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(Left to Right) Wharton professors Amy Sepinwall and Nico Cornell of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, Philosophy professor Daniel Singer, Graduate School of Education professor Betsy Rymes and Wharton professor David Zaring of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department won an ultramarathon relay last weekend.

Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Singer

While some Penn professors may choose to take advantage of the summer to relax, several recently braved heat and humidity to complete in an ultramarathon, running a combined distance longer than five marathons over the course of a single day.

A team consisting of Wharton professors Amy Sepinwall, David Zaring and Nicolas Cornell of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, Philosophy professor Daniel Singer and Graduate School of Education professor Betsy Rymes won first place and a $2000 prize in the 24-hour endurance relay of the 2015 Back on My Feet in24 Philadelphia Race Challenge, held from July 18-19 on the Schuylkill River Trail in Fairmount Park. The race raises money for Back on My Feet, a group that supports rehabilitation for the homeless through running.

The professors ran a combined distance of 143.82 miles by completing 17 8.46-mile laps in just under 24 hours.

According to Singer, the team came together relatively spontaneously: Sepinwall told Cornell about the race, and he then invited Singer to join him. Cornell and Singer eventually recruited Zaring and Sepinwall for their team, and when the four of them met to plan out their strategy for the race, they ran into Rymes, whom Singer knew, and got her involved as well.

The race took place on a hot weekend, with temperatures averaging in the mid-80s on both days, according to the National Weather Service, providing an extra obstacle for the competitors.

“Running in the heat is a lot harder than running in normal temperatures, so we struggled quite a bit,” Singer said. “When we finished our [first few laps], we were like, ‘Whoa, this is going to be tough.’ There was no wind at all, and there were wafts of heat coming off the river. I was sweating buckets, so at a couple of points I had to stop and walk for a second because it was too hot to [run]. For me, it was the hardest running I’d ever done.”

Cornell said that he was able to enjoy the experience even despite the challenge that the heat brought.

“It was fun to be out there with so many people, and it was really hot, which made it difficult. I enjoyed the legs that I ran in the middle of the night much more than I did legs in the middle of the day,” Cornell said. “For me, running had always been a solitary sport, where it was all about my individual goals, so it was fun doing it with a team and trying to support others.”

The team members each had their own motivation for doing the race. Cornell said that he entered the race just for fun, while Rymes said that she was drawn to it because she had never gotten the chance to run together with teammates and also supported the goals of the group organizing the event, Back on My Feet.

“I really like the organization that runs this relay, and I’d run in their races before. It’s a group that helps homeless people get back on their feet through running. People volunteer to run with homeless people and get them help with addiction and things like that, so it’s a good cause,” Rymes said.

For Singer, the event was the culmination of a goal that was over half a decade in the making. Singer said that he struggled with his weight while an undergrad at Penn but took steps after entering graduate school to eat healthier and exercise more. When a colleague asked him whether he was participating in the Couch to 5K program, which is designed to train people to go from relative inactivity to running a five-kilometer race, he came up with the idea of doing his own “Couch to 50K.”

Singer has run several marathons over the past few years and finally achieved his goal during the ultramarathon, running four laps for a total of approximately 54 kilometers.

“For me, that’s huge; it took a little while to sink in. I still kind of feel like a fat person inside, and I’m not, but I was overweight for my whole life until graduate school. So it actually took me a little while after I finished to be like, ‘Nope, I just ran 34 miles, I am not a fat, unhealthy person anymore,’” Singer said. “The thrill of winning [the race] is a lot more special for me, and I’m glad that I finished it.”

Rymes said that she found the experience of working together with a team to finish the race to be an enjoyable one.

“The whole time I felt like I was involved with the race, because we were texting each other; when somebody would finish [a lap], we’d get a text,” Rymes said. “The feeling of finishing and seeing my teammate waiting for me to go and do his lap: that’s a really cool feeling. It’s very motivating knowing that someone’s there waiting for you to finish, and the faster that I do my lap, then the more [time] they have to do theirs.”

Rymes added that the race gave her a chance to interact with Penn professors with whom she would not normally get to work.

“It’s a cool way to get to know other faculty. I’m in the School of Education, Dan’s in Arts and Sciences and the other three professors are in Wharton, so I would never have met them otherwise, and it’s a really fun way to get to know them, so I hope we’ll do it again next year,” Rymes said. “People who run are sort of weird, and we’re used to just doing it by ourselves, so it’s really nice to find kindred spirits who have the same type of mindset.”

Singer said that the satisfaction of completing and winning the race made the whole challenging experience worthwhile for the team.

“I think everyone was pretty excited to have won — it’s a pretty crazy thing,” Singer said. “Afterwards, we went out [to celebrate], and everyone was on a real high. We didn’t look like people who were just up for 24 hours running, we looked like people who had just woken up and were fresh, because we were really excited.”

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