In 1979 when about 7,000 Chicago Marathon runners took off from the start line, they had some family and friends along the course to cheer them on. Since then, things have changed.
About one and a half million fans will line the course to cheer on about 45,000 runners in what has become a major international marathon. Race director Carey Pinkowski has been on the job for 20 years.
"When you talk about running a marathon, I mean that resonates with people, that individual commitment to decide to do it and then to get to the finish line. That's a personal celebration that people recognize," said Carey Pinkowski, executive race director. Watch a complete interview with Pinkowski
People are recognizing Pinkowski's leadership of the marathon by unveiling a street sign in his honor near the starting line for the race at Columbus and Monroe.
"He has brought this marathon from where it was to where it is today. And I want to congratulate him," said Mayor Daley.
Among the 45,000 people at the starting line, there are nine runners whose connection to the marathon goes back to the very beginning. These guys have run all 31 Chicago marathons and will line up Sunday for number 32.
"It's the focus of the year and it's my birthday, Christmas and New Years all rolled into one. It's a special event for all of us," said George Mueller, marathon runner.
As the race has grown in size, charity has taken on a greater role. About a fifth of the runners are raising money for non-profit organizations. Ron Williams has run all 31 Chicago marathons. This year he raised more than $130,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"There's less guilt about the time I spend, that I'm doing it for a cause," said Ron Williams, marathon runner.
John Tiogner hopes to keep his streak going as long as possible. He is the senior member of the group at 81-years old.
"I think the reason we keep doing it just to prove that we're still young and vital," said John Tiogner, marathon runner.
The Chicago Marathon was the first race most of the nine guys ever ran. And while they have done others over the years they say the Chicago race keeps drawing them back. They have watched the race grow-- but also the city evolve over the years they have been doing it.
This year's race starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.