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NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Jennifer Plasse got back in good enough shape to enter her first marathon, she chose to run it with the U.S. Marines and she wasn't alone.
Also known as the People's Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) has its 36th run on October 30.
It is the largest marathon not to offer prize money and has become a magnet for first-timers, novices and all those who run for fitness.
Of the 30,000 starters expected on Sunday, some 11,000 will be first timers, according to officials.
"It's word of mouth. Runners tell people, almost preach the message, that if you're going to run your first marathon you ought to run it with the U.S. Marines," said Rick Nealis, director of the race that begins in Arlington, Virginia and ends at the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, D.C.
"We run it like a military operation. There's a command center. If we say we will have water, food or aid, you don't have to worry about running out. We guarantee it," said Nealis, himself a retired marine.
Just the sight of so many fatigue-clad marines lining the race route was reassuring said Plasse, who tackled her first MCM in 2009 and shed 50 pounds (22.7 kgs) while training to do it.
"I needed to make gaining back my fitness a priority and I used the marine marathon to do that," she explained. "They pride themselves on having the most first-timers, so that was an inspiration."
Plasse, 29-year-old program manager for an insurance company, was pleased with her finishing time of 3:56. A foot injury sidelined her last year. Sunday will be her second marathon.
"I kind of feel like I'll be running my first marathon all over again," she said.
To train, she runs six days a week. Midweek runs are shorter and on weekends she pushes the limit.
"It's getting your body and your legs ready to run that far, so you start slow," said Plasse, who is based in Hartford, Connecticut.
"The first long run tends to be about 10 miles, then you keep upping your mileage each week."
For her first marathon Plasse used yoga for flexibility and to prevent injury. This time she's up early each morning hitting the weights to keep her legs strong.
"A lot of women are worried about bulking up, but I threw that to the wind. I'm more focused on what my body can do," she said.
Plasse said most training plans don't reach the full 26.2 miles of a marathon.
"The most you'll ever run is 22," she explained, adding that the last bit is all mental.
"You've exhausted yourself physically and just praying your legs will take you cross the finish line," she said. "That last 3 miles scares me. I know from experience that you just have to push through it."
Plasse will have an estimated 1500 marines cheering her on, and, if she manages to turn her head, plenty to look at.
Also dubbed the Marathon of the Monuments, the MCM will wend by many Washington D.C. landmarks, including the newly dedicated memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, before, as Nealis put it, "the Marines take the hill at Iwo Jima."
But the finish is the best.
"When the runner comes across the finish line," Nealis said, "it's a U.S. Marine putting a medal around his neck."