Batavierenrace (1983)
Batavierenrace (1983)

Radboud100: The birth of Nijmegen as a city for runners (1983)

The Batavierenrace, which began as a running competition for students and is now the world’s biggest relay race, is held annually in the last weekend of April. Since the race’s second lustrum in 1983, it has become a major event on the running calendar. Two of the very first Batavians talk about Nijmegen as a city for runners.

Stan Gielen: “Team spirit determines success” 

“Two delegations from the sports centres in Nijmegen and Rotterdam were the first to participate in a relay race in Sweden in 1972. Our Students’ Sports Council took up the gauntlet to organise a similar event in Nijmegen and to generate publicity for Nijmegen. Inspired by the Batavians, who travelled downstream from Nijmegen to Rotterdam, we decided to organise a relay race between both cities. But that route was filled with too many obstacles, one of which was closing roads to traffic in Rotterdam once the runners began to arrive at the end of the afternoon. So for the second edition in 1974, we chose a different route, to this day with its finish in Twente and along a new trail through Germany and the Achterhoek – much easier to organise and just as attractive.

As chair of the Sports Council, I turned for advice to Jos Hermans, the greatest Dutch runner since the Olympic Games of 1972. As a resident of Nijmegen, he gave our race an important impulse. A competition like the Batavierenrace suits a university because in a relay race, just like in science, team spirit determines your success. For a researcher, the willingness to collaborate is perhaps an even better qualification than is the number of publications. And solving unexpected problems is also a similarity. Every research group is confronted with this. One of the first editions of the race gave me a good example of such an unexpected problem; as one of a group of volunteers, I had to set up the relay points. But in Germany in the middle of the night people thought that we were members of a suspected cell. The country had been facing terrorist attacks, and our group’s activities in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night made people suspicious. Just try explaining to the police what you were doing. Fortunately, it quickly became clear to them that we were busy setting up a relay point in a running race and not an attack.” 

Stan Gielen was involved in the Batavierenrace as chair of the Students’ Sports Council in Nijmegen (1973-1975). His speciality was the triple jump, in which he won the national championship in the early 1970s.

Rob Cuppen: “Standing still isn’t healthy for an organisation” 

“The charm of the Batavierenrace is that it’s still organised for and by students. Each year, 12 students are involved almost full time in the organisation, half of them from Nijmegen and the other half from Enschede. And what’s fun is meeting these students again in the organisation of or as a volunteer for the other running competitions in Nijmegen, like the Zevenheuvelenloop or the Stevensloop. It’s a close-knit group. At a reunion of the Batavierenrace, you’ll see former committee members from far and wide. It’s interesting to see how one event gave birth to another. The first Batavian runners in Nijmegen, who’d originated from the relay race in Sweden, thought that having their own athletics association would facilitate preparation for this sort of an event and could be an instrument for encouraging more athletics among students in Nijmegen. This led to the creation of  ’t Haasje. And to celebrate the first lustrum of ’t Haasje in 1984, the first Zevenheuvelenloop was organised by the group that also organised the Stevensloop and the Zevenheuvelentrail & hike. Thanks to the involvement of all those runners, Nijmegen became the city for runners, this in addition to its beautiful surroundings of course. 

Standing still isn’t healthy, and this also applies to the commercial side of the organisation. There have been some positive innovations; for example, encouraging sustainability via the contracts between the Zevenheuvelenloop Foundation and Dutch Rail to encourage runners to go to Nijmegen by train. And the chips in the starting tickets, essential to all major competitions that clock the time, were invented in Nijmegen. The Batavierenrace was there right from the beginning.”

Rob Cuppen was involved in the Batavierenrace since its fourth edition in 1976: as a runner (nine editions), as a committee member (1984-1987), as a volunteer (for example, 15 years as a chauffeur with the first Radboud/HAN team) and as the chair of the Batavierenrace Foundation (2007-2019). 

Contact information

This is an abbreviated version of a story from the Dutch book: 2023-1923. Honderd jaar Radboud Universiteit in 101 beelden (or 1923-2023. A century in 101 stories). This anniversary book will appear in May 2023 and will be published by Boom Publishers.

Want to know more? Please send an e-mail to communicatie [at] (communicatie[at]ru[dot]nl). Would you like to reserve the book in advance? Please click here.