There is a giant in our midst. Sprawled in the dirt at Hains Point, his steely brow turned upward toward the heavens, his outstretched arm grasping for the sky, his bearded jaw agape, he looks like someone who just ran a mile for the first time.

The giant, 100-foot-long statue is called "The Awakening." But now it is dusk on a clear, balmy June night and the giant looks pooped.

Runners, nearly 200 of them, swaddled in the latest cling-free shorts and pastel shoes, are meandering around the behemoth's belly, sitting in the palm of his hand.

They have come for the 21st annual Hugh Jascourt four-mile run. Last year, the race began just this side of the giant's naval. "Where's the start," they asked. "Where does the race begin?"

Organized running in the area began here on June 21, 1961, when 37 people showed up at Hains Point for the first event ever put on by the D.C. Road Runner Club. There were the inaugural races in the club's circuit, which has included at least one race a week since then.

Nearly two decades ago, it had rained all afternoon. The races, a five-mile run and a "tenderfoot" tow-miler, started an hour late because, Jascourt said, "The park supervisor sent all his workers home saying no one would run on a day like this."

But they did run; and now, once again, the races would begin late, while the organizers try to think of a place to start.

The statue that usurped their starting line is an unwitting symbol of just how big running has become. "We have spawned a giant," said Jeff Darman, the former president of the DCRRC, and the Road Runners Club of America.

National Running Data Center (NRLC) figures show that Washington had the highest number of race finishers per capita in the country last year: 22,000 runners finishing 38 races. In 1978, 14,000 runners finished 29 races.

Ken Young director of the NRDC, estimates there was a 25 percent increase in the number of races in the Washington - Virginia - Maryland area, which is typical across the country.. On July 4 there were four races to choose from -- two 10Ks, a five-miler, and the 91st annual Takoma Park 15K race.

The runners on "The Washington area circuit" come in all shapes and sizes. There are middle-aged women, pregnant women and teen-agers who used to play jacks. There are six-minute milers and former six-minute milers who have been goaded back into shape by their six-minute-a-mile sons.

There is no Bill Rodgers to be found inside the Bill Rodgers running shorts. But there is no Rosie Ruiz inside the "I Ran With Rosie" T-shirt either.

Some of the runners even have a sense of humor about it. Lizzie Sadoff, for instance, age 30, and the winner of the 1979 Bunion Derby (the DCRC's summer circuit of seven races) in the 20-29 age group. "Why do I run?" she said. "Well, what excuses haven't you heard? It's a good way to meet men."

Lizzie's husband, Jerry, standing resolutely behind their daughter's stroller, smiles. He does not run. "Are you kidding?" he asked. "I take care of the kid. I know better. I'm a doctor."

Not that he disapproves.He just likes to watch. "Why don't you admit why you really started," he says to Lizzie. "You could win trophies."

"Yes," she says. "I ran my first marathon seven years ago, at the first annual Power Marathon. It was the last one, too, but we didn't know that at the time. "I was the first woman, the last woman, and the only woman. I'm the reigning women's champ with a 4:10 time."

Lizzie's coach, Bill Sollers, holding Lizzie's daughter Sally, nods. "Lizzie was real good until the good runners came out," he said.

Bill's friend Ralph Jackson is holding a six-pack of Moosehead Beer. It is his trophy for accurately guessing the length of the race they have just run: "The Mystery Distance More Than Four Mile Run" at Fort Dupont, the third race in the 1980 Bunion Derby series.

Answer: 52 miles

They can't believe it. Their times are too slow.

"Blame it on the hills," says one runner

"Blame it on the weather," says another, Justine Peet. "Ever since Willard left the weather just hasn't been the same."

The weather is warm, the conversation warmer. Most of the people on "the circuit" know each other, their times, their wounds, their regiments.

Others are related: husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Most are running with somebody as well as against themselves, against time.

Bill baer runs one race a year. This year, he chose the Hecht Co. 10-miler, the day after his 30th birthday. "It's a dangerous gamble," he said, "if I don't finish, it will prove I'm over the hill."

Most of the regulars who show up every week are runners, not juggers.They are people with p.r.s. (personal records), splits, goals. The weekly races give their weekly mileage a raison d'etre.

Cynthia Eisler, a 44-year old housewife from Silver Spring, said, "I was ecstatic when I took 10 minutes off my 10K. I'd like to get in it the 40s.

But at 55:00, I'm a runner. And that's okay with me."

June 1, 1980. Hecht Co. 10-miler. This is running at its best. Plunk down $3.50 and you get 2,000 running partners, a T-shirt and Pete Wysocki. Having a Redskin around to dole out the awards somehow legitimizes the effort.

In the old days, they gave out second-hand bowling trophies.

It is 90 degrees before the start of the race. It would be 110 in the shade but there is no shade. "It gonna be a bitch," says one runner.

And sure enough, it is. Ten miles later, Jim Regan is lying on the ground near the Carter Barron parking lot surrounded protectively by a group of friends.

They rub him down with ice cubes, soothing his body as well as his ego. "I'm an experienced runner," he says plantively. "I've never had heat frustration before."

Someone asks about his pulse. "It stopped 10 minutes ago," Regan replied.

The medic arrives with questions and equipment. "I'm afraid you've going to live," one of Regan's friends tells him.

Allison Wade, a lawyer who has just run his second race, his first 10-miler, isn't so sure. "I was doing all right until a girl 8 1/2 months pregnant passed me at 8 1/2 miles," he says while opening a beer.

