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GETTING fit

This is the best time of year for runners — and those thinking of taking up the sport. Temperatures are just about perfect, and there are a host of local events coming up for runners at all levels.

For those just getting started, we asked Dr. Arnold Ramirez, of Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, to offer some tips. Ramirez, 39, is director of Bayfront's Sports Medicine Fellowship Program. He's also an avid triathlete and runner who has completed distances from 5Ks to marathons.

What's your best advice for someone who is thinking about getting into running?

Start slow, and have proper equipment for the proper sport. In this case, proper shoes. Not all athletic shoes are running shoes. If you've never run before, start by walking, interspersed with light jogs – 1 to 2 miles at maximum, and build from there. For someone who's never run before, if you have access to a treadmill, that's actually a better way to go. The surface is softer, and you can control the speed and the time.

From there, how does one begin to prepare for a race such as a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles)?

Signing up for a race is probably the best way for someone to start exercising. The reason? One, you pay a registration fee; and two, there's a goal in sight. Having a buddy to do it with you is one of the best ways to stay on track, because it keeps you accountable to your training, and it's a lot more fun.

What injuries are most prevalent among people who are new to running, and what are some of the most effective ways to prevent injury?

The most common injuries are overuse-type injuries, where people have done too much, too quickly. . . . A common injury is runner's knee, or iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. Besides starting slow, the other important way to avoid injury is to maintain flexibility. That's done by stretching. The best time to stretch is when the muscles are warm, so stretching is most effective after the run.

Is there anything else those interested in running should know?

We live in Florida, so dehydration and heat illness come into play. It's very important to stay hydrated before, during and after the activity. Water is sufficient if the activity is less than 60 to 90 minutes; longer than that, then it's important to replace the carbohydrates as well, which includes sports drinks.

GET ON TRACK

The Bayfront Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Expo, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today, is a great place to learn more about starting a new training program. Free. 701 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-1234.

Here are a few other upcoming running events. For more runs and other healthy events, go to tampabay.com/health and click on "healthy events'' in the lower right corner of the page.

March 21

• Race for Sight: Centennial Park, Ybor City; 5K race and 1-mile race/family walk. Info: (813) 289-1200, ext. 247, or www.lionseyefoundation.org.

• 27th annual Armadillo Run: Oldsmar; 10K and 5K races and a 1-mile wellness run/walk. Info: (813) 855-5824 or www.armadillorun.org.

March 28

• Beach to Bayou: Fred Howard Park, Tarpon Springs; 5K race. Info: (727) 943-3651.

• Wachovia 9th Annual Chasco Challenge: Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, New Port Richey; 5K, 10K and half-marathon (13.1-mile), 1-mile run/walk, bicycle tours. Info: (727) 848-8888.

GETTING fit 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 4:30am]

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