At Dick's Den, they take drinking as seriously as winning.

At Dick’s Den, they take drinking as seriously as winning.

Since 1973 Columbus runners have braved the temperamental March weather and the possibility of a sour stomach to partake in the Dick’s Den marathon. Though the bar hasn’t officially sanctioned the event since 2002, a group of dedicated runners have kept the tradition alive for more than 10 years. On Saturday, March 14, after singing the national anthem and chugging a shot of whiskey and a beer, runners will take off from Dick’s Den toward Worthington, stop at Sharon Square Wine Shop to purchase a fifth of whiskey, and then return to the bar to chug a pitcher of beer and complete the 10-mile race.

“When me and my roommate Ron [Yednock] lived on Norwich Avenue we always had a big St. Patrick’s Day party,” Dick’s Den owner John Sondej said. “We were doing more than 100 pounds of corned beef, 10 kegs and a lot of whiskey, so the cost was getting out of hand.”

To help finance the blow-out, Sondej and Yednock proposed a race.

“Frank Shorter had won the gold medal in the 1972 Olympic marathon; it turns out he was a pretty good drinker,” Sondej said. “We thought it would be fun to have a race of our own and everybody who participated would have to donate a fifth of Irish whiskey to the party.”

“We stopped throwing the St. Patrick’s Day party, but people still wanted to race. I think they loved the race more than the party after a while,” Sondej said.

After 30 years, Dick’s Den held their last official marathon in 2002. Following a short hiatus, a group of “rogue drinkers with a running problem” decided to reinstate the tradition. Since then, the group has been organizing the event with the blessing of Sondej and the Dick’s Den family.

“If the runners want to do it, we’ll do everything in our power to keep the race going,” Sondej said. “This will be the first year I’ve missed since it started. I never won, but I was the only person to participate all 30 years.”

For John Lynch, a dedicated participant of the race and owner of Rambling House Soda, the Dick’s Den marathon holds more significance than most.

“I actually met my wife the first time I participated in the race. I had gone to Dick’s Den where she was bartending a few days before the race to get some information,” Lynch said. “I remember thinking how cute she was. At the race, she was the first runner back, so I knew she was as into running as I was. We started talking, and here we are 12 years later.”

Lynch has participated in the race 10 years, and is hoping for his fourth win on Saturday. Though Lynch is a serious runner, it was his drinking skills that led to his photo-finish victory at last year’s event.

“It is a drinking race, so you want to be good at both parts! When I first started, I didn’t really drink at all, but I ran a lot. Now it’s kind of the opposite,” Lynch said. “Last year the second-place winner was about two-and-a-half minutes ahead of me with his running time, but I won by two seconds because I crushed him on the pitcher. The pitcher is the wild card.”

Though the race is no easy jaunt (especially with a gut full of booze), the camaraderie of the event keeps people coming back.

“The race has really taken on a life of its own. People just love the camaraderie of running, and the drinking after the race,” Sondej said. “I’m proud I started it, and I hope it continues on into the next generation.”

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Photo by Maddie McGarvey