• Matt Marton/Sun-Times Media
  • Runners on Jackson in last year’s Chicago Marathon

I was the first finisher of Chicago’s first major marathon. True, I had a three-week head start.

The Chicago Marathon, which will be run again Sunday, began in 1977. I was 23, and writing for a new weekly Tribune section devoted to recreational sports. Americans in those days were starting to realize that sports did not have to be consumed from a couch—that it was, in fact, legal for adults to participate in them. And the Tribune was realizing it could cash in on this trend, since the new crowd of amateur jocks needed running shoes, bicycles, racquetball rackets, and other advertisable gear. Thus, the “Venture” section was born in 1976, and it gave me my first job out of college.

Late that year, Chicago runners formed a committee and began campaigning for a September marathon. The nation’s cities were sick with marathon fever then, and our city was merely catching the ailment. There’d been nearly 200 marathons in the U.S. in 1976, triple the number in 1972, and the fields had grown considerably.