"Just sailed right by. All the guys were saying, 'My gosh, it's bad enough to get past by a girl -- but a very pregnant one at that.'"

Indeed, it has been a good day for women. Eisler, for instance, who ran the best 8 1/2 miles of her life and placed second in the team championship with the Potomac Valley Seniors Yellow Team.

She looks and feels terrific. "Can you believe it," she says. I thought I'd have to walk the whole thing."

Her husband stands by her side beaming, snapping pictures.

Eisler began running two years ago. She had a borderline case of emphysema. She got scared when she couldn't breathe. Now she runs 25 miles a week, and races five times each spring and fall.

Sometimes, it is all too easy to scoff and turn off people who say that running has changed their lives. There is a temptation to dismiss their experience. There is no dismissing Eisler. She stands there grinning at the sun looking 10 years younger than she is, telling you what it means to her.

Once, she begins, her husband was out of town and her cat became seriously ill.

"I had to take the cat to the emergency clinic," she said. "During the whole time, I had no question that I would make it through. Before I would have felt inadequate to cope. Somehow when you get in those races, and you have to keep pushing and then you did it and you finished, regardless of the time, it gives you a sense that you can handle things."

Eisler's friend and teammate Joanne Mallet says, "Those cats and her children. My husband says I'm much calmer around our children. He says the positive results are very subtle. It's not what you read in running books, euphoria and all that. I don't get upset about the same things. If the floor gets dirty, well, okay it's just another spot. Running provides a terrific sense of accomplishment. To a housewife that isn't always easily recognized."

Others run for more tangible reasons.

"Fat," said Judy Watston, 35, of Arlington. "A broken-down car is what started me. The car broke down and I had to run home and I couldn't make it."

June 12. Hains Point.

Fathers and sons. Russians and runners. Joe Broderick, of Kettering, Md., and his son John, 10, race almost every week. Usually, John wins. "When other little kids do it, it bothers you," said Joe. "If it's your own kid, it doesn't bother you so much."

Walt Ashburn, 57, Bill Osburn, 56, and Herb Chisholm, 54, do not run with their sons, just because of them. These men are what they like to call "born-again runners," fellows who captained their cross-country teams in college years ago, before they got fat and lazy. Now they are neither.

Osburn, who started running again four years ago, said, "My son kept urging me to do it, but I always had an excuse. One race had an extra pair of shoes, and I had no excuse. Well, I always liked to run out front. I ran 50 yards and realized I'd have to give up on that idea.

"They gave out awards for the first 30 finishers. When I got to the station to turn around there were 29 ahead of me. I finished my two miles and I got an award. My son had gone four miles and finished 9 seconds behind me and got no award. But I had beaten my son. People looked at me with great respect."

Washburn started again in 1972. One day three miles into a race, "These fellas started rooting for this young guy to pass me," he recalled, "that's when I really started running again.

"The thing is, we've got the same reason to run as Bill Rodgers. We're trying to see how good we are. Every decade they say you lose about 8 percent of your speed. So I may only be going seven minutes a mile, but I'm probably putting out as much effort as Rodgers is."

In running, effort is the common denominator. But in age group running, the effort is often reduced to fine print, if it makes that. Herb Chisholm dominates his age group around here, Osburn says. He is "the knight in shining skin." If there's a pair of shoes to be won, Herb will get it.

It is moments before race time. They are comparing notes and trophies. Osburn had just won the Sen. Kennedy Run. "All I got was a Kennedy campaign badge," he says.

"It's a bit cheap," Chisholm agreed.

Chisholm ran his first race in 1973, the bureaucratic runaround, they call it," he said of an interagency four-mile-run. "NASA lacked a fifth. They asked me. I was hooked. Racing adds a little zest. You get weather-proofed. I used to never run in rain and heat. Now if there's a race, I know I wasn't to do respectably and I get out of bed."

Chisholm finished the four miles in 22:47, under six minutes a mile. It was nine seconds off his personal best.

June 26. Fort DuPont.

The Sprouses, mother Janet, father Dennis, and daughters Wendy and Laura arrive early. They are trying to match the oak-tag map of the course, leaning against the back of a station wagon, with the terrain that lies before them. The race director, a volunteer named Val Lewton, comes by and moves the map to the side of the car. Suddenly, it makes sense. "When you get to the first boy," he explains, "turn left."

Wendy, 8, and Laura, 7, like ribbons a lot more than running. Wendy for one has no intention of running a marathon. Ever. "It's silly," she said.

The two-mile Run-For-Your Life race, put on before each main event is quite enough. In fact, it's a whole lot. Would she be a runner if her Mommy wasn't? She pulls up her hobby socks and shakes her head no.

The Sprouses march off to the starting line hand in hand. They cross the finish line together also. "The girls and I did 26:00," says Janet.

Daddy finished in 17:48. "Daddy went out too fast," he says.

The brodericks from Kettering are there and once again John beats his father Joe. His daughters are organizing a track club in their neighborhood. fSo much for playing house. "Where we live the boys think they can beat us," says one of the girls. "Some of us like to show them they can't."

Marta Bechloefer, 12, who is visiting her father from New Mexico, says, "In New Mexico, it's not male-female relationships, it's people to people."

She is very cool, very sophisticated standing there with transistorized Billy Joel at one ear, and a reporter at another.

You never know she had just finished a grown-up race. But now she wants her Daddy. "Where did he go," she asks, peering into the dusk. "At this this moment of fame and triumph. Oh, jeepers, creepers."