Thousands of people were at the starting line and none wanted to finish the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon than I did. As we waited for the starting gun, the weather was misty and overcast. The possibiity of heavy rain made us nervous and eager to get under way.

Nobody runs a marathon in two or three or four hours. It takes months or even years to reach the point where you can attempt 26 miles and 385 yards. Each step taken in a marathon draws on many good, solid training runs.

Risk Bradley and I were determined to keep a steady eight-minute pace throughout the contest. We were well-prepared, so the first few miles around the Pentagon were almost effortless.

A girl watching from an overpass greeted us with "looking good." "You, too," was rge reply of a nearby runner.

We headed north and passed the Iwo Jima Memorial, where the race had begun. The runners had become well-spaced by this time, we lengthened our strides and relaxed.

So far, so good. But I felt great for the first 12 miles of this race last November. Then my kness started to give out at the 15-mile mark. I struggled to mile 21, but had to hitchike to the finish line.

Crossing Key Bridge and running along M Street was fun. Views of Georgetown University and the rest of Washington's skyline were quite impressive. And it's not often that you can move through Georgetown so quickly.

Although I ran last year only after bradley dared me, I was disappointed when I didn't finish that marathon. This year I started serious training in April and didn't let up until the week before the race.

Still feeling great, we cruised past the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial. Then a long jaunt down Constitution Avenue began. Although we could have passed a lot of people at this point, restraint was wiser. So we held our positions, thanked the heavy, gray clouds for not dropping their rain on us, and continued on.

The marathon is a very democratic contest. Most of the competitors were young and male like ourselves. But the females and the veteran runners were holding their own.

We passed the Smithsonian museums and the 12-mile marker and approached the Capitol. A friend of mine was standing in the crowd of spectators, holding the shoes and socks I had asked him bring in case of a downpour. But, since I was dry and comfortable, I just waved casually as I passed.

I felt fine here last year, too. But then things came apart quickly. I would now demonstrate the difference between training 40 miler per week for 30 weeks and putting in 30 miles per week for five weeks. I hoped.

As we heard around the Capitol, two teenage girls passed us. They had passed us before. "This business of keeping a relaxed pace is fine. But no way am I going to let those girls beat me." I said. We passed them several times going around the Capitol, but they refused to give up. As we turned west on Independence Avenue, the girls took off we never saw them again.

This is where the long weekends runs of the past month should show their value. An 18 mile run last weekend, an 18-mile run the previous weekend, a 22-mile excursion before that and another 18-mile effort the weekend before that.

Clapping, smilling people cheered us on at the 15-mile marker as we paused to gulp water. Back past the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The weather was holding ans so was our pace. We turned south into Potomac Park.

This tour of the monuments certainly was an improvement over last year's round-trip journey to noisy National Airport over an old gravel path.

Now the race got tougher. Potomac Park was not scenic. The crowd was sparse and my legs were becoming sore and heavy.

Got to find some grass to run on. Human knees rebel when asked to pound the pavement too much. So just weave around the trees instead of running on the path.

Leaving Potomic park was a lift. A loop around the Tidal Basin and then across the Potomic on Memorial Breidge. My thighs were very sore and the rest of my legs tingled every time feet touched the ground. But there was no real pain and we had completed 24 miles.

Running is like dreaming.

Just a staraight shot north. My leghs wouldn't dare give out now. Bradley and I passsed Arlington Cemetery and reached the 26-mile mark. A rush of adrenalin brought a sprint to the tape. We surged past a dozen people and hit the finish line together in 3:27.

Hey, I made it!