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More Than a 26.2-Mile Run

Marine Corps Marathon yields benefits beyond physical fitness.

Fourth in an occasional series preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon.

<bt>To most Virginia residents, the Oct. 29 Marine Corps Marathon brings to mind images of heavy tourism, extra traffic, long lines at virtually any restaurant serving pasta, and lots of street closures. But what residents may not know is the marathon offers a variety of events for the community, not just the running population, and returns benefits beyond promoting physical fitness.

"The Marine Corps Marathon is one of Arlington's biggest events and brings tremendous benefits to our county. It's a huge boost to our tourism industry, literally filling our hotels to their capacity and generating millions of dollars in tax revenue through restaurant, retail and other tourism-related expenditures," said Karen Vasquez, director of marketing, Arlington Convention & Visitors Service. "Plus, it is a great opportunity to showcase Arlington to thousands of visitors from around the U.S. and the world and to promote all there is to do and see when visiting Arlington."

This year's race field includes over 30,000 participants. More than half of which come from outside the D.C. Metro area, bringing significant numbers of tourists to restaurants, shops and hotels. This mad run on Northern Virginia hotel rooms benefits the residents. In 2004, the economic impact of the marathon was estimated at $19.6 million and generated $1.3 million in tax revenue, two-thirds of which was received by the state of Virginia.

It's tough, though, for individuals to feel the impact of tax revenue. Not so difficult, however, to feel the gratification of volunteering for the event. Through the marathon volunteer program, Virginia residents by the hundreds take advantage of the opportunity to be a hospitable host. More than 1,500 civilian volunteers annually support the more than 2,000 Marines and Sailors who make race day run smoothly. Volunteering for the marathon is a great way to get in on the action on race day without breaking a sweat, or at least not one that lasts for 26 miles. Volunteer needs are as diverse as the skills possessed by the local residents. A range of positions are available including supporting water stations, hospitality areas, baggage, medical stations and information. Interested volunteers may sign up at www.marinemarathon.com.

THE MARATHON is a great time for local runners to get in on the fun and take part in the 26.2 mile race through their own backyard. It's an opportunity for shorter distance runners to get all the perks of a larger race, with a fraction of the mileage in the new 10K. And, it's an opportunity to involve the kids by registering them for the marathon's Healthy Kids Fun Run, outside the D.C. Armory, the day before the marathon, Oct. 28. But in recent years, the marathon has focused on creating community events to coincide with the marathon, aimed at families, residents and those looking to be inspired.

The marathon's Health and Fitness Expo, held at the D.C. Armory on Oct. 27-28, welcomes more than 200 vendors featuring a range of products from running gear and apparel to nutrition experts to other sporting events and adventure travel groups. Plus there's lots of free interactive play for families a rockwall and moonbounce. Visits from the Budweiser Clydesdales and free food samples from companies like Smuckers, Jelly Belly and Tysons are not to be missed. There's plenty of parking nearby or a convenient Metro station on the orange and blue lines at Stadium/Armory.

FOR ANYONE hoping to catch a glimpse of their runner friends on race day, or just seeking a great place to take the family, look no further than the Crystal City Street Spectacular along Crystal Drive in Crystal City. The fun starts at 9 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m. with a fall festival atmosphere and lots of activities including children activities, arts and crafts with the National Children's Museum, live concerts, food sampling from Crystal City's restaurants and more. Spectators can watch runners as they charge through miles 22 and 23 of the course. Free parking is in the parking garage at Crystal Drive and 23rd Street or take Metro's yellow or blue lines to the Crystal City Station.

On the other side of Arlington, also on race day, is the new marathon's Finish Festival. Runners, wearing their finisher medal, will visit the festival for a post race experience along Lynn Street in Rosslyn. The general public is also invited to take part in the free festival that includes free phone calls anywhere in the world, food sampling, a restaurant row, free photos and more.

"Rosslyn is at the center of Arlington County's cutting-edge growth," said Cecilia Cassidy, Rosslyn BID and Rosslyn Renaissance executive director, "and our proud sponsorship of the Marathon helps showcase Rosslyn's healthy and vibrant community."

THE FINISH FESTIVAL also boasts an entertainment lineup including local '80's band Member's Only and Afro Funk group Chopteeth. The headliner is country singer and former National Guardsman Luke Stricklin, performing at 1 p.m. Avoid closed streets by taking Metro's orange or blue lines to the Rosslyn Station.

As the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon approaches, remember that the event is more than just 26.2 miles of running and traffic detours. Its inspiring fun for the whole family, and great for the community.

The Marine Corps Marathon continues a combined tradition of dedication, sportsmanship and patriotism. Since its inception, over 300,000 civilian and military runners from all walks of life have participated, earning the event its nickname "The People's Marathon."

<lst>Beth Cline is the public relations coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.