The New York City Marathon has Fred Lebow, a controversial race director who often generates more publicity than the winning runners. The race director for the Chicago Marathon, Bob Bright, earned equal notoriety this year by luring top runners from New York to Chicago with a checkbook thicker than a stockyard steer.
Then there is Capt. Chris Moody, the rookie director of this Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. For Moody, the job of putting together the second-largest marathon in the United States is just another command performance.
"I have no special qualifications other than being a Marine," said Moody, 28, a few days before the ninth running of the marathon, which will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Iwo Jima Memorial with about 12,000 entrants. "When they tell us to do something, we get it done."
As much as the New York and Chicago marathons reflect the personalities of their directors, the Marine Corps race, which takes its competitors through Northern Virginia and past the major monuments of Washington, seems made for Moody, a tall, soft-spoken man who could lose himself in any uniformed crowd.
The Marine marathon is a race for the masses. While other marathons pay appearance money to world-class runners such as Olympic gold medalist Carlos Lopes -- who earned $70,000 two weeks ago in Chicago for placing second -- the Marines give away nothing but T-shirts, trophies and bananas.
"We don't have the funds for that kind of thing and we don't plan on seeking the funds," said Moody, whose operating budget of $144,000 is approximately one-tenth of the $1.3 million budget of both the New York and Chicago races.
Many participants in the Marine marathon like it for just that reason. There is a feeling, they say, that the race is geared as much for the tortoises as the hares. With most of the elite runners competing in more prestigious marathons, the second echelon of marathoners has a chance to shine in Washington.
"They make the average runner feel that this is his race and really it is," said Bill Squires, an internationally respected running coach from Boston.
But there also has been considerable criticism of the Marine marathon. Runners have expressed disappointment that so few people watch the race. Last week in New York, an estimated 2 million spectators lined the course. Generous estimates put the number of spectators watching the Washington race last year at 80,000.
One major difference between the marathons is the location of the course. New York's race takes the runners to the people, moving through residential neighborhoods in four of the city's five boroughs. Because the Marine marathon is run primarily through uninhabited areas, the people must come to the runners.
"People want to be seen suffering. That's part of the reason marathons are an urban experience," said Col. Jim Fowler, the founder of the Marine marathon, which was first run in 1976. In that race, winner Kenny Moore was frequently confronted with unmarked intersections.
"We were new at this," Fowler said. "In the military, there's a manual for doing most things. This appeals to your sense of mischief."
Criticism was directed at the Marine policy of appointing inexperienced race directors from inside their ranks. But the policy has persisted. Moody was assistant race director last year. He will retire after Sunday's race, leaving next year's race to his current assistant.
The "recipe" for a marathon of this size includes 80 portable rest rooms, 21,095 gallons of drinking water, 300,000 paper cups, 13,000 space blankets, 530 radio batteries and 3,500 pounds of ice. "Hopefully, we've got all our permits in," Moody joked.
He did not know the week before the race whether the runners would be able to cross the 14th Street Bridge, which is being repaved. If not, they will use a parallel span, the Center Highway Bridge. "With a course 26 miles out in the city, we can't control every part of it," Moody said, sounding more like a Marine than a race director. "But we'll put out those fires as they arise."