The National Marathon has begun a sprint just to get to the starting line.

The Greater Washington Sports Alliance announced plans yesterday for the inaugural National Marathon on March 25, only 136 days from today. The Sports Alliance promotes D.C. amateur and professional franchises and will use the marathon to benefit its youth programs.

Although planning for the event began 18 months ago, according to GWSA President Robert Sweeney, much work remains to be done. The 26.2-mile route, which starts and finishes at RFK Stadium, includes seven miles in Prince George's County and was recently approved by city and county officials.

"The nuts and bolts are all in place," Sweeney said. "Getting runners knowledgeable about the event is just starting now."

Other major issues include the securing of a title and secondary sponsors, a site for the expo and a prize money structure that is expected to attract a competitive international field.

"This is not the D.C. Marathon," Sweeney said, citing the event that was canceled in 2003 just days before its second running, an embarrassment still fresh in the minds of many city officials.

"We intend to treat every runner as an elite competitor," said Keith Dowling, a former national class marathoner who has been hired as the race director.

Permit considerations require that city streets along the Mall be reopened shortly after the lead runners pass, so time qualifications are being imposed. Permits also will limit the event to 5,000 runners.

-- Jim Hage