They’re racing for passion and history.
Members of the Ridge Runners, a group of local runners that’s been in existence for three years, will be traveling to Greece for the Athens Classic Marathon, held on Sunday, November 12.
The venture — running the marathon where it originated — means a lot to member and Bay Ridgeite Andrew Gounardes.
“It’s the first time for all of us running this,” he said. “As someone who is Greek-American and someone who is proud of my heritage, this is the big one. This is the story we learned growing up as kids in Greek school for so many years. It’s a special moment and I can’t wait to cross the finish line. The race ends at the old Olympic Stadium so the feeling is going to be overwhelming because I’m tracing the roots of my heritage.”
The race’s history dates back to the Persian Wars of antiquity, when, as Gounardes recounted, the Greek runner Pheidippides ran just over 26 miles from the site of the Battle of Marathon into Athens, “To deliver the message that the Athenians won the battle. That’s what gave birth to the marathon so long ago.”
The Ridgeites will be running “the original route that goes from the town of Marathon, back into Athens,” according to Gounardes.
“The Athens Marathon is something we’ve always talked about during our runs,” said Felix Chen, Bay Ridge resident and the founder of Ridge Runners, who said that, “hopefully [the venture] will inspire some people to either do the same or maybe start training for their first race.”
Gearing up for the historic and taxing marathon has been a big priority for the group.
“We are doing a lot of training,” Gounardes said. “Now we are in the wind-down period so we aren’t training as much. We are trying to keep our legs nice and fresh for the race. We don’t want any injuries between now and then.”
According to Gounardes, out of the individuals headed to Athens, three of them are of 100 percent Greek lineage, while two of them are half Greek. “Those of us that have Greek heritage are incredibly excited to be participating in this,” he said.
The Ridge Runners group was created as a way to bring racing enthusiasts from all walks of life together in an area that didn’t have a huge running presence.
“I used to be part of a running club in Manhattan and I quickly realized that was something we could also use in South Brooklyn,” said Chen. “The club was founded to connect people – to create a community. As individuals, we create mountains made up of experiences, hardships and achievements throughout our lives. When we bring these mountains together, we form the ridge that makes up Ridge Runners.”
Chen created a Facebook page that helped spread the word. “Over time it grew and now we do four different runs a week,” said Gounardes. “Different people can come at different times and we keep trying to grow the organization informally. Whenever we find runners in the neighborhood, we ask if they’d like to join us. There’s no membership fee or minimum speed or specific skill level. It’s just a really fun outlet for people to come together and support each other while they run.”
Now in their third year, the group’s weekly outings include Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., when they meet at the 69th Street Pier and Fridays at 6 a.m., when they meet at 86th Street and Fourth Avenue.
“Everyone does different races at different times of the year,” Gounardes added. “Sometimes we do it together and sometimes we don’t. It’s a supportive club so everyone can train and have people to help them train. A bunch of us were interested in doing this and we just decided to do it together.”
Being a part of the group has meant a lot to Gounardes.
“Running is great personally, but it’s also a great social activity to be able to have people running with you and supporting you and pushing you, and having those people become your friends is really special,” he said. “I don’t think I would’ve done my first marathon last year if it weren’t for the support and encouragement of the group. And I certainly wouldn’t be doing the marathon this year without the group coming together with the idea to do it all together.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/groups/ridgerunnersnyc.