Every runner in Sunday's race has a story behind his or her decision to run the Marine Corps Marathon. Here are a few:
Sam Edwards of Calhoun, Ga.
Sam Edwards has run with his old U.S. Army buddy Jim Sladack before. The last time was a rainy night in Southeast Asia 26 years ago, just seconds after Sladack pulled Edwards away from a group of locals who had attacked him, including a man who put a gun to Edwards's head and pulled the trigger.
Sladack and Edwards will run together again Sunday, but Sladack doesn't know it yet -- Edwards is hoping to surprise him at the start. The two have not seen each other since 1983.
"Jim's wife and I had been talking about trying to surprise him," Edwards said. "But she said he has a slight injury and may not run. We might have to tell him so he doesn't back out."
Sladack did not back out that wet night in 1973 when he saved Edwards's life. Sladack was walking about 15 yards ahead of Edwards in or near Laos when Edwards was attacked.
"I do not know who they were but I am guessing they did not want the U.S. in their country," Edwards said. "They attacked me with a variety of weapons. Jim was ahead of me but did not hear anything because it was raining so hard. I called his name just as one of the attackers put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. I thought `Sladack' would be the last word ever to come out of my mouth."
Edwards said the gun malfunctioned and Sladack pulled him away, then the two outran their attackers. Edwards spent two months in a hospital recovering from his injuries, which included a cracked skull, broken bones around his eyes and a concussion.
He became a security advisor to President Carter and Sen. John Glenn before retiring and moving to Georgia. He has never run a marathon but found enough motivation to attempt it Sunday.
"Jim's wife told me his running buddy just died of cancer," Edwards said. "So it might be nice if I am able to run with him. But really, Jim saved my life. As long as I am able to spend some time with him everything will be fine."
Jerry Roeder of Williamsburg, and sisters
Jerry Roeder and his sisters did not want to wait until a holiday for a family reunion. So most of them will have one at the marathon starting line.
Roeder and six of his seven sisters -- Dolores, Vicky, Mary, Theresa and Megan Roeder and Valeria Morrison -- are running. Their mother and two other siblings -- Jennifer and Andrew -- will attend the race.
Though most of the Roeders ran track and field at Washingtonville (N.Y.) High School near West Point, Jerry is the only one who has completed a marathon. But he said it was easy to convince his siblings to try one.
"We were at a family reunion last Christmas and we started talking about running," he said. "Pretty soon we began to talk about how neat it would be for us all to run a marathon together. I will never forget the sense of self-accomplishment I got from finishing my first marathon. I look forward for my sisters to have that feeling."
A trainer retires
Col. Ben Moore of Annapolis
A tradition retired U.S. Marine Col. Ben Moore started 20 years ago comes to an end Sunday when he leads his last group of "Moore's Marines" through the marathon.
The group began in 1979, when Moore began training his wife, Anne. After a few runs, almost 20 women had heard about the training and joined in.
"That first year, we were like a platoon," Ben Moore remembered. "We ran as a group. When one of us stopped to tie a shoelace, we all stopped. If one of us stopped to stretch, we all stretched. The rule was no one could pass me or drop behind the last runner."
But Moore, 75, said it is now too hard for him to train runners the way he would like.
"I will miss it, sure," Moore said. "But I have been able to make friends all over the world and it has been a lot of fun."
He loves rock 'n' roll
T.J. Turner of Frederick County, Va.
Sunday's winner will get a plaque. But one young runner will get much more even if he takes two hours longer to finish than the winner. T.J. Turner, 13, has been promised a free trip to San Diego -- and the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in June -- by his father, R.J., if he completes the race in 4 hours 30 minutes or less.
"I think running teaches him good mental discipline," said R.J. Turner, who will run with his son for the second straight year. "When he finished last year -- even though we had walked part of the course -- he looked so pleased. He asked if we could do it again. Basically it is a good way for us to spend time together -- even though we are sore for about four days afterward."
A TEAM PLAYER FLIES SOLO
Jared Hopkins of Washington
Jared Hopkins is used to the stares. The 25-year-old former Stanford football player and U.S. national team rugby player got plenty of incredulous looks when he told his Washington Rugby Club teammates he was training for a marathon. He got the same reaction from his marathon training group when he showed up the first day.
"I am certainly not built like a runner," said Hopkins, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound former safety and quarterback. "Sometimes I feel ridiculous running. Fitness is not a real big priority in rugby and the [rugby] guys give me all kinds of grief about it."
Ironically, training for what Hopkins calls his "first and last marathon" helped him stay in rugby. He had considered quitting after suffering several concussions while playing forward and flanker. But a switch to wingback, a position that requires more running and less contact, helped nullify the risk. Marathon training helped his endurance at the new position.
But the marathon likely will cause Hopkins to miss Washington's Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union title game against local rivals Potomac Athletic Club on Saturday because he does not want to risk getting hurt and missing the race. On the bright side, by completing the marathon he will raise $2,500 for Whitman-Walker clinics, and he will be able to scratch "running a marathon" off his list of things to do in his lifetime.
"I am thinking of taking up triathlons next," Hopkins said. "Once I learn how to swim."
Tying the knot
Karen Gerry, Vic Culp of Fredericksburg, Va.
Karen Gerry will finish her third Marine Corps Marathon as Karen Culp.
She and Vic Culp met in a running group in Fredericksburg and decided to marry at the race because each had run Marine Corps as a first marathon (Culp first ran in 1993, Gerry in 1997). They will wear wedding attire to the starting line before changing to running clothes -- Culp's singlet will read "Just" and Gerry's will read "Married".
"It was really hard to find someone who understands running," Gerry said. "I was really happy to find someone that I could say, `Hey, do you want to get up and run 20 miles in the pouring rain at six in the morning tomorrow?' and have them say yes."