Runners stream over the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 29, 2006. The 2010 Marine Corps Marathon sold out quickly, with 30,000 registrations in less than a week.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP Photo

Completing a marathon means soldiering on in spite of thirst, hunger and physical pain. That's certainly true at the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), a race that's held near the capitol of the United States as a celebration of teamwork and patriotism. The MCM is often called "The People's Race" because it's open to anyone and offers no prize money.

The annual event begins in Arlington, Va., and follows a course that winds past some of the United States' most revered memorials. Each year since 1976, hordes of runners and even bigger crowds have descended upon the capitol for this race, with even more expected in 2010, which is the 35th anniversary of the race.

The MCM was conceived by Col. Jim Fowler, who knew that after the Vietnam War, the military wasn't popular in the United States. On the other hand, recreational running was enjoying a huge resurgence. Fowler thought that a military-sponsored race would engage the public interest and, as a result, help boost the military's popularity, too. He passed along the concept to his superiors, who were immediately convinced that his idea had merit.

It didn't take long for the public to get excited about the race, either. The very first MCM featured nearly 2,000 participants [source: MarineMarathon.com]. Since then, the race has only gotten bigger. It's now the fourth-largest marathon in the country and the eighth-largest in the world [source: Sirdofsky].

Many consider the MCM to be one of the most family-oriented marathons in the world, in part due to its emphasis on good organization and sportsmanship. What's more, for a marathon of this size and prestige, there's a noticeable lack of professional runners. Amateurs -- rather than professional racers -- often win, lending even more of a laid-back feel to the event as a whole.

The marathon is also the largest event to earn a silver-level certification from the Council for Responsible Sport. The CRS gave this certification to the MCM after evaluating the race on five criteria, including Health Promotion, Community & Outreach, Materials & Equipment, Climate, and Waste [source: MarineMarathon.com].

In an effort to make the race more sustainable and environmentally friendly, the MCM took great effort to reduce trash generated at the race. In one year, organizers reduced the race's landfill waste by 32 percent [source: MarineMarathon.com]. Also, as part of other environmental initiatives, the MCM has a paperless application process. Finishers receive an electronic certificate instead of a paper one.

In addition to its reputation as environmentally friendly, the race is also welcoming to new runners. Out of the 30,000-plus runners, organizers said that, each year, one-third of them have never completed a marathon before [source: The Bay Net]. Keep reading to find out more about the MCM and how you can add your name to the long list of finishers.