One spring day in 1976, graduate students and faculty members in the Rutgers mathematics department challenged their Princeton counterparts to a 25-mile relay race on the first Sunday in May, beginning at Princeton's Fine Hall and ending at Rutgers' Landing Lane. Thirty-two years later, the Fred Almgren ['55] Memorial Relay (renamed in 1997 in honor of a frequent participant) is still going strong, and has expanded to include participants from many other departments at both universities.
Eleven teams turned out on a beautiful spring day last month to compete for the right to have their names engraved on the relay's trophy, and the result was one of the closest races in years. Rutgers' Fast Fourier Transform Math team turned in the best time, completing the course in 2:48:27. Less than a minute later, the Princeton psychology team, organized by psychology graduate student Susan Robison, crossed the finish line with a time of 2:49:19.
Robert Cooper, a molecular biology graduate student who ran with the psychology team, said his team faced an unexpected obstacle: "We lost two people on the race morning, and so two of us had to run twice." Cooper himself completed both the first and last legs of the relay for his team.
The course is divided into seven legs, but teams are permitted to have the same runner complete multiple legs of the race. One Princeton participant, mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Josh Proctor, ran all seven legs of the relay as his own team.
Proctor, an experienced long-distance trail runner, said the experience was different from other races he'd run. "At every transition point a new runner with fresh legs would start running," he said. "It was difficult to overcome the urge to chase these new runners, when I needed to maintain my own pace."
Although many of the runners are competitive and want to turn in good performances, a spirit of collegiality pervades the event. "Everyone runs hard and competes for the trophy," said Hilary Bergsieker, a psychology graduate student at Princeton and member of the psychology team, "but the whole race is very casual, and we all come together for a delicious picnic at the finish line."Sarah Batterman, a University ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student who organized her department's team, said the best part of the race "was the camaraderie between runners on different teams. Everyone's really supportive and just wants each person to do their best – and most of all, have a good time!"