On Thanksgiving morning, a group of some thirty people gathered in the near thirty-degree weather outside a vinyl-themed craft beer bar in Ridgewood. Like a group of freshman year college students, they gathered in a larger circle and each said their name out loud. They followed these with a round of jumping jacks. They were here to run.
Earlier this year, Julia Azcona, a former Teach For America accountant who lives in Ridgewood, was inspired to jump onto one of the latest trends in post-pandemic New York City: starting a running club. Per a complimentary recent write-up in the New York Times, the city is now teaming with these groups, part of an overall yearning for “community” spaces that has pushed the popularity of these groups outside of typical marathon-training circles; the Times cites a 2021 report from Nielsen Sports that claimed “13 percent of all surveyed runners began during the pandemic,” and another 22% said they started doing it more. Now, with the pandemic considered by some to be over, they want to do these things in groups — I spotted the word “community” some some five times in Alyson Krueger’s dispatch from the front lines of the “turf wars and rivalries that naturally arise with so many runners trying to operate in the same parks and spaces.”
“The first time we had 17-18 people,” Azcona told me, after spending some time monitoring the progress of one of these runs, which on Thanksgiving had stretched for an extended five kilometers that took them from the busy commercial drag of Myrtle Avenue to the largely empty sidewalks adjourning the neighborhood’s warehouse-filled stretches. Azcona runs “Ridgewood Runners” by herself, largely out of a private Facebook page. After nearly a year of doing these, she says the group’s numbers average about 50 or 60 per run, which happen mostly every week on Tuesday nights, where the runs both begin and end at Bierwax, a local, post-pandemic-era bar that sells discounted drinks to the group’s members.
Tuesdays, she says, were selected randomly. The only turf war she says she witnessed was with the Bay Ridge-based “Ridge Runners,” a group that dates to 2014 and objected to Azcona’s original, shorter name for the group; hence “Ridgewood Runners” was born.
Some are locals out of Bushwick, like Jorge Hurtado, a minor consultant who works at Amazon and was encouraged by a coworker to start showing up here on Tuesdays. Others make the trek from across town; a U.S. Army Sergeant who lives in the Upper East Side named Mike Tapia, who has been to almost all of them and volunteers as its main documentarian. During the weekly runs, Tapia, by day an Army recruiter working out of Bushwick, can be seen holding a phone and consistently recording the roving groups moving from block to block.
“At least, maybe, three to five new people showing up every week,” says Tapia about the growing numbers.
Ridgewood Runners currently meets on Tuesdays at 7pm outside Bierwax at 16-80 Madison Street. Keep up with their schedule on their Instagram page.
Photos taken by Andrew Karpan.
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