Every road race has a different flavor, but this year's Marine Corps Marathon had a rare specialness as both athletic competition and human event.

In 16 marathons, I never beheld so spectacular a sight as one I saw Sunday.

A platoon of 26 marines, including the leader and guidon (flag carrier), ran in formation the whole distance; six rows, four men to a row. They passed me between the eight- and nine-mile mark, in the stretch in Georgetown after Key Bridge along M Street.

I heard them approaching from the rear. They were singing out one of those boot camp drill songs: hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho. As the formation from Camp Pendleton, Calif., passed in front of Clyde's, two cultures clashed. The morning merrymakers at Clyde's stared in amazement at the marines, as if military discipline on this level had to be an illusion. The platoon finished at 3:34, with the ranks unbroken.

Shortly before coming over Key Bridge, I saw John Davenport on the roadside calling out split times. He was also giving pace times. Davenport is a past president of the D.C. Road Runners, and as much as anyone in the local running community he is on the scene in consistently supportive roles.

I was to see him at four stations in the race. At eight miles, he told the pack that we were running an eight-minute pace. I saw him at 14 miles when we were nine minutes. At 20, we were 10 minutes and then at 25, 11 minutes. He seemed to be everywhere, cheerfully clocking The Big Slowdown.

Davenport was providing a self-appointed service. He was an unofficial, unpaid timer and much of the enjoyment of the race was in picking up the spirited enthusiasm that Davenport displayed. He has been sidelined for some time with tendinitis and can run no more than a few miles. Even then, he risks making his injury worse. But he shows up for at least 50 races a year, working the finish lines at some, calling out the times at others. He is there, fulfilling what Edmund Burke said: "Applaud us when we run. Console us when we fall."

A common misperception about runners, particularly marathoners, is that they are self-absorbed characters with an overdeveloped appetite for misery.

Margaret Tuttle was in Sunday's pack and she refutes this theory. Her purpose in going the distance was to raise money to alleviate world hunger.

About a year ago, when she first decided to try the 26.2-mile distance, she thought that her goal ought to be larger than merely her own success. Two months ago, she began asking people and groups to pledge a dollar for every mile of the race she completed. The money would be given to Oxfam America, a group working to feed the world's hungry. Tuttle raised $5,600, and finished the course in 3:57.

The fund run came out to about $215 a mile. Tuttle, who is a temporary secretary at the World Bank and whose father ran with the 1930 Yale relay team that won a 1930 Penn Relays championship, is a member of World Runners, a group that rallies support for ending hunger in the world.

After the race, I spent a few minutes talking with Fred Lebow, the race director of the New York City Marathon. This was his first Marine run, and the generalissimo of American road racing had the Marine Corps generals and colonels surrounding him for his opinion of their race.

Lebow declared it a well-run event and saw every reason why 11,000 people signed up to run in it. He hoped that the race would stay about this size in future years. It would be bad if, like his own event, where 40,000 runners apply and only 1