2) What's the word on this "barefoot running" thing? I've skimmed over the thread, and like the rest of the internet the opinions seem to be very mixed. This site
decries it as dangerous, but doesn't seem to use any science. With the exception of one medical article linked earlier the only evidence it helps seems to be new-agey bullshit about humans having evolved to run that way which, while true, doesn't mean that shoes aren't better. We're evolved to eat raw meat, too, after all. I'd just go for one of them shoes (A guy at the track today mentioned the "Nike Frees", but i don't want to spend $75 on something i may only use once.
So the theory I subscribe to behind barefoot running is based largely on some studies* comparing how "typical" western runners with people who've never worn shoes. The main difference they noted was that people who learned to run in shoes - particularly, shoes with big, cushy heels - land first on their heel, while the lifelong barefooters land first towards the balls of their feet. They also noted that the impact from a barefooter, even while barefoot, was lower than that of a shoe-wearer, despite the big, cushy heels.
I started running on my forefoot even in my traditional, very stiff shoes, which felt better, although the first few weeks were death on my calves. Anecdotally, I think that I reduce the stress on my midsection which was causing abdominal stitches. Later, I bought some Nike Frees, which were more flexible and had shallower heels, although that was part of my normal shoe replacement cycle. They're also just generally comfortable shoes, my only gripe is that they don't keep water out very well.
I've also gone barefoot a few times over safe areas, it feels great, but really wears down my feet, and I don't feel comfortable going barefoot in most places. I'll probably buy some vibram shoes soon.
*I can find the link for you if you care, they were done at Harvard if that matters.