FRED WANDEL, 64, managed to look serene and even dignified as he trotted across the Jefferson Memorial plaza toward the pavement crack that serves as the finish line for the Interagency Jogging Council's monthly run around the Tidal Basin.

"I call this preventive maintenance of government facilities," Wandel said when he had caught his breath, which wasn't long considering he had just run 3,000 meters through blowing, muggy smog in 15:15 while dodging traffic and bewildered tourists.

Wandel was one of about 250 federal employees who had turned out for the monthly run, which is held at noon every third Wednesday and is open to current and retired federal employees (as well as anyone else who drops by). In five years there has been only one cancellation because of weather, said organizer Tony Diamond, "and that was when there was an inch of ice on the sidewalk and we were afraid the runners would fall. We run whether it's below zero or above 90."

What the Council has done is to meld the ancient Washington institutions of the long lunch hour and running around in circles with the growing government emphasis on physical fitness.

Some agencies grant a couple of hours off to participants on the ground that what's good for an employee's liver and lights is good for the body politic. Other runners, such as Caroline Hahn of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, have to skip a couple of lunch hours during race week or take annual leave.

Hahn, first woman to finish the 3,000 meters (in 12:09), had an additional problem: FHLBB has only one shower, which is reserved for men or women on alternate days, and this was not her day.

"Oh well," she said, "I'll do what I can at the sink and the people in the office will just have to live with me this afternoon."

The greensward around the finish crack was littered with sweat-drenched bureaucrats of every age and sex. All starters finished, including those who went twice around for 6,000 meters, nearly four miles. Most rested only briefly before hopping in their cars and going back to work at the twoscore angencies whose employees participate.

There were enough runners left to give a rousing cheer for Maurice Foreman, 63, a Pentagon retiree who finished last, in 36:04, two minutes off his fair-weather pace. Foreman was seniors champion last year "because I made 11 of 12 meets and there isn't that much competition in the over-60 group."

The civil servants are serious but not solemn about the race.

"We keep official times and have point standings, but our emphasis is on the competition itself, just getting out here," Diamond said. The July race results were kept on the honor system because the Marine who was supposed to bring the timecards didn't show.

Some agencies, particularly the military services and NASA - where the founders of the affair are headquartered - enter five-person teams whose members proudly wear T-shirts emblazoned with their agency seal.

But there are almost as may reasons for running as there are runners. Sally Jensen, 55, a Japanese who married a Dane to found one of Washington's many international families, runs "because my boys are all very athletic and I had to keep up with them." She led all the over-50 women in 17:19.

Another family affair is that of Bob Thurston (6,000 meters in 19:43) and Delabian Rice Thurston (3,000 in 13:28). He teaches at the District's John Eaton Elementary School while she works at the D.C. Municipal Planning Office, and both try to turn out more city workers for the event.

"More vigor," he gasped.

"More involvement," she added.

"Survival of the fittest," put in Diamond. "Human survival in the face of a hostile environment: sedentary jobs, pollution . . . ."