TRACTION HERO: I'm from a family of Marines. I have three brothers who are on active duty and my father, who passed away and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, was also a Marine. I played soccer at the Naval Academy, where I graduated in 1998, and now I'm a Marine Corps captain. I found running a little late in life. It was in 2000 that I started to take running seriously because a lot of the Marines liked to make bets on who would win the physical screening test. When I was beating all the men, a master sergeant approached me about marathon running. I ran five marathons before winning the women's division of the 2004 Marine Corps Marathon with a time of 2:48:31.

C IS FOR COOKIE: Everyone asks me what motivates me to the finish line. Food is the answer. I love the chocolate chip cookies that await me once I cross the line. When I am training, I eat healthy, but there isn't a set diet that I subscribe to. The day before the race you don't want to overeat, but don't under-eat either. Load up on carbs wisely, and remember that that energy will have to take your body 26.2 miles.

ON YOUR MARK: On race day, I don't wear anything special, but a watch is a definite must. I think the most common mistake that runners make is going out too fast. There is so much excitement that you get this extra jolt, but pace yourself or you will pay for it later. And don't wait until mile 15 to start hydrating. You want to be certain that you get plenty of fluids early on. I also use power gels, and I think they really work. I usually take two during marathons, and I make sure to have water because the gel is pretty thick.

GREAT STRIDES: Marathon training does require a commitment, but that can vary by individual. I think that getting in a run of at least 20 miles before the big day is important for every runner. I run every day, sometimes twice a day. I do speed work and tempo runs three times a week with a group of competitive women runners; we run three to four miles at a 5K pace. I also do push-ups and the occasional weights to help boost my upper body strength. I used to do some of my training with my husband, and because we are so competitive, we'd try to run in front of each other and actually had an argument about it in the middle of a half-marathon. It was funny.

WICKED SOLES: I wear Asics GT-2100's for training because I tend to overpronate, and I wear a lightweight trainer by Asics called Gel-DS when I'm cross-training. Pronation is the rolling of the foot from heel to toe when your foot strikes the ground. If you look at your running shoes, you will most likely see shoe wear on one side. If you see it on the inside, then you overpronate; if it's on the outside, you underpronate. Whatever you wear, definitely throw them out after 300 miles or you risk injury. I get my sneakers from Georgetown Running Co. That store is awesome at helping you find the right shoe and has a great selection.

SEMPER FI: I think the Marine Corps Marathon is so popular because it truly is the "People's Marathon." The Marines make it so motivating. I'm amazed at how gracious they are with support. The MCM is my favorite because it's very personal. I am so proud of those serving overseas.

GOLDEN TOUCH? This year I won't be running the Marine Corps Marathon because I ran the Twin Falls Marathon on Oct. 2. This was the first opportunity for athletes to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic marathon trials. I was one of 12 women who met the standard of 2 hours and 47 minutes. I ran it in 2:46:03. I'm relieved to have gotten that out of the way. It was a hot and windy race day, so I was worried about it. I'm excited about qualifying, and I'm glad I have a lot of time to work on my running. Wish me luck.

As told to Karen Hart

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Mary Kate Bailey at last year's Marine Corps Marathon: She was the first active duty Marine to win the women's division since Joanna Martin in 1979.