Most marathon runners will agree that getting past "the Wall" is the crucial phase of the race.

The Wall is the point around 18 to 20 miles into the marathon at which the body has utilized nearly all its energy. It also was the point in which last year's winners in the Marine Corps Marathon made their moves.

For Pamela Briscoe of Chevy Chase, the Wall was a blessing; for Rockville's Jim Hage, it was a curse. Briscoe took the lead at the 18-mile point and won in 2 hours 43 minutes 20 seconds. Hage dropped from the leaders at mile 19 and ended third in 2:22:40.

The two local runners are among the favorites in the 10th Marine Corps Marathon Sunday. Nearly 11,000 athletes from 49 states and 34 countries have registered to run the 26-mile 385-yard race.

"I didn't really expect to win (last year)," said Briscoe, 30. "I don't think it's sunk in yet. It took a while. When you finish, you're too tired to appreciate it."

In the victory, Briscoe improved her best marathon time by more than 11 minutes over her performance in Boston in April 1984. That makes her a bit uneasy about the pressure on the defending champion.

"Yes, I do (feel pressure), but I'm not thinking about it," said Briscoe, a research assistant at George Washington University Medical Center. "It's the pressure on myself . . . I'd rather be the dark horse."

Coming into last year's race, she was relatively unknown, having finished the 1983 Marine Corps race in 13th place, her best race in seven marathons. She first ran a marathon when in 12th grade, but her first Marine Corps race was in 1979, when friends convinced her to run. "I had done one or two Bonne Bell races before that first marathon," said Briscoe, a graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High and the University of Maryland. "Some friends wanted me to run Marine Corps to qualify for Boston. I qualified (3:18:40) and I got so fired up that I trained too hard for the next Marine Corps and got a stress fracture."

Hage is determined to surpass his 2:20:09 best set in New York in 1982 and make up for his "disappointing" finish last year. "The last six miles, I totally collapsed," said Hage, 27, an attorney. "I tried to go with him (defending champion Brad Ingram of Mansfield, Ohio). I was comfortable between (miles) 13 and 19, but when he made a move, I tried to go with him and I had nothing left."

Hage, a graduate of Peary High in Wheaton and the University of Maryland, said he went out too fast last year and plans to run "like the (Orlando) Pizzolato method of running evenly throughout," referring to the two-time winner of the New York City Marathon.