19th Institute Relay Draws Hundreds
By Rich McManus
Photos by Lew Bass
Despite an invasion of tropical weather deposited by the remains of an exhausted Hurricane Isidore, the 19th NIH Institute Relay race was resurrected on Sept. 27 after a 7-year hiatus, sending scores of NIH runners on half-mile orbits of Bldg. 1. A huge turnout of some 83 teams crammed the lawn of Bldg. 1 for an event won in 14:27 by Parasites on the Run, a team composed of runners from NIAID's Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases.
The field was divided into two heats, each of which took about half an hour to run. Race coordinator Randy Schools, president of the sponsoring R&W Association, patrolled Center Drive in front of Bldg. 1 with a bullhorn, getting assistance from a cadre of Health's Angels Running Club members, and even former race director Dr. Peter Pentchev, an NIDDK intramural researcher who was a stalwart of the race's earlier years. Another veteran of the race, Dr. Alison Wichman, also helped coordinate the event and was a principal factor in the race's renewal, said Schools.
Spirits were high as the teams assembled under gauzy, humid skies. "We've got to be able to come up with a better name for next year," hollered one runner as teams stretched on the lawn, wearing everything from professionally silk-screened T-shirts emblazoned with team logos and slogans, to hand-scrawled designs written in magic marker. Some of this year's better names included the ominous "BSL-5," "3 Fast Chicks and 2 Slow Guys" (who lived up to their name by finishing 32nd), "Tooth-Lo," (which also proved apt; they finished 34th), "Akt Up" (that wouldn't have been funny in 1990), "OPEC Tankers" (they eased into port 47th), and the awkward, but presumably democratic "Ja Jo Je Milti."
There was much whooping and hollering at the start of the race as inexperienced runners burst out like jackrabbits, only to wilt on the back side of Bldg. 1. Veterans of the Tour de Bldg. 1 started out at a more sustainable pace, picking up speed as they finished. The race was punctuated by bursts of partisan cheering as teams finished their heats, followed by high-fives, then trips to the concession stand where free bananas and bottled water (courtesy of the NIH Federal Credit Union and DrinkMore Water, respectively) were available.
Not every runner was a model of fitness; spirit was far more essential than a buff physique or a killer lap time. Brent Elliott of NIDDK ran the race in a lab coat and slacks. Some teams wore headbands to distinguish them from the rest. Virtually all who finished the race did so with smiles rather than grimaces. And as finishers mingled with supporters on the Bldg. 1 lawn, everyone's shirts were darkened with sweat.
Many teams had designated photographers and videotapers documenting the event. Fortunately, the rain laid off of them until there was but a lone runner out on the course. As he approached the finish line, he was greeted with lusty applause, which he milked for all it was worth, walking the final yards with arms raised high in triumph.
The event ended with presentation of the Allen Lewis Memorial Trophy plaque to Parasites on the Run, whose members' names will be inscribed on it. Random prizes were also distributed, including T-shirts from a failed Internet company, 5 misspelled Geico hats, 5 cookbooks with desserts only and 5 movie tickets redeemable, according to R&W's Schools, "only at films that were poorly reviewed."
Later that afternoon, Schools received a flood of congratulatory emails: "We had an absolutely terrific time. Thank you for organizing it," wrote Dr. Janet Newburgh of CSR. Added Janet Kelly, a nutrition education specialist at NHLBI, "This is something that the NIH really needs. It is great for camaraderie, fitness and fun...There definitely should be more events like this that encourage fitness and health for NIH employees." Said Jeannine Mjoseth of NIA's information office, who works on a campaign that promotes exercise for people age 50 and over, "This has been a total inspiration to me."
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