Last year the size of the New York City Marathon attracted Darrell General. He found it to be too sizable when it took him more than 8 1/2 minutes to fight his way through the crowd to the first mile on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Yesterday, at the Marine Corps Marathon, he was on pace, running the first mile in 5:02. Later, he settled into a much more reasonable 5:15 per-mile pace, moved up from 10th place to second between the 10th and 17th miles and finished second in 2:19:08, a personal best.

"I just wanted to go to New York, to see what it was like," said General, 21, who started running while at Potomac High School and who lives in Temple Hills, Md.

At Potomac, General ran three miles in the fall during cross country season and two miles on the track in the spring. He never finished higher than sixth in a state championship. Yesterday, when he crossed the finish line at the Iwo Jima memorial in under 2:20, he guaranteed himself a spot at the U.S. Olympic trials April 24 in the New Jersey Waterfront marathon.

His previous best was 2:26, which he did here two years ago.

"I wasn't really thinking about {qualifying} for the Olympic trials until this year," he said. "I've been shooting for it, but on the way up here it wasn't the most important thing for me. I just like to run, to compete. I just kept working my way up, improving my time until I was ready for it."

He works on the loading dock of Sears at Fair Oaks Mall. He took his two weeks of vacation time to prepare for this marathon. He doesn't have any vacation time left and doesn't know how he'll get to New Jersey.

"I haven't thought that far ahead yet," he said. "I don't even know how I'll get up there -- probably my parents. They love to go to out-of-town races."

After the race General didn't act like a man who just ran more than 26 miles at a pace of a little more than five minutes per mile.

He was lucid and sprightly, saying only his legs hurt a little from trying to remain with the leaders at the beginning.

"I was trying to keep from being caught in a rabbit race," he said. "I didn't want to die at {mile} 23. I went out too fast, but I think I dropped back just in time."

At 10 miles, he realized a win was out of reach so he focused on breaking 2:20.

Rick Debrucque, 32, never got that far. A staff sergeant at Quantico running his second marathon, he dropped out at the seventh mile because a large blister on his right foot made running impossible.

"I figured, instead of ruining my foot, I'll get in better shape and train for the next one," he said.

Last year he entered his first Marine Corps Marathon, which was also his first marathon, because he liked the challenge. Also, he worked the marathon three years ago -- as one of the 4,000 marines assigned to it -- and decided to try competing.

While the runners were awaiting the start of the race, the Netherlands Carillon played "Chariots of Fire" with bells. Officially, 12,089 runners -- 10,191 males and 1,898 females -- started the race.

At 9:05 a.m., the swifter entrants, based on past performances, who were lined up in front, charged off. Nearly four minutes later, the last runner crossed under the banner marking the starting line.