use for them, so I use the bin to pay it forward. Maybe some little girl with big feet finally has a pair of good shoes :)