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Giving Bldg. 1 the Run-Around
Largest Relay Race Ever Attracts Hundreds

By Rich McManus

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

Lots of things are more important than winning the 21st NIH Interinstitute Relay, which this year attracted a record 100 teams of five runners each. Having a clever team name and a distinctive T-shirt design are essential, as is having a large cadre of colleagues on hand to cheer you on and document your performance with digital cameras and videocams. Having your own bagpiper is extremely classy, as demonstrated by the team Western Blobs. But it is the spirit that mattered most on Sept. 24 as the largest crowd ever to watch the relay jammed the environs of Bldg. 1.


Dr. Bruce Raaka of the receptor and hormone action section of NIDDK's Clinical Endocrinology Branch plays the "Olympic Fanfare" on bagpipes as colleague Ayo Olufade holds sheet music.

The event says nothing but good things about the state of intramural science at NIH — it's fit, sassy, vital and values having a good time. Heck with the fence and parking and nasty national politics and war in the desert — this is an annual chance to show that creativity and energy abound at NIH, both at work and at play.

Multiple teams are honored in this group poster. (Photo courtesy Luowei Li)

As a fashion show, the race has always been ironic (Wurtz Possible Runners, Cytopathic Slugs), counterintuitive (Team Pain-demonium ran on a sweltering afternoon in feathered boas tied around their necks, and Insecurities intimidated the competition by wearing Krispy Kreme Doughnut baker's caps), irreverent (Kiss Meiosis, Catch Herpes If You Can) and utterly do-it-yourself (one team ran in those toss-away paper surgical gowns, each of which had been tailored to vest-size, and hand-decorated with nothing more elaborate than a ball-point pen). Race regalia could be as minimal as the turquoise headbands worn by the OARistocrats.

NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman prepares to launch first heat.

Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research, launched the first 50-team heat with a whistle blast; gone are the days when a starter's pistol could make it past security at NIH. Each member of the 5-person teams completed a loop around Bldg. 1; the final runner on each team carried the baton up a chute to the finish line on the lawn of Bldg. 1, where food, drinks, T-shirts and live music were provided courtesy of race organizer R&W, with help from the NIH Federal Credit Union on water and bananas.

Winning this year's relay was Proud Snail Hunters, whose time of 14:16 was only three seconds faster than second-place Parasites on the Run, which had won the race the past two years (their time of 14:19 was a second faster than last year's winning time and 8 seconds faster than their winning time in 2002). Proud members of the Snail Hunters are Kathi Canese and Patricia Zerfas, both of whom are well-known competitors in area athletic events, joined by Christian Camacho, Chris Lanczycki and Greg Schuler.

Winning this year's relay in 14:16 was Proud Snail Hunters, who include (from l) Christian Camacho, Patricia Zerfas, Greg Schuler, Chris Lanczycki and Kathi Canese.

The Interinstitute Relay Race was re-instituted in 2002 after a 7-year hiatus; it was founded in an era when the now-defunct NIH Health's Angels Running Club (whose throwback T-shirts were for sale at the event) was a popular campus group. Several ex-Angels, including Dr. Alison Wichman, Jerry Moore and FDA's Phil Snoy, were on hand to help R&W President Randy Schools and Julie Harris of R&W manage the event. The NIH Police Department, under the leadership of Lt. Udon Cheek, coordinated all of the road closures and helped keep exhausted runners from veering into oncoming traffic along Center Dr.

Finishing second this year were 2002 and 2003 champs Parasites on the Run, who include (from l) Karl Seydel, Ainhoa Perez-Diez, Marcelo Ramalho-Ortigao, Nanda Gudderra and Ana B.G. Veiga.

The race is by no means confined to the svelte young intramural scientist; all ages and sizes are welcome — participation is more important than place of finish. And the term "intramural" is strictly geographic; runners this year included Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH deputy director for extramural research, and Leonard Taylor, acting director of the Office of Research Facilities.

While no runner ran uncheered-for — indeed, some lost precious seconds as they acknowledged the crowd with jaunty waves of the baton — some were lauded by banners. One runner sped past a poster raised aloft by cackling friends — "Speedy Ikonomou!!!"

Third-place Bolting Electrons are joined by Gottesman (second from r), and include (from l) Geoffrey Ravilious, Peijun Zhang, Adam Bennett, Dan Shi, Rachid Sougrat, Sriram Subramaniam, Jeffrey Lengyel, Mario Borgnia, Karen Likar and Jacqueline Milne.

The most inspiring tribute to his team was offered by NIDDK scientist Dr. Bruce Raaka, who from his bagpipe loosed the airs of the Olympic Fanfare (familiar as television's official Olympic theme song) as Western Blob competed in heat two. "My wife (NIDDK's Elizabeth Geras-Raaka) put me up to it," he laughs, "to generate some enthusiasm, and stir the troops up for battle. I've only been playing the full set of pipes for less than a year — it's a new hobby for me."

Said Geras-Raaka, "During the race we situated ourselves on the uphill stretch. One female runner requested Amazing Grace to inspire her. Another runner called out, 'Pipe me home, pipe me home' as he battled up the incline."

There was one other brief musical interlude: guest trumpeter Chris Battistone played the familiar "Post Call" melody — which summons horses to the start of such races as the Kentucky Derby — just before Dr. Richard G. Wyatt, executive director of the Office of Intramural Research, started the second 50-team heat.

A jazz duo of Chris Battistone (l) and Glenn Pearson entertained runners.

R&W's Schools says the relay race "in most years draws 60 to 70 teams on average. This year I had to limit the participants to the team numbers which we ordered (100) and had a waiting list of 10 teams as well. In our planning for next year we may need to either widen the race area, or do three heats if the enthusiasm continues."

R&W President Randy Schools (r) gives instructions to runners on Center Dr.

Top Ten Finishers

1. Proud Snail Hunters 14:16
2. Parasites on the Run 14:19
3. Bolting Electrons 14:37
4. Rapid Relaxation 14:38
5. Hughes Your Daddy 14:41
6. Hankyrin for a Win 15:04
7. Little D' Dawgs 15:07
8. Category 5 Hurricane 15:08
9. Slash and Dash 15:15
10. Gene Spitters 15:20

Team Pain-demonium included (from l) Karen Baker, Julie Hoehl, Wendy Wiser and Dan Handel.

Notable Team Names

Barely Budge It
PolymeRACE Chain Runners
The Lawnmowers – Your A** Is Grass
Out of DAIT
Kiss Meiosis
Catch Herpes If You Can
Anaphylactic Socks
Urine Trouble
Lotsa Mass Not So Much Acceleration
Holy Ischemic Neurons, Batman

Meredith Jones of 4th place Rapid Relaxation goes airborne after taking baton from Peter Bandettini (r).

OARistocrat Denita Norris (l) takes baton from Joann Gross.

Perenially among the top teams is Hughes Your Daddy, which this year included (from l) Elizabeth Guancial, Carmen Mikacenic, Xinglei Shen, Michael Stone and Oluwaseun Akeju.

Dianna Purvis of Insecurities gets the Krispy Kreme baker's toque settled just right as she begins her lap around Bldg. 1.

NCI's Lois Schwartz of Wu's Chromatin Crew uses baton to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd along Center Dr.

With crowds like these at the start line, the race may have to expand to 3 heats next year, predicts R&W's Schools.

While this baton hand-off was smooth, other teams could have used more work.

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