NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The countdown is on to the start of Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon, which is back in person to mark the 50th anniversary of the race.

It felt like homecoming at the New York City marathon finish line Saturday as first-time and long-time runners returned to celebrate the race’s illustrious 50-year history and its comeback after the pandemic.

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“Just on the verge of happy tears, so excited that we get to do this again, so thankful that my body is able to do it again,” Upper West Side resident Chrissi Michael said.

Among the elite runners and distinguished guests, Gary Muhrcke was posing for photos with fans. He was the first ever winner back in 1970 and told CBS2’s Christina Fan what keeps him going at 81.

“I think that we are getting a little bit older and we are still doing it and we still look reasonably healthy … Hopefully– that is our goal now, inspire some younger people,” he said.

The marathon’s only been canceled twice in its history. Once because of Superstorm Sandy and last year because of COVID. The tremendous loss of life during the pandemic is the motivation for so many athletes.

Vicent Sobrinho, who flew in from Portugal, had to quarantine for 14 days just to participate. His friend helped us translate.

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“It means a lot for him because he’s lost a couple friends during the COVID situation, and just come back over here for New York and be able to run again means a lot for him,” he said.

Of the many inspiring marathon stories, not all happen on the course. Ted Metellus is making history as the marathon’s first Black race director.

“It’s a true, true honor. I’m a Bronx native, parents immigrated here from Haiti. I worked really hard to get to where I’m at now. I love what I do. I love who I do it for,” he said.

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Sunday morning, each of the 30,000 runners will be completing their own marathon stories.

The return of the marathon is being celebrated citywide. The Empire State Building was one of several buildings lit up in blue and gold Saturday honoring the 50th running of the marathon.

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The 26.2 mile race through all five boroughs begins at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Christina Fan