- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Oprah Winfrey ran it in 1994. Al Gore crossed the finish line in 1998. So it's true that some of the new popularity of the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon can be traced to celebrity attraction.

But this 26.2-mile run through the nation's capital, whose 26th annual running is scheduled this year for Oct. 28, isn't called "the People's Marathon" for nothing: What makes it most appealing is that unlike other well-known marathons in Boston, New York and Chicago, registrants need not post qualifying times.

"It's a race that accommodates both the professional runner and the amateur," says Jennifer Robinson, public relations coordinator for the race.

Whatever the reason, the marathon is so far "in" that its official Web site, www.marinemarathon.com, logged 65,000 hits for 5,000 spots in the first minute of online registration last April. Day Two's registration saw the next 5,000 spots go as quickly. The remaining were filled by lottery.

Marathons were relatively new in 1975 when the Marine Corps held its first to promote better relations between Marines and civilians after the Vietnam War. Fewer than 1,200 runners participated in the first race. This year an estimated 17,000 runners will take their mark at 8:30 a.m. at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington.

And 46 percent of them, Ms. Robinson says, will be first-time marathoners.

Due in part to such programs as the Jeff Galloway Marathon Training Program, which espouses a run-walk theory of long distance running, novices of both sexes and all ages have flocked to the event. Once a race of mostly men in their twenties and thirties, the Marine Corps Marathon now registers almost as many women as men. The mean age of runners has shifted as well, to the thirties and forties, with runners well into their sixties and seventies crossing the finish line.

• • •

The moral of the story may be: You too could run the marathon, if only you had registered in time.

"If Oprah can do it, we can too," Janet Gartlan recalls telling a cousin in 1995. Both women finished, and Ms. Gartlan did it again in 2000.

Tom Martin, 60, remembers that six years ago he could barely jog the distance between telephone poles. Using the combination of timed running segments and walk breaks developed by former Olympic marathoner Jeff Galloway, Mr. Martin recently completed his 10th marathon and now serves as program director of the Metro-D.C. Galloway Method Program.

"Every season I hear new stories of how people are trying to change their lives," says Mr. Martin, as he congratulated his new crop of Galloway disciples after a long run that began at Jones Point in Alexandria one crisp September day. "I feel like I'm taking them on a six-month journey of self-discovery."

Many running groups in the metropolitan area, including the Pacers Marathon Training Program, favor a Swedish method of distance training called "fartlek" ("speed play" in Swedish), which varies the pace during a run. Bill Stearns, coach of the Pacers who also trained Rich Cochrane, winner of the 25th marathon last year feels strongly that all participants in a marathon should run the entire distance.

"Pacers is made up of beginners to those who will qualify for the Olympic trials," Mr. Stearns says. "Through proper training, I've seen people who started out as joggers transformed into runners who are out there every day, even off season. I enjoy watching that transition."

Jim O'Sullivan goes it alone. A veteran marathoner with 14 races to his credit, he sums up his personal training philosophy with the Nike slogan, "Just Do It." "Everyone who runs a marathon has a different goal and everyone can be successful," Mr. O'Sullivan says. That's the beauty of the marathon."

After reading the books, reviewing the Web sites, and talking with other runners, Peter Meath devised his own training program. As much as he'd like to finish with a qualifying time, Mr. Meath has another quest.

"My grandmother died of a stroke three years ago," he says. "I wanted to dedicate this run to her by raising funds for the National Stroke Association."

Admitting he feels additional pressure to perform well, he says, "After asking friends and family to make a contribution, I don't want to let them down."

• • •

Charities first became linked with marathons at the New York City Marathon in 1988, when a team of runners raised funds for leukemia research. Since then, the Leukemia Society's team-in-training volunteers have raised over $100 million, inspiring other charities to organize their own teams.

This year, the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, benefiting the Whitman-Walker Clinic, St. Jude's Runners, and the Team-in-Training-Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, are the charitable sponsors of the Marine Corps Marathon. The Children's National Medical Center, Lombardi Research for CancerGeorgetown University, and the National Capital Chapter of the MS Society, among others, are partnered with the race. All have registered teams.

As worthy as these causes are, their involvement with the marathon has caused waves of controversy, first among runners who did not make the cut because teams registering thousands of runners grabbed the spaces or had spots reserved, and then among the more elite runners for whom the marathon is a sport, not a vehicle to raise charitable funds.

