On January 10, Runner’s World Daily interviewed Greg Crowther ’95, who has a marathon best of 2:22:32 and wrote lots of parodies for Williams Cross Country (which the team still listens to before Little Three) when he was here. An excerpt:

The Williams cross country team has many traditions, and one is the freshman talent show, which is sort of our politically correct version of initiation. We have the freshmen perform onstage for the amusement of the upperclassmen. As my “talent,” I wrote a poem called “The Night Before NESCACs,” NESCAC being our athletic conference. That was basically a parody of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which we all know as “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” I remember little bits here and there: “Twas the night before NESCAC, and all throughout the Northeast/ eleven cross country teams sat down to feast/ They ingested something something and spaghetti/ To make sure that their carbo reserves would be ready.” Eventually, I get them to bed, and they wake up the next morning and there’s a section where I’m trying to mimic the calling out of various reindeer by name. I used everyone’s nickname: “On Strapper, On Doggie, On So and So.” But just before that I said “A little man called to them as they approached/I knew in a moment it must be their coach,” which was funny, because our coach, Pete Farwell, is a little man, sort of the opposite of Santa Claus, 5’6″ and 120 pounds.

Crowther has moved on to writing songs about muscle physiology and metabolism for his students at the University of Washington, which you can listen to here.

Anyone who yearns for the days of Williams Men’s cross country and T-Bear, read on for the full interview…


Google’s cache of the interview (search for Crowther)

Runner’s World Daily Interview:
A Brief Chat with Greg Crowther (Williams ’95)

by Peter Gambaccini

Greg Crowther was second in the Seattle Marathon on November 28 in 2:32:53, behind Uli Steidl, who won the race for the sixth time. Crowther set his marathon personal best of 2:22:32 in 1999. Perhaps more notably, Crowther is a Acting Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering (“don’t let that fool you, I’m basically a biologist”) at the University of Washington with a propensity for setting running and related scientific topics to music and verse, a practice he began as an undergraduate at Williams College, where he was captain of the 1994 NCAA Division III champion cross country team. One of his major roadrace victories was the 1998 Vancouver Half-Marathon in 1:09:42. Crowther, who attended high school in Rutland, Vermont, has a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Washington; his dissertation was on the physiology of exercising human muscles. For three years, he wrote a column called “Research Based Coaching” for “Northwest Runner.” Crowther won the Birdle Trails 50K in Kirkland, Washington on January 8 in 3:40.

Runner’s World Daily: In what race did you set your marathon PR of 2:22:32?

Greg Crowther: That was in 1999 in something called the Winter Qualifier Marathon, which you’ve never heard of. It was this very tiny event set up to allow people to try and qualify for the (2000) Olympic Trials. We had this course that wound its way through some small towns in western Washington. It was our northwest equivalent of the Cal International, so it was a net downhill, and it was designed to be with the predominant wind direction of those winter months. Actually, that day, there was virtually no wind. We had a field of about ten starters. I was third out of the four finishers.

RWD: Apparently the others, if they realized they weren’t going to get a 2:22 standard, abandoned ship somewhere along the way.

GC: Exactly, and I kept working till the end and fell just short, unfortunately. I was on pace through 21 miles and then I got a stomach cramp and had to slow way down for about two miles. The cramp went away and I tried to rally and pick the pace up again but couldn’t quite make up the lost time. There was actually a guy in front of me, Dan Franek, who missed qualifying by ten or 11 seconds. John Hill was the one (and the winner) who qualified.

RWD: When did you start turning out your running-related parodies at Williams, and how did you perceive that this would be good for team entertainment and morale?

GC: The Williams cross country team has many traditions, and one is the freshman talent show, which is sort of our politically correct version of initiation. We have the freshmen perform onstage for the amusement of the upperclassmen. As my “talent,” I wrote a poem called “The Night Before NESCACs,” NESCAC being our athletic conference. That was basically a parody of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which we all know as “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” I remember little bits here and there: “Twas the night before NESCAC, and all throughout the Northeast/ eleven cross country teams sat down to feast/ They ingested something something and spaghetti/ To make sure that their carbo reserves would be ready.” Eventually, I get them to bed, and they wake up the next morning and there’s a section where I’m trying to mimic the calling out of various reindeer by name. I used everyone’s nickname: “On Strapper, On Doggie, On So and So.” But just before that I said “A little man called to them as they approached/I knew in a moment it must be their coach,” which was funny, because our coach, Pete Farwell, is a little man, sort of the opposite of Santa Claus, 5’6″ and 120 pounds. I guess, in all modesty, it was a big hit, so later that season, I think maybe at the coach’s request, I wrote another poem for some other team dinner and again got some good feedback. So I kept doing it partly because it was fun for me and my teammates seemed to like it, and then eventually, by my junior year, I moved from poems to songs – because there aren’t actually a lot of poems that everyone knows, so doing a parody of poems is sort of limited by people’s knowledge.

RWD: Nowadays, you can’t even rely on everybody knowing Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.”

GC: That’s right, which as a Vermonter, distresses me. No one knows that poem.

RWD: We heard you turned George Michael’s “Faith” into a song called “Pace.” And what’s the difference between your “Legs” and ZZTop’s “Legs?”

GC: Mine begins “They’ve got legs, they know how to use them.” But then, rather than focus on the physical beauty of the legs, I emphasize their ability to run fast, as you might expect. I then went on beyond the legs to consider lungs and hearts and the best features of the bodies of the runners. The story behind that song is another Williams tradition. The captain of the previous year’s team who has now graduated writes a Little Three letter to the team the following fall. I was out in Seattle. For my letter, which is supposed to be sort of inspiring, I wrote one last song parody to spur them on to another victory over Wesleyan and Amherst.

RWD: Do you remember any of your other songs?

GC: A number of them were about our cross country mascot, a large stuffed Teddy Bear named T-Bear. I wrote a bunch of tongue-in-cheek songs about how T-Bear was the spiritual leader of the team and we relied on him for guidance. Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” became “We Like The Bear” and the Beach boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” became “Run, Run, Run.” The tagline there became “and we’ll run, run, run until Amherst takes the T-Bear away,” because schools like Amherst like to steal the bear. That’s part of the tradition.

RWD: Of course, the actual name of the Williams teams is Ephmen, for Ephraim Williams. It’s kind of hard to tell people what an Eph is.

GC: It is. In fact, at nationals, the announcer who is excitedly calling out the teams announced us as the Elfs. It was more of an upset, I guess, that these Elfs could actually win a national championship, despite their diminutive stature.

RWD: As a lecturer at Washington now, do you use songs related to physiology in class?

GC: I do. Now the songs are mostly used to educate students. As a grad student, I wrote some songs about this muscle physiology and metabolism I was studying at the time. With a group of friends, I put out an album called “Muscles and Magnets” (check it out on the CDs and MP3s page at www.science-groove.org). Maybe the most running-related one was “29 Reasons,” the full chorus being “29 reasons why muscles are not a bore” to the tune of Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways,” in his case, “29 ways to make it to my baby’s doors.” Not all of my songs are parodies, but to the tune of “My Sharona” by The Knack, I did “Myofibrils” – which are bundles of proteins in muscle cells. This gets into the details of how molecules work – “Proteins that are long and dense, long and dense, making up the structure of the myofibrils.” That’s one that I still perform, so I know all the words.

RWD: So you actually perform these songs in class? It sounds like a lot more fun than some of our classical literature courses.

GC: Well, you know, anything to keep the students interested.

Thanks to Pete Farwell and Yarrow Moench for sending me this article, which will be posted on the cross country page as soon as WSO goes back up.

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