The Tufts Running Club participated in a virtual track meet against Harvard University last month. At the virtual meet there were no computer-generated people running on virtual tracks nor were there participants running with one arm up in the air filming themselves in selfie mode.
Instead, participants were able to individually compete in specific events at any point over a number of days, and they recorded their own times. The Harvard College Running Club created a website that showed live scoring when runners uploaded their event times. There were a variety of events in which to participate, ranging from sprints to a 5-kilometer run, and team members could race as many times as they wanted. Around 15 Tufts students participated. Despite having fewer people running, Tufts scored 120 points and Harvard 190 points under a championship scoring system, which awards 10 points to first place, eight points to second, six to third, four to fourth, two to fifth and one to sixth.
The idea behind the virtual track meet was to allow competition while abiding by COVID-19 policies, so the Running Club did not gather together to perform all of the events. But for two days of the racing, a small group met safely at the outdoor track to do the 200-meter, 800-meter, 5K and mile races.
The Running Club is a new group on campus. It started informally in fall 2019, and the university officially recognized it in fall 2020. The club went from a small group of friends who loved running to a continually growing and competing collective.
Sam Schrage, a sophomore studying environmental engineering, spontaneously started running his first year of high school and is now a self-proclaimed “distance junkie.”
“Once I started, I fell in love with the sport,” Schrage said. He went from never having run competitively at age 14 to running a marathon in an impressive three hours and sixteen minutes at age 15.
After that, Schrage continued running, joining his high school's varsity cross-country and track teams and competing throughout his sophomore, junior and senior years.
“When I got to Tufts, running had become such a part of my life and really changed my life for the better that there was no way I was going to stop,” Schrage said.
Upon arriving at Tufts, he quickly decided he wanted to find a group of people which whom he could practice. That’s when now-sophomores Arnav Sacheti and Anthony Brunojoined and co-founded the club with Schrage.
Sacheti thought his competitive running career was over when he graduated high school, but when he arrived at Tufts and met Bruno and Schrage, his plans changed.
“I don’t think I would have run if I hadn’t met them,” Sacheti said.
Similarly, Bruno was inspired by Schrage’s passion to help with the club. Tufts already had a marathon club, but, as Bruno said, “not everybody is built for the marathon. It was leaving a lot of people out, so we thought [we would] give people an opportunity to run.”
Starting the Running Club, though, was not as easy as Schrage expected.
He and his friends spent a couple months planning and got an unofficial group together to start practicing in the spring of 2020. The process of actually getting people to show up took some time to master — one of their weekly practices was on Mondays at noon until they realized no one wanted to run through their lunch break, so they changed it to Thursday nights.
“We got solid crews to come to that [meeting],” Schrage said. The group practiced at the indoor Tufts track, with eight to 15 participants a week.
As the team began to consolidate, its members realized they needed to compete to get official recognition. On Feb. 29, 2020, the Tufts Running Club went to its first competition at Harvard University.
This event was one of Schrage’s favorite moments with the Running Club.
“That was the first point that I really realized we can actually do this,” he said.
This meet was the club’s first and last event before the pandemic caused Tufts to go virtual in spring 2020. Even so, the Running Club’s executive board was able to use its competition and steady practicing schedule to gain university recognition this past fall.
During the fall, the club was able to hold limited practices abiding by COVID-19 guidelines. Members met for masked, outdoor group runs once or twice a week with no more than eight participants.
“Those were good runs,” Schrage said. “We got a lot of [first-years] to come out … It was cool just to see that we actually have interest across class years.”
The Running Club’s goal is to compete in three seasons a year. It will take part in cross-country races in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring. Cross-country consists of typically 5-, 8- or 10-kilometer runs through either grass or gravel courses.
“Cross-country is probably one of the most fun seasons because it’s just these giant races that go off great scenery,” Schrage said. He also appreciated that these races are more team-oriented, as a team’s score is based on the team’s top seven competitors.
Although the pandemic has halted many competitions for club sports, the Running Club is hopeful to have more events like the virtual track meet this semester. An exciting idea they have been planning is a bracket challenge. The challenge would consist of either head-to-head matchups every week, with the winner of each continuing down the bracket, or simultaneously bringing two teams to the track and giving them three to four hours to cover 4 kilometers, with the team with the fastest time winning.
Schrage describes the club as having “a very laid-back atmosphere.” Its goal is to cater to both people who really want to go compete and those who just want to go on weekly runs.
Bruno described the club as being “pretty relaxing” and nothing like high school track practices.
“You get to run with your friends and meet some people from other schools,” Bruno said. “It's not overwhelming or that much of a commitment, [you] just kind of have fun running.”
Editor's note: Arnav Sacheti is an assistant sports editor at The Tufts Daily. Arnav was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.