Just a handful of years ago, the Princeton Running Club team was a relative unknown on the club running scene. Since then the team has rebranded itself, finding new talent and revitalizing the running culture at the club level. Last year was the Tigers’ breakout moment. Princeton burst into the limelight at the NIRCA Cross Country National Championships with the women’s and men’s team placing second and fifth, respectively.
“In the last four years something really cool has happened at Princeton,” explained senior Zartosht Ahlers. “We went from not having a girls’ team and not having a great men’s team to being one of the top club running programs in the country.”
This past Saturday, PRC returned to the national scene. This time they traveled to East Lansing, Mich., for the national championships. The Tigers once again put their stamp on the competition, with the men’s team placing fifth and the women’s team claiming the third spot behind powerhouses University of Michigan and Penn State.
On the women’s side, senior Lindy Zeng led the charge, finishing in ninth place in the championship race. Junior Yuzki Oey was second on the Princeton squad with a 13th-place finish. The men’s effort was spearheaded by junior Liam Collins, who squeezed into the top ten with a 10th-place finish. Ahlers came second on the Princeton team, finishing 18th overall.
Princeton probably does not come to mind when one thinks of top club running programs. For starters, Princeton’s student body lacks the sheer size that many of its rivals boast, putting it at a significant disadvantage in terms of squad depth.
However, the PRC are more than happy to be outliers. With its recent success, the running club is being hailed as a Cinderella story in club running. But the team is also putting a stamp on NIRCA with its unique culture.
“When we show up at races everyone has coordinated outfits and everything,” Ahlers noted. “We don’t look good. We really look bad. But I love that. I love people being like that’s Princeton, they look horrible but they are fast. We like our reputation of being weird.”
In part, the success of the Tigers comes from the tight-knit community the running club has worked to build over the years. “We are a small group of people, but we are really close,” Ahlers said. “Our running club doesn’t feel like a club. It feels like a close friend group. And when you have a friend group like that it is really easy to motivate people to come out every day and train hard every day.”
The team meets on a regular basis. Every day after classes, the members assemble in front of Dillon Gymnasium before splitting into groups based on intensity and pace. On the runs, members will actively engage in vigorous debates, shout, and chant to help encourage one other.
Despite being a hard-working, passionate group, PRC is also committed to welcoming members of all backgrounds and athletic ability.
“The cool thing about running club is how inclusive we are. Everyone shows up together, but some people run 10 to 15 miles a day and some people do only 3 to 4 miles a day,” Ahlers explained. “It is really the complete spectrum. We have some people who just started and others who started in eighth grade. We have people who show up once a month, people who show up once a week, and people who show up every day religiously.”
Now a senior, Ahlers sees his experiences with PRC as among his fondest memories at Princeton. “Running alone is okay,” Ahlers said. “Running with a group of people regardless of your pace is one of the most exhilarating experiences.”