Chris Lopez, 29, lays out his workout clothes at night before he goes to sleep. He changes his alarm clock every few weeks to play a new, unfamiliar sound. It’s all part of his routine to get to The Rise at 6:30 a.m.

The Rise is an outdoor fitness group that provides free workouts every weekday morning at different locations in New York City, including Washington Square Park, Grand Army Plaza and the Williamsburg Bridge. The free 30-minute group sessions have become a crucial part of his marathon training, serving as a source of community, inspiration and motivation.

“Everyone is like-minded or has the same goals: to get to know people, to get a workout in,” Lopez said.

Prior to joining The Rise in late 2013, Lopez said he never considered running a marathon. But just a month later, he ran his first one, and this past week he completed his fourth.

Ben Mayersohn, a 24-year-old Ph.D. student at New York University, also never thought about running a marathon before joining The Rise. Sunday’s New York City Marathon became his first.

Cost is an important factor for many training for marathons with The Rise. Shannon Donnick, 36, cancelled her $100 a month gym membership as the workout group replaced her gym.

“I don’t have to pay for a training plan or coaching. I’m in the best shape of my life. Having conversations, I’ve learned so much for free,” said Donnick, who will run the Philadelphia marathon in November.

Comparatively, a 16-week online program by New York Road Runners, which holds the New York City Marathon, can cost up to $174. Running the marathon costs $255 for U.S. residents.

The Rise prides itself on being free and promises that it always will be. The group relies on volunteers to lead the session and take pictures for social media. They often share free online marathon training programs among themselves, along with money-saving tips on where to buy discounted running shoes and energy gels. 

Before they discovered The Rise, exercising used to be a solo activity for Mayersohn, Lopez and Donnick. “At a group setting like The Rise, you’re pushed to your limit. You run faster and try harder than when you’re alone,” Mayersohn said.

The Rise began three years ago, and co-founder David Johnson, 34, hopes it will continue to grow so that more people will be waking up to join them.

“My dream would be to see more little Rise communities in the city,” said Johnson.