Jim Hage, winner of the Marine Corps Marathon both in 1988 and 1989, says many charity runners are not serious about the sport, tend to be unfit and poorly trained, and on the course, are a detriment to fellow runners.

In a commentary in the Road Runners of America's online magazine, Footnotes, Mr. Hage bemoaned developments since the 1988 New York City Marathon, when charity running began.

"Ten years later," he wrote, "U.S. marathoners remain as slow as ever, while the health of the marathon has never been stronger. So waddle on, friends: Charity runners are here to stay."

In an effort to mediate between the two camps, Road Runners of America's vice president, Freddi Carlip, has developed a series of guidelines to educate novice charity runners. With simple advice like "don't run three abreast" and "be unobtrusive at water stations," Ms. Carlip, known for her regular "Miss Road Manners" column in Footnotes, cautions runners: "Whatever the pace, wherever the race, race manners matter."

Grouping runners at the start by their estimated finishing times, officials at the Marine Corps Marathon hope to place faster runners at the front of the pack to keep their time from being affected by slower counterparts.

Additionally, each participant will be outfitted with a computer chip attached to the shoe. Beginning at the starting line and stopping at the finish, the chip will register an accurate running time.

"This way, runners, especially those who are trying to qualify for Boston or New York, will know their time as soon as they cross the finishing line," Ms. Robinson says.

• • •

One of the best preparations for the marathon lies in the official 13.1-mile half marathons offered by the Marine Corps Community Service, held simultaneously at Marine Base Quantico in Virginia; Camp Lejune, North Carolina; and Camp Pendleton in California.

This year, due to the events of Sept. 11, all but the Quantico race were cancelled. Concerned about Marine morale, Brigadier General Joseph Composto, commandant of the base at Quantico, gave the go ahead despite existing threat conditions.

"As President Bush says, the best thing Americans can do is go back to living our lives as normally as we can," General Composto says.

With minor changes to the course, mostly rerouting the runners away from congested gates, the MCCS Half Marathon was held as scheduled on Sept. 29, with more than 1,100 participants.

The Quantico Half Marathon was not the only race in jeopardy. For several days after the bombings, the fate of the 26th marathon also hung in the balance.

Ms. Robinson recalls the outpouring of support for the marathon. "Runners from all over the world called and e-mailed, begging us not to cancel the race," she says. "More than ever they felt it was important to hold this event as a tribute to the United States."

Shortly afterwards, the 26th marathon was dedicated to the victims of terrorism. Joining the cause, the Washington Redskins established a relief fund, accepting donations through the marathon's Web site, in support of victims of the Pentagon disaster and their families.

Assumed course changes, however, never materialized. Runners will still pass the north side of the Pentagon in the first mile, followed by a loop at the 5-mile mark, past the fateful south side.

"It will be surreal," says Major John Deluca, a Marine and Congressional assistant, about passing the damage caused by the hijacked plane, "especially for those who haven't seen it before."

"I think the Pentagon will be a rallying point," says Bill Christian, a Marine reservist who works on Capitol Hill. "A lot of people will be there. I expect to see more flags and hear a lot more cheering there than almost anywhere else."

American pride should be evident as over 100,000 expected spectators line the roadways, trails and bridges cheering as runners, some carrying large American flags, others sporting red, white and blue, cut a patriotic path through the monuments, around the Capitol and Supreme Court, and over the Key Bridge, named for Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"The Marine Corps Marathon is always emotional," says Mr. O'Sullivan, training for his eleventh running. "When you make the turn to go up the hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial, you're overcome with emotion not just because you are finishing the race, but that you are finishing it there."

Comparing the Iwo Jima Memorial to the recent photograph of the firefighters raising the flag atop the World Trade Center wreckage, Ms. Robinson says, "It will be even more moving this year because everyone will equate the two scenes."

Shortly after Sept. 11, Brooks Sports and USPT Gear created a shirt for the 26th U.S. Marine Corps Marathon. It may sum up the feelings of all participating in the race. Juxtaposed with the year, 2001, and an American flag, the logo reads, "United We Run."

WHAT: The 26th U.S. Marine Corps Marathon

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Oct. 28. Wheelchair participants begin at 8:20 a.m.

WHERE: Starts and ends at the Iwo Jima Memorial, near Route 110 and Marshall Drive in Arlington. Winds through Arlington, Georgetown, Rock Creek Park.

METRO: Arlington Cemetery or Rosslyn

INFORMATION: See www.marinemarathon.com

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