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St. John’s Campuses Compete in Virtual Intercampus Race

April 24, 2020 | By Les Poling

The above graphic kicked off the race.

Athletics play an enormous role at St. John’s College. The current Annapolis intramural sports program dates back to the early 1960s, with students competing fiercely in basketball, soccer, handball, and more, and Johnnies have long cherished the ability to row, sail, and paddle on Annapolis’s College Creek. The Santa Fe campus, meanwhile, has a burgeoning just-over-10-year-old intramurals program and a renowned Outdoor Program and culture—students regularly take to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, skiing, and more. When St. John’s made the difficult decision to cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the semester due to coronavirus, students didn’t only lose face-to-face seminar—they lost the physical activity counterpart relished by generations of Johnnies.

So the athletics offices in Santa Fe and Annapolis decided to take action. On April 2, both campus communities received an email announcing the first ever Meta-Ioannathon: a race “of Pheidippidean proportions” between Santa Fe and Annapolis Johnnies to see who could (virtually) reach the other campus first. Students, staff, and faculty members were invited to log their individual miles—running, walking, biking, and more—in order to meet the goal of 1,861 miles, the distance between Annapolis and Santa Fe.

The inspiration for a virtual competition originally came from Santa Fe Fitness & Wellness Coordinator Mary Anne Burke. “I was trying to figure out how we can do some kind of race, but I was just thinking of Santa Fe [students],” she says. “I thought it’d be so fun to ‘run’ to Annapolis, but then that’s so far—how would an individual do that?” It wasn’t until Burke and Annapolis Athletics and Recreation Coordinator Chris Krueger began talking that the possibility of a collaborative competition emerged in earnest. The idea for a virtual race, tracking cumulative miles and virtual geography, started to form. Together, Krueger and Burke quickly established the ground rules, campus mile-logging systems, and a time frame: the month of April.

The instructions were simple. Using a tracker of choice—smartphone GPS, fitness watch, Google Maps, or just an old-fashioned atlas—members of each community were instructed to track the distance they “traveled” via a Google Docs form sent by Krueger or Burke. Valid methods of “transportation” included walking, running, hiking, biking, and even rowing, as well as indoor alternatives such as treadmills and stationary bikes.

“Chris and I talked about it, and if anyone was doing indoor cardio and their feet were moving, we were fine with it,” Burke says. “The whole goal was to get people moving, for emotional health as well as physical health.”

“Someone logged a single rollerblading mile, and I accepted it,” Krueger adds. “If somebody wanted to do something and it was reasonable, we added it.”

Both Krueger and Burke expressed some initial anxiety about the race timeline; they didn’t have a concrete idea as to how many Johnnies would—or even could—participate in a competition against opponents they couldn’t see. “We actually discussed whether we would even make it to the other campus in 30 days,” Burke recalls.

But in the end, they had no reason to worry. On the night of Saturday, April 11, the Santa Fe Johnnies—or “Hill-Dwellers”—virtually reached Annapolis mere hours before the “Sea-Farers” of Maryland arrived in Santa Fe, edging out the competition by about 60 miles. In a thrilling race filled with constant lead changes, both campuses proved that their passion for competition—and community—was intact.

The numbers behind the race are fascinating. Along with the single rollerbladed mile, one Annapolis student logged more than 400 miles on a stationary bike, while no one on either campus ended up contributing any rowing distance. On Saturday, Burke reports, “I was glued to my computer, because we were 100 miles behind and I realized Annapolis could win by Sunday or Monday. I’m not going to lie, I sent out several campus-wide emails.” Krueger, on the other hand, sent his motivational messages on Friday: “I nudged all the [intramural] captains, and I said, ‘hey, can you get your teams involved?’”

But the real story, Krueger and Burke say, is what the race meant to both campus communities. The fact that a month-long competition was completed in less than 10 days speaks to the commitment of the St. John’s population. Just as significant, Krueger and Burke suggest, is the range of participants, in both the race and other virtual fitness offerings. Along with community members who were heavily involved in athletics before the move off campus, both athletic coordinators have engaged with students, faculty, and staff who they hadn’t even spoken to before, and each has been impressed with the number of seniors committed to staying involved. “I’m definitely seeing a really positive response to anything we’re offering,” Burke says. “Each week I have more students asking for passwords to classes.”

Plus, the race has inspired more interaction between Santa Fe and Annapolis than many are used to seeing. “Students go to St. John’s College for four years, and many never set foot on the other campus,” Krueger says. “We were able to rally people together in this kind of goofy but still pretty serious endeavor.”

Burke and Krueger are still deciding what trophy the winner will receive—a variety of coveted options have been discussed, with nothing decided upon yet. However, even though Santa Fe earned the bragging rights for this round, they may not hold the title for too long. Burke and Krueger started concocting new ideas for intercampus competitions as soon as they saw the success of the Meta-Ioannathon, and after some deliberation decided they didn’t even need to wait for the semester to end. At the beginning of May, the campuses will go head-to-head once more, this time for an intercampus 5K. Neither Burke nor Krueger can predict the winner, but they’re both certain of one thing: Even virtually, the competition will be fierce—and fun.