Last year, a few children showed up at the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids' Fun Run wearing their street shoes. Fun Run officials remind parents to send their youngsters in comfortable sneakers that fit well.

Parents should use common sense when selecting running shoes for their child. Avoid fashion gimmicks, such as shoes with blinking lights or a four-inch heel. If your child insists on buying a certain shoe because "all the other kids have it" or they like the color or brand, make sure that it is the best shoe for his or her feet.

Getting a shoe that fits properly may not be as easy as it sounds. Be sure to visit a store with salespeople who are not only knowledgeable about shoes, but who also understand foot construction, injuries, and the trials and tribulations of exercise, and who know when to refer customers to a podiatrist or orthopedist. There are a half-dozen specialty stores in the Washington area.

Phil Fenty, a veteran of 54 marathons, has been selling shoes at Fleet Feet Sports in Adams Morgan for 20 years. The store specializes in shoes for adults and older children. "We are particularly careful with kids, because they are still growing," Fenty says. "Putting the wrong shoes on them now could exacerbate a problem later on. It is important in a developing foot that the developmental processes not be hampered by an ill-fitting shoe."

Fenty states the obvious: "Kids are hard on shoes." They also outgrow them before you can say "Nike." One of the most common mistakes parents make is allowing their children to wear shoes long after they should have been retired. When the tops and sides are worn out, when your child's toe is poking out the front of the shoe, it is time to give them the boot. "Parents may think they are saving money by getting another month, or six months, out of a pair of shoes," Fenty says. "What they're not thinking about is the medical expenses they may be facing down the road."

Recreational runners don't need a special pair of sneakers; they can exercise in the same ones they use for school and home. But kids who run cross country or work out more than three times a week need a second pair of shoes specifically for those activities. Those families may also want to invest in polyester CoolMax socks, which provide a better climate for the foot than cotton.

And when it comes to common sense, children (and adults) should never wear their new shoes to a race or even a fun run. Unless they want to face the dreaded consequence: blisters.

-- Janice L. Kaplan