After 22 miles, Bill Stewart was so far ahead, you'd think it would take a taxi to catch him. Four miles later, 300 yards from the finish yesterday, Jeff Smith, a 27-year-old postal worker from Cumberland, Md., passed Stewart on a hill and went on to win the Marine Corps Marathon.

The winning time was 2 hours 21 minutes 29 seconds, slowest in the event's seven annual runnings.

"I knew he was closing, I could hear the crowd," said Stewart, 25, a Winchester, Va., high school teacher, after his first marathon in six years. "But I couldn't respond. I just couldn't get my legs to go any more."

Cynthia Lorenzoni, 24, a Charlottesville shopkeeper, came in first among the women for the second year in a row, in 2:44.51. Lorenzoni ran second, a few minutes behind Arlington's Laura DeWald, most of the race. At mile 19, DeWald, 25, dropped out, her right Achilles' tendon tightening.

"I could have won, but it wasn't worth risking serious injury," said DeWald, who ran the New York City Marathon two weeks ago. "It wasn't a wise idea to run two marathons so close together."

Vicki Randall of Marin County, Calif., took second among the women, 56 seconds behind Lorenzoni.

The 9,996 starters -- 8,547 finished -- had cloudless skies and temperatures in the 50s for their run through Arlington and Georgetown and by Washington's famous monuments. They did not have many international-caliber competitors.

Smith's winning time was way off the course record of 2:16.30 set last year by Dean Matthews of Atlanta, who did not run here yesterday, and 13-plus minutes slower than Alberto Salazar's world record of 2:08.13 set in New York in 1981.

Yet the fans saw a worthy ending.

With one mile remaining, Smith had drawn within 70 yards of Stewart. Stewart's form was still smooth; the 6-foot-2, 164-pound Smith seemed to be carrying a sack of coal over his shoulder. But University of Maryland graduate Smith kept gaining.

When the two hit the last hill, leading past the Iwo Jima Memorial to the welcoming rows of spectators six deep, Smith was five yards behind. When he crossed the finish line he was 25 seconds ahead.

"I guess I was just hurting less than he was," Smith said as Stewart lay 50 yards away, flat on a stretcher, being given glucose intravenously.

"This will be good for me," Stewart said when he had recovered enough to talk. "I think it's going to make me mentally tougher."

Viewers, some hanging over bridges and lining parts of the 26.22-mile course, saw runners from 50 states and 27 countries. Eight-year-old Chuckie Eisele of New Jersey completed the course in 3 hours 53 minutes, a prospective national age-group record.

Jerry Traylor, a West Virginian afflicted with cerebral palsy since birth, finished his 28th marathon, in 5 hours 44 minutes. For Harry Cordalis, 44, a blind entrant from San Francisco, it was the 72nd marathon, and he was timed at 2:58:11.

"It feels so good when you stop," joked Cordalis, near the Iwo Jima statue where it all started and ended.

First across the finish line actually was Ken Archer, 33, of Bowie, a mathematician for the Department of Labor. One of 20 entrants in wheelchairs, Archer rolled away from his competitors within the first mile and was home in 2:21:11.

"The last couple of miles I was very lightheaded, but that was normal," said Archer. "You expect to be half-dead" by the finish.

The race began at 9:07 after a deafening blast from an artillery gun. Carl Hatfield, 35, of one of West Virginia's most famous feuding families, led a front-running pack of half a dozen men through south Arlington for the first seven miles. After a spin around the Pentagon, Hatfield was left behind by Stewart and Houston runner David Odom.

The next five miles, across Key Bridge, down M Street NW and to the Smithsonian Mall, Stewart and Odom built a lead of about 300 yards. Both were running strong, averaging 5-minute 10-second miles until they passed the East Wing of the Smithsonian. Odom fell back.

"I got stomach cramps real bad," Odom said. He stopped five times during the race, yet took seventh place with a time of 2:24:12. "I started to drop out at about 20 miles but the Marines wouldn't let me."

With Odom gone, Stewart was left to set his own pace, something he had not done since he ran cross country for Clemson six years ago. Over the next 10 miles, Stewart built his lead to nearly a quarter-mile.

While Stewart was traveling alone until the homestretch, Lorenzoni was surrounded by male runners, trying to catch DeWald, who she knew was a few thousand steps ahead.

"Everybody was shouting at me, 'You're No. 2, you're the second woman,' " Lorenzoni related. "Then all of a sudden when we were on Hains Point, everybody was shouting to me that I was in first . . . I realized (DeWald) must have dropped out."

Randall was ahead of the Virginian for the first nine miles and only 20 seconds behind her most of the rest of the way. Lorenzoni and Randall said their goal is the first Olympic women's marathon, in 1984.