Runners often view their workout as a respite from reality, a time to transcend earthly limitations and soar. But the recent trial in New York City of several youths accused of brutally beating and raping a Central Park jogger has highlighted the need for exercisers to learn to run and walk smart.

In the Washington area, several assaults against women have increased awareness of the potential hazards of exercising in public places. Last weekend, two women joggers were attacked on a South Arlington bike path. In June, a college student was found sexually assaulted and strangled near a bike trail where she was jogging in Berwyn Heights, Md.

"I can't think of a single woman who hasn't run scared," says Henley Gibble, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America.

For added protection, an increasing number of women are turning to canine companions when they go walking or running. Shelley Reecher, director of the nonprofit Project Safe Run, has been training dogs to run with people since 1981.

But be aware that not all breeds are capable of running or power-walking long distances and providing an effective deterrent against assault, she says.

"You need a dog with endurance that looks intimidating," she says. "And you probably won't want a dog that requires intensive maintenance if you like to run on trails."

Dogs selected to help protect runners should weigh more than 60 pounds to be able to combat a 200-pound attacker. They should also be well-trained for defense and checked by a qualified veterinarian to make sure they are fit for the job.

In general, Reecher says, stay away from dogs with pushed-in faces, like bulldogs, which "have enough breathing problems." Dogs bred for retrieving may be poor protectors since an attacker could distract them by throwing a stick to fetch.

Breeds that combine essentials of endurance and protection ability include, says Reecher: Doberman, Dogo Argentino, Airedale, Beauceron, Standard Poodle, Rhodesian Ridgeback and German Pointers.

Project Safe Run is headquartered in Eugene, Ore., and chapters are springing up around the country to lend dogs to people who want to walk or run with a dog but not own one.

For $25 per month, members have unlimited use of a PSR-trained dog.

For general safety, the Road Runners Club of America has issued the following tips for women runners:

Carry identification or write your name, phone number and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe.

Don't wear jewelry.

Carry a quarter for a phone call.

Run with a partner.

Write down or leave word of your running route. Tell your friends and family of your favorite routes.

Run in familiar areas.

In unfamiliar areas, contact a local RRCA club or running store. Know the location of telephones and open businesses.

Vary your route.

Always stay alert. The more aware you are of potential hazards, the less vulnerable you are.

For more information about Project Safe Run and dogs as jogging companions, send a business-sized self-addressed, stamped envelope to PSR, 2226 Fairmont Blvd., Eugene, Ore. 97403, (503) 345-8086.

For a complete list of Running Smart guidelines issued by the Road Runners Club of America, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to RRCA Running Tips, 629 S. Washington St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

Short Takes on the Fitness Front.

President Bush is "definitely a role model for anybody who is interested in fitness, sports or staying in shape," says his physician, Burton J. Lee III, in the Physician and Sportsmedicine Journal. "He is 65 going on 35." One day, Bush may run three or four miles, another day he might bicycle, use the stair climber or work out with weights in the small gym in the basement of the White House.

Despite claims that infant exercise programs enhance a baby's physical prowess, "there is no evidence of that or of any long-term benefit," notes the Physician and Sportsmedicine journal. It cites the American Academy of Pediatrics advice that structured infant exercise programs not be promoted as being therapeutically beneficial for the development of healthy infants and that parents be encouraged to provide a safe, nurturing and minimally structured play environment for their infant.

"Riding a bicycle-built-for-two offers couples or friends an ideal way to cross-train together even if there's a drastic difference in their abilities," notes the August Runner's World magazine. "The front cyclist is called the captain; the rear rider is the stoker. The captain controls braking, steering and shifting gears. The stoker . . . acts as the captain's co-pilot." For more information, contact the Tandem Club of America, 2220 Vaness Dr., Birmingham, Ala. 35242, (205) 991-5519.

"Vigorous activity causes a temporary drop in the pH level of breast milk, which gives milk an unfamiliar taste," reports Glamour magazine. "That's why a baby may fuss or refuse to nurse after mom has worked out."

Bodyworks appears on alternate Tuesdays.