QUESTION: I have been walking for about two years and want to begin a jogging program and maybe even run in races after awhile. I have heard that the injury rate goes up when people begin a running program and would like to avoid being injured. Can you give me some guidelines for getting started? Thank you.

ANSWER: I ran across some nice guidelines for avoiding injury in a small handout called "Hot Topics" published by Runner's World magazine. They suggested six steps to injury-free running. These steps are:- Step One - Buy good running shoes. The best way to find good shoes that fit your specific needs is to shop at a store where the salespeople are experts in the fitting of shoes for runners. Ask these experts about each type of shoe and tell them what kind of running you will be doing. Bring your old shoes so that the salespeople can evaluate the wear pattern. There are many different kinds of shoes on the market, and most manufacturers have designed shoes for every need.

- Step Two - Set up a smart training program. Most runners, especially beginning runners, get injured when they try to do too much too soon. But even veteran marathoners aren't injury proof. In fact, most injuries to these runners occur when they increase their training mileage for some upcoming event.

To reduce your risk of injury, set up a training schedule that builds mileage and intensity gradually over a period of several months. Start conservatively and increase the weekly total by no more than 10 percent of the previous week's total. As your fitness improves, add more variety to your workouts, including hill runs, intervals, tempo runs and long runs.

- Step Three - Train, don't strain. You've heard the saying, "No pain, no gain." Well, forget it. If you feel pain, you won't gain. The best advice to runners: If you feel mild pain while running that doesn't abate within the first five to 10 minutes of your run, stop running and apply ice to the injured area.

- Step Four - Rest. Schedule easy days, including a few days off from running each week. You might feel that you will lose fitness if you take a day or two off; but that is not true. In fact, studies show that scheduling a few easy days (tapering) before a race or hard workout will help you run better.

Beginning runners would be better off beginning with a three-days-a-week schedule. Many new runners find that running on two weekdays and on Saturday fits easily into their schedules. As fitness and technique improves, add a fourth day.

- Step Five - Listen to your body. At some point, your body will tell you to slow down. It doesn't matter whether you're a rookie or an experienced runner, everyone needs some rest time. If your body feels tired or sluggish, take it easy. You could be over-training.

- Step Six - Have fun. Don't lose sight of the best reason to run - because it's fun. Regular training makes you feel good physically and mentally. It will help you develop a positive self-image. You will have more energy. Through running, you'll meet new people and develop lasting friendships. And your best running experiences will provide a lifetime of happy memories.