Slots Hard to Come by for Marine marathon.(SPORTS)(WEEKEND ATHLETE: RUNNING)

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Nearman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When the Marines say "jump," you are supposed to respond with "how high?"

When the Marine Corps Marathon says "available slots," you are supposed to rush to headquarters for a coveted spot in the Oct.27 event.

Last week, the Marines announced that 500 entries for the 26.2-mile run had become available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here's the hitch: you need to get yourself to Quantico on Wednesday and Thursday (if there still are slots left) between 8a.m. and 7p.m. to sign up for the marathon, which has been closed out since spring.

That will not be so easy.

"Coming through our gates will be a challenge with the level of threat alert right now," said race director Rick Nealis, who added that there also will be a Marine Corps expo on those dates, with a "full-blown parade" at 9a.m. on Wednesday.

The slots became available when the entries allotted to charities went unfilled. In the past, as many as 25 percent of the 24,000 entries were reserved for the charity running programs. This year, Nealis said, charities were allotted between 4,800 and 5,200 applications, still more than 20 percent.

But many of the charity running programs have struggled this year.

"We had an opportunity," said Nealis of the 500 unused applications. "Primarily, the charities, with 9/11, weren't meeting their target numbers we agreed on. We decided to open it up, knowing we were going back to the local community, the people who can walk into our office. The military runner obviously benefits from it."

As does the guy or gal who can take off from work on Wednesday to hike to Quantico.

Why the charity running programs cannot organize before the Marine Corps Marathon closes out, so each runner can register on his or her own, will bewilder me until the end of time. This way, every runner has the same shot at getting in.

We won't have what in effect is scalping race numbers - charities getting bulk allotments to sell back $75 entries to desperate runners who did not win the Marine Corps lottery for $500 or more.

But Nealis seeks to end the over-allotment of entries. "If the charity program asked for 200 slots this year and then came in with 100, we'll probably only allot them 100 next year," he said.

Will Marine Corps ever end the charity allotment? "No, I think it's part of the sport, part of all the races, we've been tweaking it and I think it's a healthy mix," said Nealis, who throughout the years I have known him has had a big heart. …