With the first of the two Varsity weekends finally upon us, all eyes were turned towards the Oxford II-IV’s teams on Saturday 24th November, as they took on the Tabs across the grassy plains of Priory Park, St Neots. However, as all runners prepared to set off from the city of dreaming spires, whether the athletes would even make it to the start line had to be called into question as one of the coaches failed to make an appearance on the day. Fortunately, the trusty X5 came to the rescue and ensured that everyone (well, almost) made it to the penultimate stop on this most famous coach route.
The day’s racing action kicked off with the 36th Ladies Seconds’ race at 12:30. Visiting student Caroline Shipley showed her fine American cross-country running pedigree, featuring at the forefront of the leading pack from the early stages of the race. Caroline and Cambridge’s 2015 Blues victor Emily Ruane broke away from the rest of the runners on the second lap of the 5.5km course, with Ruane ultimately taking the individual win, and Caroline coming home second. Cecilie Andersen led in the rest of the Oxford women with a gutsy run, albeit slightly adrift of a large Cambridge pack. Cecilie’s performance was all the more commendable when you consider the fact that she had been training and racing with a broken wrist! Despite her lack of spikes, South African fresher Celeste Renaud was our third Turtle home, with Team Captain Hoogy just behind. Whilst there were some great runs from the Oxford Turtles, we were ultimately beaten by a stronger Cambridge team, of which half were former Blues runners.
Next up were the Tortoises in the 75th Gentlemen’s Seconds’ race: the most hotly anticipated race of the day as per some, and it most certainly did not disappoint. There was nothing between the two teams on the first lap as a huddle of white vests seemed to make its way in perfect formation around the outskirts of the park, weaving in and out of the woods. The field began to break up on the second lap, with OUCCC Men’s Captain, Oliver Paulin ramping up the pace all the way and remaining at the very front of the race. Things were looking good for the Tortoises, especially as Team Captain Aidan continued to make his way further up the field. On the last lap of the 10.3km course it became clear that it was going to be a fight to the finish line for the individual crown with Paulin and CUH&H’s James Coxon neck and neck. Paulin ran an impressive race, finishing as Top Tortoise and winning the prized plate in the process, but lost out on the overall race win by a mere second. Kirk Smith crossed the line in fourth place overall as second Tortoise, leading in a strong Oxford pack of Smiths, broken up nicely by Williams’ visiting student Ken Marshall. Ken was fifth, Liam (Smith 2) sixth and Aidan (Smith 3) seventh. With five Oxford runners in the top seven, Paulin was adamant that the Oxford men couldn’t lose. And once the scores had been added up and a 36-42 Tortoise victory announced, he made sure to make a quick exit to avoid the ensuing well-deserved champagne spraying.
Five minutes behind the Tortoises, the Oxford Snails were off in the 68th Gentlemen’s Thirds’ race, leaving spectators and OUCCCTV lead commentator Luke Cotter running between both groups of runners in an attempt to not miss out on any of the excitement. Another closely contested race, Robbie Brown earned himself the title of OUCCC Super Snail, as well as the much-coveted plate too, crossing the line in 3rd place overall. Positions five through eight were all filled by Oxford runners: Tom Quirk, Christian Smith, Yannick Markhof and former tab turned dark blue Joe Bowness. Although all of the Oxford runners ran extremely well, with finishing times that would not have been out of place in the Men’s Seconds’ race, they narrowly missed out on the overall Thirds’ title. With the Men’s Thirds being the only race that Oxford lost last year, you can rest assured that the Snails will be back stronger than ever before over the Shotover course in 2019.
The penultimate event of the day was the 32nd Ladies’ Thirds’ race, and the first of the two Mob Match races. Thanks to Mob Match Captain Jenny’s valiant efforts at galvanising the Oxford girls, we had more dark blue runners on the start line than the Tabs did, which at an away Mob Match is already a victory in itself. The Oxford women dominated the race from the get set go with Natalie Beadle and Egle-Helene Ervin marking themselves out as early race leaders. Natalie stormed to the overall victory in a time that would’ve seen her figure in the first half of the Ladies’ Seconds’ race, and second place went to Egle. Natalie Haarer, Leah Tillmann-Morris and Annabelle Evans completed the Oxford top five, finishing fourth, sixth and eighth respectively overall. The race was nothing short of a tremendous triumph for OUCCC with the final score being declared as a 346-556 Oxford win.
Finally, it was the turn of the Mob Men in the 61st Gentlemen’s Fourths’ race. Yet more persistent recruiting, this time from Mob Match Captain Peter Guevara, along with his truly inspiring American-football team style motivational pep talk, ensured that a large Oxford team was ready and raring to take on the Tabs. Oxford’s Thomas Renshaw took the individual race title, backed up by Charlie Sneddon in second place, producing a repeat of the Oxford 1-2 finish we saw in the Ladies’ Mob Match. Joseph Grehan Bradley, OUCCC’s Marathon rep Rahil Sachak-Patwa and Ben Passey closed out the Oxford top five in overall places fourth, fifth and seventh respectively. The somewhat complicated Mob Match scoring system makes tallying up the points, whilst spectating and supporting, tricky for even the most talented of Oxford mathematicians. Everyone was waiting with baited breaths to hear the outcome of the race and fortunately we were able to celebrate another Oxford victory (943-1066).
The Mob Matches really encapsulate the essence of what cross-country running truly is about and to win both at an away II-IV’s Varsity Match is a brilliant result, and something that hadn’t previously been achieved by the Oxford Teams in quite some time. Moreover, it’s a result that highlights the incredibly high level of strength and depth that we are fortunate enough to have here at OUCCC at present, as well as the awesome team spirit. Huge congratulations to every single Oxford runner who competed in Varsity, giving it everything in their races and in doing so, helping to secure some fantastic Oxford wins. Many thanks must go to Su-Min Lee and the rest of the Cambridge Hare and Hounds for organising such a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable day of racing at St Neots. Thank you also to all the light blue runners for providing such good opposition across many tightly fought races. And with the score for the 2018 Varsity Cross-Country Races standing in balance at 3-2 at the culmination of the II-IV’s Matches, the overall result for this year was far from certain. With the Blues races yet to come, all dark blue hopes were to be pinned on the Oxford Blues Teams as they took on the fields, brooks and Butts of Wimbledon Common the following weekend…
-Helene Greenwood, University College, OUCCC Club Captain