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Runners motivated by a noble cause conquer the streets of the capital

Maria Malai, John Garoufas and Periklis Ripis run through the National Garden in the center of Athens.

By Christina Sanoudou

Taking in the cobblestone streets of Plaka up to the Anafiotika district at the foot of the Acropolis, to the Ancient Agora, Thiseio and the footpaths of Philopappou Hill, and then to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Zappeio and Parliament, the three founding members of Urban Trail Runners launched a new initiative by crossing most of the historical center of Athens. Their maiden run took them through alleys and streets, up and down stairs and zigzagging through crowds that cheered them on.

Though they have been into sports for years, Maria Malai, John Garoufas and Periklis Ripis are more accustomed to competitive mountain running, which is what brought them together and led to the idea of an alternative mission: promoting beautiful well- and lesser-known parts of Greece’s cities by videotaping themselves running past or through historical monuments, archaeological sites, parks and other landmarks. They hope their idea will attract more professional and amateur runners who want to combine exercise with exploration of the urban environment. Their first video has already garnered more than 5,000 “likes” on YouTube, while the video of their second run is also gaining popularity. That saw them running 10 kilometers from the Peace and Friendship Stadium on Athens’s southern coast and through iconic neighborhoods in Piraeus such as Pasalimani and Kastela. Some 300 runners have so far expressed an interest in participating in future endeavors with the Urban Trail Runners.

Putting together groups of people – regardless of age or experience – who are in good physical shape and want to join in is the next phase of the Urban Trail Runners project, who will be separated in terms of ability.

The aim, according to Ripis, “is to encourage people who live in cities to get out of their homes and get their daily exercise by running through the prettiest parts of their city.” The group ran through Nafplio in the northeastern Peloponnese earlier this month and plan to add a new city or town every month to their roster. Plans also include finding private sponsors to help cover transportation costs.

Urban trail running is not a new idea and has already taken off in many parts of Europe and the US. Mountain runners are especially drawn to the urban terrain, which offers a vast variety and different levels of difficulty. It is also attractive to city dwellers who want a cost-free workout that does not require them to make the effort of getting to a large park or mountain to do so.

“Getting to a mountain takes time, which is something we don’t have on a day-to-day basis,” says Garoufas.

The first urban trail race in Greece took place on the Ionian island of Corfu last summer, while another will be held in Lamia, central Greece, in May. However, Urban Trail Runners is not about competition but about venting energy, having fun and making friends with like-minded folk looking for a new way to appreciate their cities.

“We enjoy urban running because we are free and don’t have to keep count of the number of kilometers we’ve covered,” said Malai. “We want to promote as many Greek cities as possible and introduce more people to the sport.”

To watch Urban Trail Runners videos, log on to www.youtube.com/user/urbantrailrunners or the group’s Facebook page.

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