The first, and probably the best, thing the WTTG-TV sports staff did after deciding to cover today's Marine Corps Marathon, which begins at 9:05 a.m. at the Iwo Jima memorial, was to observe the television coverage of a marathon last spring. They couldn't have made a better choice than Boston's. They learned what not to do.

Nothing went right in Boston, from the weather to camera availability. So, Channel 5, in its initial marathon broadcast, is prepared for nearly every situation.

"The thing that's encouraging about this particular experience -- and they're really flying blind when you do something new -- is that this station is taking every precaution to deliver an accurate broadcast," said Tim Kilduff, who, with Fred Tressler, runs Spot Watch Inc. The Boston company, which has worked on Boston and New York marathons, provides television crews with 50 spotters along the course to relay split times and other pertinent information to the sportscasters.

WTTG begins broadcasting at 9 a.m. and fades to dark at precisely 11:58:40.

"You memorize that right away," said executive program producer Fran Murphy. For the last four months, producers Murphy and Mark Portner and engineer Dave Lewis have been going to Quantico, Va., every Wednesday to meet with race organizers.

"We wanted to get a handle on what they were doing so we could fit in and understand each other," said Murphy.

Steve Buckhantz will be working with Bill Rodgers and Missy Kane. In addition, Angela Robinson will be at the start, Larry Matthews of WMAL radio will be broadcasting from the television truck and Mike Ritz will be speaking with runners who have agreed to stop and chat at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the course, there will be 23 ground cameras -- 10 of them in the Mall area, plus cameras at the Kennedy Center and the roof of the Jefferson Memorial. Mobile cameras will precede the male and female leaders. Two helicopters will relay microwave signals from checkpoints along the course. And there will be nine cameras at the finish.

"The finish {set up} came about before New York," said Murphy of the coverage of last week's race that missed the winner crossing the finish line. "But we watched New York. That was kind of like a dry run for us. After watching it, we joked that we'd take the finish line and put it on the air 30 minutes before anyone finishes."

Operating on fear, as one official put it, is the only way to cover a marathon. Said Tressler, "The one fear in covering baseball is that you can't miss that one pitch. In a marathon, that one pitch can happen from second to second over two hours."