The attention started almost exactly a year ago for Peter Sherry, when several friends from around the country called Sherry's home in Great Falls after seeing his Marine Corps Marathon victory flash across cable news tickers.

That attention continued for 52 weeks. Friends have introduced him at parties as the Marine Corps Marathon champion, and he made repeated promotional appearances for this year's race, including six in the past week.

"It was just amazing," said Sherry, a co-owner of the Gotta Run shop in Pentagon Row and assistant track and cross-country coach at Herndon High School. "I was not prepared for the exposure I would get personally from this event. It's been flattering."

Sherry will attempt to become the race's first back-to-back winner in 15 years this morning, when the 29th running of the marathon begins at 8:30 in Arlington. Last year's second-place finisher -- Eric Post of Fairfax -- will run at a slower pace with his wife this year, and another Northern Virginian, third-place finisher Aaron Church, will not return.

The 36-year-old Sherry, meantime, had planned on running the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in July until his training was interrupted by a virus. He said he is in better shape now than he was a year ago and never seriously considered skipping today's race.

"It was so cool to win it; why wouldn't I do it again?" he said. "Gotta defend the home turf."