The director of the New York City Marathon, the world's largest running race, competed in yesterday's Marine Corps Marathon and liked it.

"It's a very pleasing course," said Fred Lebow, who finished in 4:06.17. "With a little adjustment here and there this could be a world-record course. There are a little too many narrow turns, and they need a more streamlined course. The hill at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial near the finish line is also not advantageous.

"In some aspects, this is the best race in the world."

But he cautioned organizers against offering large amounts of money to attract world-class runners. "There is room for all types of races. This race doesn't need famous runners. It is a great example of the youth of America; it exemplifies the fitness of America."

Before the race, Mitch Ascot, 36, of Baltimore felt curiously exuberant about his feet. The important thing was that his shoes, for a change, fit.

"I ran in New York last year," said Ascot, who runs to work every morning. "I had one problem. I brought my brother-in-law's running shoes by mistake. He's a size 10 1/2. I'm 9 1/2 . . . I dropped out at the six-mile mark."

Some runners began the race wearing large plastic trash bags made into ponchos to hold warmth. One man ran in a tuxedo, another with a 35-mm camera around his neck. A 21-member platoon from Camp Pendleton, Calif., ran in formation with its service flag.

At Wisconsin and M streets NW, the 8 1/2-mile point of the race, nine employes of a Georgetown sports store began slicing oranges at 7 a.m. They sliced nearly 600 pounds of oranges, or 8,000 slices. Runners either grabbed slices from some tables or got them from attendants.

All that Florida sunshine, however, created one problem: orange peels cluttered the street.

The marathon was about two hours old and Marie Preston of Richmond was waiting near the finish line for her husband Donald. She passed the time by taking pictures of their three children. She snapped several shots until she finished the roll of film. Then a dark reality struck her: she had no more film. Donald Preston's most glorious athletic moment -- crossing the finish line of his first marathon -- would not be preserved.

"If I were smart," Marie Preston said, "I'd run out to a drugstore and buy some more film. I'm sure he won't be back here for two more hours." She glanced toward Rosslyn's commercial chaos but decided against a trip. "He'll understand," she said.

Normally, Hains Point attracts Washingtonians with its picnicking and recreational grounds. But on Marathon Day, Hains Point (a.k.a. The Wall) is as popular with runners as a tidal wave is with ship captains. The windy Ohio Drive stretch always claims its share of dropouts.

"I finished my other two marathons," said Len Taylor, 41, of Gaithersburg. "I don't know what happened today. I just got cold and dry around the 20-mile mark. I've hit the wall before. This wasn't as severe, but I knew when to stop."

"My legs started feeling like the Washington Monument about mile 18, and they wouldn"t start back up again," said Joe Kennedy, 32, of Pittsburgh.

For many runners, the distance from the finish line to the medical station is a marathon in itself.

The scene at the two medical tents was reminiscent of TV'sM*A*S*H unit. Marines and Navy personnel rushed stretchers in and out while the staff inside stripped the cots and readied themselves for the next victim.

Inside the main medical tent, IV bottles lined the canvas walls above the seven closely-placed cots. The smell of alcohol filled the tent. Gauze pads, bandages, blankets and syringes were placed within arm's reach on the tables.

Second-place finisher Bill Stewart was the first serious patient to enter the tent. Navy Lt. Commander Timothy Trusewich, officer in charge, ordered an IV of glucose and saline solution to aid his dehydrated patient.

Then the masses arrived.

Jerry Traylor, who has cerebral palsy, is possibly the world's top runner on crutches. He hitchhiked to the race three years ago from West Virginia. The race organizers paid his way this year, and his unofficial time of 5:44 was almost 20 minutes off his personal best.

"I passed a lot of people walking," said Traylor, who competed in his fifth race in five weeks. "There were a lot of people out of shape. I feel you shouldn't enter a race unless you're ready to run it."

Traylor, who averages an 11-minute mile, was allowed to begin the race 30 minutes before the other runners. "I hope I can inspire a lot of people to go on," he said. "This should show the Marines that running a few miles in the morning isn't that tough."

Why do spectators spectate?

Harley Lee, 29, of Silver Spring trailed the runners by bicycle. "I have a friend running. Last year I ran and she followed me on a bike; this year she is running and I am following her on a bike."

Craig Curtis, 26, a waiter in Arlington, came out of boredom. "It was either this, raking leaves or turning on the TV and looking for football games that I'm not going to find."