Thunderbunny 50k Debuts May 14

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This Saturday something big is coming to Athens.

May 14 marks the debut of the Thunderbunny 50k, Athens county’s very first “ultramarathon,” a classification of races that challenges runners to run farther than the traditional “marathon” distance of 26.219 miles. The race will take place at Strouds Run State Park and is being organized by the Southeastern Ohio Trail Runners.

As a part of the event, there will also be 25k and 12k races that will take place simultaneously with the ultramarathon. Registration closes May 11 at midnight and can be completed at

Thunderbunny was hatched when Michael Owen, the founder of the Southeastern Ohio Trail Runners and Jonathan Bernard, an ultra runner who also has years of experience in the running industry, met last summer.

“I had been hoping to hold a race at Strouds Run for about eight years, and (Bernard) had been thinking about it for even longer,” said Owen, who added that there are miles and miles of trails at Strouds that some casual hikers and park visitors may be unaware of.

Local runner Michael Owen makes his way through  brutal race.
Local runner Michael Owen makes his way through a trail during a recent race.

A few days before the event, the race already had 170 registered runners from all over the country.

Owen and Bernard expressed that the debut of the ultramarathon is not only about bringing a specific running culture to Athens, it’s also about building a sense of community throughout runners in the region.

Late last year, Owen and several other area runners kick started Team Run Athens, a running group that meets every Tuesday at Peden Stadium at 6 p.m. The group splits into a two mile walk group, a three mile run group and a five mile run group. After the running and walking, the group heads to Jackie O’s Taproom or the Little Fish Brewing Company.

“We usually have 25 to 40 people show up every Tuesday,” said Owen, who mentioned that even though the group was started during the heart of winter, they actually had some of their strongest attendance on the chilliest, snowiest nights.
The launch of the Thunderbunny 50k and the development of Team Run Athens coincides with the opening of the Ohio Valley Running Company, a business owned by Bernard and his girlfriend, Ariana Davies and managed by Owen.

“I used to work in the running industry, opening specialty running stores across the country,” said Bernard, who came back to Athens shortly before he was laid off from his former employment. “When I quit smoking and started running, I initially started running half marathons, and then marathons; and then I found out about this – at the time, 10 or 12 years ago – fringe community of “ultra marathoners,” so really, everything from the (Thunderbunny) to the store is all about combining my passion with my work.”

Ohio Valley Running Company owner Jonathan Bernard on the trail. (Glenn Tachiyama)
Ohio Valley Running Company owner Jonathan Bernard on the trail. (Glenn Tachiyama)

After Bernard met Owen, he “dusted off” the business plan that he had created several years ago for a running store in Athens.
“To me, when I think of cities that are running communities, like Eugene, OR, there always seems to be a running store that is sort of at the center of everything,” said Owen.

Bernard said that there will be a lot more than just running gear, nutrition and accessories housed within the store.

“We will have a space within the store that is completely dedicated to the running community,” said Bernard. “We want people to know that you don’t have to be planning to purchase something here to come and hang out here. I know it’s a store that we opened, but even if it wasn’t – it’s still the place, as a runner, that I would want to hang out. As someone who left Athens and then decided to move back, there’s nothing more meaningful to me than opening a store like this to give back to the community where I grew up.”