Led by U.S. miler Alan Webb and Democratic strategist James Carville, a sea of runners poured through the streets of Old Town Alexandria yesterday as part of the Gulf Coast Relief 5K Run. The turnout was so large that it took nearly four minutes for the phalanx to cross the start line.

In the end, Michael Wardian, 31, of Arlington, won in 15 minutes 48 seconds -- slower than his usual five-kilometer time. But winning wasn't what brought Wardian out on the warm, muggy day.

"I was happy to win," he said. "I'm always happy to win. That's what my goal is every race I enter. But if I didn't win today, it was just nice to be out on a beautiful day and do something great. This is going to help a lot of people, hopefully. We can all do our little part."

Frank Sprtel, 32, of Takoma Park, finished second in 16:23. Rich Pica, 22, of Fort Washington, was third at 16:43.

Mary Kate Bailey, 30, of Arlington, was the top women's finisher in 17:26. Genevieve Kiley, 30, of Arlington, came in second at 17:57, and Dawn Cromer, 25 of Charlottesville, was third in 19:04.

The organizers, who put together the race in just two weeks, were stunned by the response. Officially, 3,279 runners finished.

"We couldn't register everybody," race director Chris Farley said. "I'm thrilled by just the number of people here. The running community has really come together."

Wardian, who helped with registration before the race, said the turnout was so overwhelming that volunteers ran out of numbers, safety pins and T-shirts. One race official hurried home to get additional bib numbers from another race.

"I was so pleased to see the support from the community," Wardian said. "People were handing in $100 bills. We'd be like, 'Do you want change?' And they'd be like, 'No, keep it.' It was really good to see that kind of heart from the American people."

Although official totals won't be available for several days, Farley estimated that close to $100,000 was raised for the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund.

Carville said a race is a good way to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina because people feel like they are doing something, not just writing a check.

"It's action-oriented," Carville said before the race, adding, "I hope Alan Webb can keep up with me."

Webb and Carville ran together for about a mile. Because he will compete in the Fifth Avenue Mile next week in New York, Webb wasn't racing. But he was happy to lend his support.

"It's for a good cause, but it's fun, too," Webb said.