Before 2010, Daniel Singer C’08 had never run more than a mile in his life.
Earlier this month, he ran 34 miles in a single day as he and a team of four other Penn professors won a 24-hour ultramarathon relay on the Schuylkill River Trail in Fairmount Park.
“Yeah, it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing,” Singer said with a laugh.
Few people could probably imagine themselves doing something as crazy as running four 8.4-mile laps around a river (some in the middle of the night) with little time to recover, eat or even sleep. And winning the race seemed even more far-fetched.
But when Singer was asked, over a beer, by Wharton professor Nico Cornell if he could “put in a couple of laps,” the Penn philosophy professor said “sure” without putting much thought into it. Soon enough, Cornell had a Penn team in place with Wharton professors Amy Sepinwall and David Zaring, along with GSE professor Betsy Rymes, joining the mix.
Aptly, it was named “Team Pennsanity.”
“It felt like a very Penn experience,” said Singer, who commuted to the race with Rymes from the Quad, where they both live as faculty fellows. “Then afterwards, when we took our group picture, we all came back to the Quad. It was very Penn, even though the race technically didn’t have anything to do with Penn.”
The five Penn professors had varying degrees of racing experience and, assuming they’d be up against some seasoned runners, they initially thought a third-place finish would be the best possible outcome.
But as the ultramarathon passed on, they began to realize they had a chance at winning the whole thing, even though they ran slower than expected because of the brutal heat and humidity two weeks ago.
And by the time Singer took his turn to run what would be the final lap, the rest of his teammates cheered him on as he crossed the finish line and secured the $2,000 grand prize for Team Pennsanity, which ended up running a total of 143.8 miles in 24 hours.
The ending was particularly gratifying to Singer, who used diet and running to lose a whopping 160 pounds a few years ago and had set the ambitious goal to run a 50K — which he successfully did in this race, albeit in a relay form.
“For me, my motivation in the last lap was to finish a 50K for my own personal goals,” he said. “The team was actually incredibly supportive of that. And everyone walked a half-mile back on the trail during the last lap to cheer me on.”
While completing something that involves so much running was certainly a tremendous personal accomplishment for Singer, perhaps the best part was how team-focused the entire event was. While most of the Penn professors didn’t sleep during the 24 hours, they did build what Singer called a “fun camaraderie” while even discussing classroom policy and lecture participation as they waited to take their turn to run.
“We did all the things professors do, while we happened to be running for 24 hours,” Singer said. “I know Amy Gutmann likes to encourage interdisciplinary work, so we think we have taken up Amy’s charge and worked together with a highly interdisciplinary group — and we took home the prize.”
So might this Penn team return and do another crazy race? Maybe win another title for their university?
“I thought it was a lot of fun,” Singer said. “But I’m a little bit on the fence if I want to do it again.”
– Dave Zeitlin C’03