Ah, feet. They walk, run away from trouble, dance, smell and, according to experts, take a vicious, almost cruel, daily pounding from their owners.

So you'd think a bunch of podiatrists would know better. Yet there they were Saturday morning -- about 60 of them from the American Podiatric Association -- running, jogging, walking or dragging themselves over a five-kilometer course through Rock Creek Park, a fitness sidelight of their annual meeting here.

"Running generates an impact of five times your body weight on your heels," said Steve Pribut, secretary-treasurer of the D.C. chapter of the APA. "Multiply that by 800 steps per mile and you can generate a lot of stress." Walking isn't so easy, footwise, either. About two times your body weight is placed on each heel with each step, Pribut said.

Poor little footie.

The heel bone's connected to the toe bone, as we all know. Actually, there are 14 toe bones connected to five bones in the middle of the foot (all right -- metatarsals), which are connected to seven other bones (tarsals), of which the heel bone (calcaneus) is one. Add it all up and what you get for your average 175-pound guy is about 875 pounds being slammed down 800 times a mile on 26 tiny little bones that would rather be home soaking in a hot tub.

It's a good thing someone invented shoes. For runners, walkers, sightseers and so on, the cushioning effect of the new breed of designer running shoes is a godsend. But don't go looking for a brand-name consensus from these podiatrists. Nikes, Reeboks, Adidases, Brookses, Sauconys, sandals (with socks, of course), teeny-weeny baby shoes (on teeny-weeny babies), and even unashamedly naked feet were modeled at the morning jaunt.

But while no one would endorse P.F. Flyers over Keds, or wing tips over Weejuns, some sound podiatric shoe-selecting advice was offered.

"There is no one pair of shoes that's good for everybody," said Joseph Settler, at 66 the oldest runner in the race. "Just go to a store that carries a lot of different brand names, and you should be permitted to try a slow jog before you buy them. And buy sports shoes that come in widths."

Right. Get some gunboats that fit for a change.

And what of life before Reeboks? Injurywise, it wasn't that rosy-toesy.

"We saw a lot more heel problems," Pribut said. "Either heel spurs or plantar fasciitis" (a separation of muscle from bone in the arch area, probably caused by hobnailed boots on plantation fascists, but that's another story).

But there may be trouble coming. "We are starting to see Achilles' tendinitis coming back with these air-cushioned shoes," Pribut said. "C'mon! Would you rather jump into a pile of foam rubber or a pile of air?"

Think about it.

And think about this, too: It's not just what you wear, it's where you run. "Concrete is the worst," Pribut said. "Packed dirt, like down on the Mall, is the best. Asphalt is slightly better than concrete, but avoid running on concrete if you can."

Sounds hopeless. Makes you think maybe you should give up all this running, walking, to-ing and fro-ing and take the bus, right?

Wrong, and you know it.

Let the footfalls where they may, because, podiatrically speaking, running isn't all that bad. In fact, given the great strides in running-shoe technology, the cardiovascular benefits may outpace whatever crimes of the arch we may commit.

Take it from one who knows: Settler, of Peoria, Ill., the oldest but not the last to finish Saturday's race, a man who completed the Chicago Marathon in his younger days (at age 62) and recommends a three-times-a-week run of about 15 total miles to anyone whose family doctor agrees. Pribut concurs: "We don't start seeing problems until people run 20 miles or more a week," he said. Less than that seems to be well within reason.

So we run. Just drive by the Pentagon around lunchtime. Drive by the Pentagon any time. There are more aging officers sweating up a frenzy than you can shake a swagger stick at. (Do these guys ever work? But we probably know the answer to that already.)

Rock Creek Park is another runners' haven. And many neighborhoods throughout the city, especially at night, are the settings for all-out sprints.

But nonrunners need not feel left out. For anyone concerned about proper foot care and wear, "Get a comfortable pair of shoes for walking. Running shoes are the best," Pribut said. "A lot of walkers get cramps -- shin splints -- and runners' stretching exercises are good to prevent that."

And don't start young junior off in those cute little white baby shoes. They might as well be bronzed already, as far as Pribut is concerned.

"The little running-type shoes are much better for children," he said. "And cut the feet out of those little suits with the attached booties." Kids are often longer than the suit as a whole, he said, and kids' feet are bigger than the bootie allows. "If nothing else, it's got to be uncomfortable for them."

For you moms and dads, Pribut advised, "Bathe your feet every day, and dry them between the toes. Perspiration and dark, moist shoes are athlete's foot heaven. And let your feet air out at night."

Along with the shoes, please