When the race began, slightly past 8 a.m. it was impossible to distinguish Terry Baker from any of the other 3,450 runners competing in the Washington stop of the Schlitz Light National Running Series at West Potomac Park yesterday.

But 30 minutes and 15 seconds later, Baker distinguished himself by crossing the finish line 16 seconds ahead of his closest competitor and 30 minutes in front of the last stragglers in the 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) race.

Baker, seeded No. 1 in the men's division, ran 10 kilometers in 28:44 earlier in the year but said he was not dissatisfied with his performance yesterday.

"I think my time was a little slow but it's warm and humid for this time of morning," he said. "Even with the slow time, I'm happy. Victory is all I go for."

Baker, who lives in Hagerstown, went for the lead after four miles and had what he called a comfortable advantage after five miles.

Two of the runners Baker pulled away from were second-place finisher Will Albers of Fairfax and Albers' roommate, Jeff Peterson.

"Terry made his move after four miles and I just couldn't catch him, even though I always run pretty good on this roadway," Albers said.

While there was no doubt about Baker's first-place finish, many of the 500 or so spectators - and some embarrassed race officials - were confused as to who finished first in the women's division.

Most onlookers applauded Marilyn Bevans, a 29-year-old physical education teacher from Baltimore when she appeared to be the first woman to cross the finish line in 37:12.

However, Mary Walsh of the University of Maryland already had stepped across the chalk line in 34:30 - nearly three minutes before Bevans finished.

How could so many spectators, runners and race officials not have seen the 18-year-old college student?

Walsh, who is slight of stature and wears her hair short, crossed the finish line in a throng of other runners and was noticed only by those who knew her.

Race officials then checked Walsh's time card and found she had, indeed, finished ahead of Bevans. Walsh left immediately after receiving her trophy and was not available to comment on the mixup.

Bevans said she wasn't at all upset about the decision, one that cost her a trip to the Schlitz Light final in Tampa Dec. 15.

"I wasn't disappointed because I know what kind of runner Mary is," said Bevans, who ran her best time ever in a 10-kilometer race.

While the competition between runners for the first 25 positions was fierce in both divisions, most of the runners ran just for fun.

Rennie Stern, 36, from Rockville, finished the race in 60:50 but said she enjoyed the hour on the roads around Hains Point and the Tidal Basin.

"There was much more camaraderie in the middle of the pack," she said. "Plus, not too many housewives can say they ran six miles in 60 minutes." CAPTION: Picture, Terry Baker nears the finish line in West Potomac Par, By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post