The course for the 10th Marine Corps Marathon has been changed again this year, but according to the race director, Capt. Chris Moody, there will always be one constant in the race -- it will be run on the first Sunday in November to commemorate the birthday of the Corps.

New York City Marathon officials announced last week that their race would be moved to the first Sunday in November next year because of a conflict with a religious parade along the Brooklyn portion of the course and the conclusion of the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration.

But Moody said at a press conference yesterday at the Touchdown Club, "We are not going to change our date. I don't think it's going to affect the numbers (of runners in the marine race). I understand that the Chicago race is thinking of moving to the same day, too, in direct competition with New York. That would put the three biggest marathons in the country on the same day."

With New York and Chicago battling for network attention and the star runners, the Marine Corps Marathon quietly goes its own way. But that's the way the marines want it: they like to fuss as much over the last finisher in the race as they do over the winners.

A total of 10,777 runners have registered for this year's race, which will be started by the traditional blast from a 105mm howitzer Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington.

The entry figure, however, is more than 1,000 short of last year's record 12,000 runners, the first time that registration has been lower than for the previous year. That drops the Marine Corps race from the second-largest U.S. marathon to third behind New York (19,000) and Chicago (12,000). The first Marine Corps Marathon had 1,175 starters. This year, runners from 34 countries and every state but Iowa have entered.

The runners will begin as usual by going around Crystal City and the Pentagon and crossing Key Bridge into Georgetown. They then will run around the Mall and the Capitol and past the midway point before moving through West Potomac Park and around the Tidal Basin. Runners will face the "wall" as they travel through East Potomac Park and around Hains Point before taking the 14th Street Bridge and Rte. 110 to the finish.

Brad T. Ingram of Mansfield, Ohio, and Pamela Briscoe of Chevy Chase will return to defend their titles. Should Ingram win again, he would be the first man to win two Marine Corps titles. Briscoe would join Susan Mallery of Columbus, Ohio, and Cynthia Lorenzoni of Charlottesville as repeat winners.

Ingram, a 30-year-old auto salesman, surged away from Rockville's Jim Hage at the 19-mile point last year and finished in 2 hours 19 minutes 40 seconds, the third-slowest winning time. Hage, who faded to third, is returning, as well as last year's runner-up, Tom Bernard of Hayes, Va. The course record of 2:16:30 was set in 1981 by Dean Matthews.

Briscoe, 30, who has run the race six times, took control at the 18-mile mark last year and finished in 2:43:20, 1:32 off Jan Yerkes' 1980 women's course record. Briscoe, who works as a research assistant at George Washington University's medical center, may be pushed by first-time marathoner Natalie Updegrove of Richmond and Mary Ellen Williams of Darnestown, Md.

Asked why she didn't run last week in New York, Briscoe answered: "I'd never want to run the New York Marathon."

Why? "Too many people!" she said.

And 11,000 runners aren't too many?

"This is home to me."