On a sunny afternoon last week, five narrow, brown conrtestants strenched in the sidewalk arena outside Dolley Madison Library.

Bent over them, crushed elbow to elbow, a crowd of excited children jostled each other for knelling room. Then, without signal, one of the narrow contestants agilely glided out of the chalked circle on the ground: The race was on. The crowd squealed and cheered.

Two eager boys of about 10 briefly skirmished outside the area over ownership of what looked like the sure winnerbriefly skirmished outside the arena over ownership of what looked like the sure winner of the slimies. "That's mine!" "Is not! It's mine!" No one could be sure because all of the entries looked alike.

Then silence. All movement had stopped in the area. The crowd waited . . . and waited.

Clearly, determining Fairfax County's fatest would take a bit more doing than Phyllis Ingram had imagined.

Ingram children's librarian at the Doley Madison branch in McLean and sponsor of the county's first annual worm race, stepped into the crisis with a show of confidence. Wading through disappointed children, she produced a squirt bottle filled with spring water and sprayed the motionless contestants. "Maybe this will revive them," she said hopefully. Not even a wriggle.

Meanwhile a beefy man in a red coat stood knee-deep in children and surveyed the scene. In a play-by-play account for his radio audience, he intoned into his microphone, 'There's been no action from Bionic Worm or Wonderworm in, let's see, three minutes and 30 seconds."

Shouts rang out a little farther down the sidewalk; many of the spectators abandoned the slow poked slimies and arrived at the second arena just in time for the running of the fuzzies.

There, harry - a seek yellow and black caterpillar who trained on a tree in 6-year-old. Marcus Perry's backyard in Reston - crawled away with the race. His time seven seconds.

Confusion, ensued. Marcus and Harry - the eventual winners - were taken home before the judges could present a blue ribbon. The library staff was over whelmed by rest of the 70 contestants who were now vying for a chance to show their worms' stuff on one of the two chalk circles. Originally, Ingram planned to have several heats. The winner of each race would be timed, and at the end, it would be a simple matter of proclaiming the fastest worm. But Ingram only brought one watch, and the earthworms showed a distinct distain for racing.

One of the contestant's owners, Robert Edwards, 8, was determined to make a showing. "You see, we're from Englans," explained his mother, Pamela Edwards, in a musical British accent, "and Geoffrey has been entered as the only English worm. Actually, he came from good Virginia soil - freshly dug this morning."

As Robert eased his pale contestant - thin even by worry standards - into the circle, one wondered just what chance he stood. Mrs. Edward confided that preparations for the race been trying. Robert and his brother, Allistair, 5, had dug up most of the garden at their McLean home searching for suitable entries. geoffrey was judged the only up to the contest, and "it was decided that he would be entered as the Edwards brothers worm - after great tears."

Geoffrey, however, refused to budge. I'M afraid, Bob, Geoffry's decided not to fly the colors for Britain," Mrs. Edwards told her son. "He's just not a winner."

Robert argued: "Well, if everybody gives up. . . "

"Did he move?" his mother asked.

"Yes," Robert said breaking into a smile.it quickly faded. "But he stopped again."

Robert's trials were shared by the other young owners. None of the worms competing against Geoffrey in the circle were moving.

In the other circle, meantime, 22-month-old. Cameron Stone, barefoot and still in diapers, gave his worm a yank for a wriggling start. The worm soon subsided, however, and Cameron dug through the dirt searching for another.

Off to the corner of the lwan, Ingram and the other libraries conferred about declaring a winner. because of the shortage of clocks, and the general pandemonium, she finally advised: "Why don't we make an educated guess? I think that would be more emotionally satisfying for everyone."

Her helper, Kurt Peterson, smiled. "Yes, I had to disqualify one kid. He was holding half of his worm in his hand, the other half was in the race.

The fastest worms in Fairfax County, however, could not be found to accept their blue ribbons. Fuzzy Harry had gone home, and $6 million worm, king of the slimies, had somehow slithered out his cup of dirt, david Carmichael, of Springfield, a bit upset by the loss of $6 million, did accept the winning blue ribbon.

All the other children who entered received certificates proclaiming their worms "participated with valor and agility."

Ingram, who passed out the certificates in her library office after the race, said she got the idea for the frace from a library publication. She said it was such a lot of fun, I think we'll do it again next year. By theen we can smooth out some of the administrative details."

Outside her office, Robert was showing his mother his certificate. "He's very triumphant," Mrs. Edward said. "geoffrey won in the last two seconds - All the other worms died or were removed by their owners. Thie evening we're going to Baskins Robbins for a very large ice cream on Geoffry's triumph."