TASIS The American School in Switzerland’s 9th annual Beat the Bells Run will take place on Sunday, May 1, and will include a virtual component for members of the extended TASIS community who would like to take part from anywhere in the world.
In its traditional format, “beating the bells” consists of a large pack of runners departing from TASIS at 6:15 AM, cruising down the hill to Lake Lugano, and fighting to finish the grueling uphill run back to campus before the Sant’Abbondio bells chime at 7:00 AM. The challenging course, which can be loaded into a runner’s preferred tracker or map service by using this GPX or KML file, is just under seven kilometers with an elevation change of 340 meters.
Because May 1 falls on a Sunday, which removes the need to complete the course before the school day, this year’s run will start a bit later. Runners will depart from TASIS at 9:15 AM with the goal of making it back to campus before the 10:00 bells ring.
Any TASIS students, employees, parents, or alumni who would like to participate but won’t be Lugano on May 1 are encouraged to join in the fun by simply running, biking, hiking, doing yoga, or completing any other 45-minute physical activity in the spirit of Beat the Bells on that day. To ensure that this important TASIS tradition remains a community-building event, participants can connect with others by doing any of the following:
- Share a photo or video clip of their activity with the TASIS Instagram page (@tasislugano).
- Post content on their own Instagram page and use the hashtag #TASISBeattheBells.
Former TASIS College Counselor and Cross Country and Track Coach Greg Birk, who conceived of the Beat the Bells idea when he started at TASIS in 2010, developed this hybrid model out of necessity in 2020, as Switzerland was locked down at the time. More than 50 students, alumni, and current and former faculty members representing countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia participated that year, and many chose to take part when the same offer was extended last May.
“It has been very exciting to see so many people associated with TASIS post from around the world about their activities throughout the day,” said Mr. Birk, who has run more than 60 marathons and two ultramarathons over the past four decades. “My hope is that both the live and virtual participation continue to grow and that the May 1 Beat the Bells tradition connects generations of TASIS community members for decades to come.”
Mr. Birk explained that Beat the Bells has always been a spontaneous and evolving tradition. “In the early days, it was just about finding a way to motivate a group of students to get up early and run with me before the start of classes,” he said. “Making it down to the lake was important both to fully appreciate the early morning beauty of running the promenade along the lake but also for the challenge of running down and then back up to campus.”
As the tradition evolved, Mr. Birk was able to piece together a course that could be run safely in the dark and with sidewalks or pedestrian-only paths and limited street crossings, and it just happened to be the right distance to run comfortably down the hill and back up to campus in 45 minutes—sending runners past the iconic Sant’Abbondio clock tower at the start and finish. “At times some of the runners would struggle on the uphill run back to campus,” said Mr. Birk. “I used the bells as motivation to keep them going, and ‘Beat the Bells’ soon became our mantra. It then became a point of pride to be in the Beat the Bells ‘Club.’”
In 2013, Mr. Birk took the informal event and decided to make it a spring tradition to celebrate the May 1 holiday as a community. The evolution continued when the pandemic struck early in 2020. “Due to the restrictions on gatherings at the time, it became necessary—and, in hindsight, fortuitous—to make it a virtual event, which turned out to be a great success,” he said. “I hope this hybrid model becomes a lasting tradition for Beat the Bells so that the worldwide TASIS community can continue to participate in and enjoy this special event.”