WHATEVER HAPPENED to the grand old tradition of simply running for time, place and a tee-shirt? Things like this Sunday's Hundred Dollar Classic happened.
At this event, contestants will be treated like sheiks on vacation instead of sweat-stained wretches in hot pursuit of a runner's high. They'll be pampered by valet parking and treated to a sit-down, silver- service champagne brunch under a 6,000-square-foot tent, catered by Ridgewell's, of course.
At their service along the 6.2-mile course through Old Town Alexandria will be 40 marshals in tuxedos; local celebrities and politicians will staff the Evian water stops. Each runner will receive a $50 gift certificate from a local running store, a running shirt created by designer Frankie Welch and a color photograph of his or her moment at the finish le. And the winners get such prizes as six-hour limousine service and dinner for two, a Chesapeake Bay cruise, a case of champagne.
There's a catch, of course. The entry fee is $100.
"Ultimately, we want to make the Hundred Dollar Classic the ritziest, classiest and most unique road race ever run, by anybody, anywhere," says Mike Anderson, one of the sponsors of the race. The run will benefit the Alexandria Community Y, which offers day care and tutoring for kids, plus help for runaways.
While no other area races go to the lengths the Classic has, more and more are offering special inducements in the competition to attract attention -- and runners.
The Flying Circus 10-Mile Run on May 4, for example, provides runners and their family or friends with an old-fashioned country outing highlighted by the Golden Years of Flight Air Show. The Bealeton, Va., event, now in its seventh year, awards the winning man and woman an open cockpit biplane ride along with a trophy. (Registration closes Tuesday; call 703/439-8661.)
Then you have the run-and-eat series, like last Sunday's Fritzbe's Run Fest. This 10-kilometer run -- held once a year in Rockville and once in Reston -- features a post- race pig-out brunch that showcases the restaurant's specialties.
For those who can't stomach heavy post-race refreshments, maybe a bicycle or video equipment are more to your taste. Clyde's of Columbia's 10-Kilo Race May 5 (register by Saturday; phone 301/992-5500) will give the winners a Sony TV, Sony Betamax, a Peugeot bicycle and a trip for two to the Caribbean. Other races, such as the Bonne Bell and Diet Pepsi series of 10-kilometer runs, send their winners around the country to the series' championship race. Still others, like the Avon marathon series, send their winners overseas -- to Paris, for instance.
Now that The Athletics Congress, the governing body for amateur running, has liberalized rules on accepting money, cash prizes are also gaining popularity. Last year, the Nike Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run became the first area race to award money, and the $12,000 Travel Run 10K quickly followed suit. The latter will be run May 25 (registration by May 24; 484-5116.).
Other races with valuable or intriguing prizes include:
* Five-Mile Run For Children, Saturday, in Old Town Alexandria. Among the awards are a dinner for two at the Washington Palm Restaurant, Joe Theismann's, Chadwicks and the Pawn Shop; running shoes and clothes; a digital watch; a weekend for two at a Bryce Mountain condo; tickets to the Kennedy Center; and movie passes. Call 703/838- 4247. Race day registration.
* Fort Washington Area Recreation Council Daylight Savings 8K Classic, Sunday, in Fort Washington. Each participant can receive a free three-minute leg massage. Call 301/248-1260.
* May Day 10K, May 5, in Lake Ridge, Va. Awards include gift baskets and gift certificates from local merchants. 703/643-090. Race day registration.
* George Washington Parkway Classic 15K, May 19, at Mount Vernon. Awards include Gore-Tex running suits and other items to the first man and woman finisher. 549- 0850. Registration deadline May 10.
* Hecht's 10-Miler, June 2, in Rock Creek Park. Two roundtrip airplane tickets to any World Airways destination to the winning man and woman, plus Waterford trophies. The first 2,000 entrants will receive a sport shirt. 626-8414. Registration closes May 10.
* Virginia Ten Miler, September 28, Lynchburg, Va. Prize money to top 10 men and women. Send stamped, self-addressed envelope to 10 Greenleaf Terrace, Stafford, Va. 22554.
HUNDRED DOLLAR CLASSIC -- The race starts at 9 a.m. at the corner of Union and Duke streets in Old Town Alexandria. It runs through town, along the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike trail and back to the start. The best vantage points are along Union Street and the bike trail. Runners can still register on race day. For information, call 823-3434 or 751-4904.