WTOP "Eyewitness News" reporter Susan King does it. It calms her nerves and improves her tennis game, she says.

New York Times correspondent David Burnham says it keeps him from dozing off at federal agency hearings.

Redskins coach George Allen does it, too.

So do Sens. William Proxmire, Alan Cranston, and Claiborne Pell.

They all know that Washington is a great place to run - not for Congress, but for their health.

Laced with parks and running paths, it is a natural training ground for men and women, racers and beginners alike.

Washington is the home of true running freaks like ultra-marathoner Edward Ayres, editor and publisher of "Running Times" magazine. A veteran of no fewer than 25 marathons (26-mile races), Ayres, at 36, averages 100 miles a week.

The nation's capital also hosts a growing community of new running devotees, equally serious about cranking out a few laps each day. Professionals, artists, bureaucrats and housewives alike find the sport not only great fun and exercise, but also an ideal tension release.

King, 30, composes news stories while grinding out her daily mile and a half at the American University reservoir.

"When I'm out running, I reach a good point where my mind is free and I can write whole scripts in my head," she says.

Georgetown ceramicist Carrie Mabley, 41, takes her two dogs for company on her daily four-mile run along the Potomac.

For Carolyn Hahn, a 34-year-old Federal Home Loan Bank Board attorney, running is more than a way to relax. A veteran of seven marathons, two of them in Boston, she has conscientiously run 10 miles a day for 11 years.

Hahn, along with 50 other women, belongs to Washington RunHers Unlimited, a club founded here in 1976 to provide moral support, companionship and serious training for marathon racing. The system works. After running for two years, RunHers president Henley Roughton has entered and completed three marathons and now averages 10 miles daily.

Husband and club coach Fred Roughton, himself a marathoner, feels that women's running is the most exciting sport around because the full potential remains to be explored. Until recently, women runners were a rarity. The Boston Marathon started a women's division only in 1972.

Road Runners of America president Jeff Darman, a former Carter campaign worker who runs 35 to 40 miles a week, confirms that more women are running than every before. A nonprofit group, Road Runners was created to organize races and lobby for joggers' rights (clean air, leashed dogs and well kept paths) on the state and local level.

While the D.C. Road Runners' membership rose from 1,300 in 1976 to 1,626 in 1977, the female enrollment quadrupled.

"It's only recently become socially acceptable," Darman explains.

The Road Runners' membership figures prove that women are interested not just in running for exercise, but also in long distance racing, which the group promotes.

"We are not a masochist organization," says former D.C. Road Runners president John Davenport. "We don't go out for the pain."

Instead, he describes the experience of long slow distance running - L.S.D. - as "another world altogether," a natural high that's addictive.

For those who want to run, train, or race with a group, opportunities in the Washington area abound. Organizations include:

Beltway Striders, Capitol Hill Pacers, D.C. Harriers, D.C. Road Runners, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Health's Angels at National Institutes of Health, National Capital Track Club, Northern Virginia Running Club, Potomac Valley Seniors Track Club, Washington RunHers Unlimited, Washington Running Club.

For loners, beginners and non-competitors, the National Joggers Association recommends a few measured running paths in the area:

Ellipse - 3/4 mile.

Rock Creek Park exercise trail (starts at 16th Street and Sheryll Drive NW - 1 mile.

Tidal Basin - 2 miles.

YMCA indoor track (members only) 22 laps per mile.

C & O Canal towpath from Georgetown to Great Falls - 20 miles with mile markers.