45th anniversary of Lancaster Physics Relay

Images of the 1984 relay and the 2024 relay side by side; a male runner hands a baton to a teammate in both
The 1984 relay (left) and the 2024 relay (right)

Lancaster University’s longest-running event marks its 45th year with an appeal for a volunteer to continue the tradition.

The annual Physics Relay is a three-mile race mostly taking place along the woodland trail around campus.

It consists of four legs and four separate races for groups of different combinations: mixed gender, all ladies, age-corrected, and an open race permitting racers of any combination of age or gender. In true Physics style, a formula was employed to calculate a “corrected time” for female competitors in the mixed and age-corrected races, as well as for older competitors in the latter of these two.

The race dates back to 1984, set up by particle physicist Dr Frank Foster and physical electronics specialist Dr Dick Collins. In the 40 years since its inception, the rules have never changed, although the route has - as Lancaster House Hotel was built over the old one, and the Sports Centre has moved location. Each team must consist of four runners, and these four runners should be linked in some manner within the University.

The Physics Relay has been hosted almost every year except for the 2020-2021 COVID years, and has always been well attended from across the University, with teams from academic departments such as LEC, Maths, and History, doctoral training centres such as STOR-i, and professional services groups including the Disability and Inclusion Services team and FST Staff Services.

Dr Alex Finch from Physics has been involved in the relay since its earliest days, first as a contestant and now as its main organiser, alongside retired physicist Dr Rob Henderson.

He said: “Originally, there were just three classes (open, ladies and mixed) but when the athletics club kept winning, Frank came up with his "age-corrected" formula which means any team can, in principle, win a prize. Over the years it has become a defining mark of the end of the summer term for its keener devotees. We fluctuate between ten and twenty teams entering each year, but the spirit of the event remains the same regardless – to come together, and have some fun”.

This year there were ten teams from across the University with an excellent turnout from the School of Mathematical Sciences in particular, with their teams, “We’ve had a good run” and “Running Squared” came top of the open and ladies' competitions respectively. ISS nabbed the age-corrected category with a time of 17 minutes (corrected down to 14.38 minutes) with their team “MIS-FITS”, whilst the English Literature and Creative Writing Department clinched their first-ever win in the 45 years of the competition, with “Literary Greats” steaming ahead of the competition in the mixed groups.

With his retirement approaching, Dr Finch is looking for an eager volunteer to take the baton from him and continue this decades-old tradition. Those interested should contact Dr Finch directly, with those from both within the Physics Department and beyond it welcome to try their hand at organising one of the University’s longest-standing events.

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