DOWNERS GROVE – Twenty-six miles might be a long distance, but doing it 36 times is another thing all together.
Downers Grove resident Ron Williams is one of only eight men to run the Chicago Marathon every year since its inaugural race 1977.
He doesn't take too much credit for his longevity.
"It's genetics," he said. "As far as being able to not have problems with my knees, I've never really had an injury where I haven't been able to run. It's lucky."
Now 74, this was the first year that he walked a portion of it, he said, alternating three minutes of running for every one minute of walking.
"I think I was not as beat up at the end of it as I have been in other years," he said. "I think I'm going to stick with that strategy next year."
More than anything, it's the act of keeping the streak alive that keeps him going.
"I don't have a choice," he said. "As long as my body tolerates it, and I've got this streak going I might as well keep at it."
Williams said he started running in his late 20s, about six or seven years before his first marathon. He ran his first marathon on a whim, without the proper preparation, he said.
At that time, running 26.2 miles in one stretch was not nearly as common, or popular as it is 36 years later. And he went into his first marathon without a lot of guidance, or planning.
"I had no idea what I was doing, it was terrible," he said. "The second year, I was only a little bit better prepared. And then I finally got some books and figured out what you're supposed to do."
Now, runners like Williams are cheered by thick crowds for most of the way. The route is packed, and more diverse.
"At the starting line, everyone around me seemed like they were from another country, and they were so gracious and happy to be there," he said. "Chicago did itself proud on Sunday."
Williams has also run six other marathons in addition to Chicago's, including the Boston race in 1982. He qualified that year by finishing the Chicago Marathon in his personal best time of 2:59. When he got to Boston, he said he was there more to enjoy the race atmosphere than worry about when he finished.
"That was like a treat," he said. "I wasn't going to be concerned about my time. I stopped and talked to people."
The retired banking consultant uses the Chicago Marathon as a yearly opportunity to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
This year he raised about $12,000, he said. Altogether, over the years, he raised more than $200,000.
"It's a good cause," he said. "I've gotten the routine down. It's a lot easier now than it was in the beginning."