A host of local Olympic trials qualifiers should make next Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon men's race for the Middendorf trophy unusually competitive. Top locals who ran in the 2004 trials include Michael Wardian, from Arlington, Erik Kean, from Arlington, Aaron Church, from South Riding, two-time Marine Corps winner Darrell General, from Hyattsville and Chris Banks, from Alexandria. Kean, however, will be a game-day decision and his former Princeton teammate, Banks, intends to pace his sister and not run competitively.

The nominal favorite is Carl Rundell, from Birmingham, Mich., who has a personal best of 2 hours 19 minutes 3 seconds. Rundell led last year's race for 23 miles before tiring and finishing fifth. General, now 39, was the last man to break 2:20 at Marine Corps when he ran 2:18:20 in 1997.

The women's field will be without last year's winner, Mary Kate Bailey, who qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials on Oct. 2 at the Twin Cities Marathon. Susannah Kvasnicka, from Great Falls, also ran in Minnesota but failed to meet the qualifying standard of 2:47:00 by 57 seconds. Kvasnicka will attempt to make a quick turnaround and run Marine Corps.

"I'm not sure what to expect," Kvasnicka said. "But I didn't do what I wanted at Twin Cities and fell apart at the end. I think I can do better." Kvasnicka ran 3:10 at Marine Corps in 2001 before she began training more seriously.

Should Kvasnicka falter, local runners Patty Fulton, Meghan Ridgely (nee McLaughlin) and Cathy Pugsley won't be far behind. Fulton, from Silver Spring, has a personal best of 2:50. Ridgely ran 2:46 in 2003 and is cutting short her honeymoon to run the race. Pugsley, proprietor of the local Potomac River Running stores, hopes to run 2:55.

So where are all the Kenyans? Racing in events where they can earn money -- the above-mentioned Middendorf trophy comes with a handshake from the Marine commandant but without a slim envelope.

"We're proud of our status as the largest marathon in the country without prize money," spokeswoman Beth Cline said. "This has always been 'The Peoples' Marathon' and we intend to keep it that way."

Indeed, Marine Corps occupies a unique niche in the marathon world. Washington is an attractive destination for marathoners from around the country, and the race reached its 30,000 capacity last April in a matter of days. But until race officials deviate from their long-standing policy of keeping the event strictly amateur, the marathon will be viewed nationally more as a curio than competition.

* MILES TO GO: Few runners would consider 26.2 miles a prelude, but that shoe may fit for Wardian, the area's most prolific roadracer at distances long and short. Wardian ran the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pa., on Oct. 9, finishing third in 2:24:36, and is ready for another solid effort at Marine Corps. But his fall season is geared toward the JFK 50 Miler in Boonsboro, Md., on Nov. 19.

"I plan to run Marine Corps hard to see if I can win and then run a few miles afterward to get a long double out of it," Wardian said. "We'll see how it goes."

-- Jim Hage