2nds-4ths 2021: The Day Priory Park was Painted Dark Blue
By Belinda Dow
Every now and then in life, everything comes together. All those crazy, unpredictable moving parts align, resulting in something truly spectacular. The 27th of November 2021 was one such time.
After weeks of selection races, team meetings, and laps of EH, the dark blues gathered by the steps of the Ashmolean. The weather forecast glowed with amber weather warnings and the inevitable chaos of getting our teams on the bus in one piece had left Bundy and I feeling pretty exhausted. However, there is something special about Varsity that makes you forget all that. Once safely strapped in, the quiet buzz and sense of anticipation built as the wind battered coach wobbled its way to Priory Park.
We dismounted straight into the fray and with the first race just around the corner, I hurriedly herded the Turtles into the woods to look at one of the more technical sections of the course. We fancied our chances, but I emphasised that anything can happen at Varsity and that we were going to have to work together and race hard for each other if we were going to take the victory.
Before we knew it, we were on the start line and the gun released us onto the course. A lack of willingness from the Tabs to take the race on meant the Turtles found themselves packing at the front and taking control. We worked together the first lap to maintain a sensible pace, then pushed on into the second half of the race. Though I couldn’t see at the time, the Turtles absolutely dominated. I will never forget the feeling of spinning round after crossing the finish line and being greeted by familiar face after familiar face. Only a singular Tab managed to sneak into the top 8 meaning Oxford took a resounding win. Lauren also took the individual title and earnt herself a Blues spot, whilst Bea and I tucked in just behind and made reserves. Varsity 2021 was a go!
Up next it was the turn of the Tortoises, led by our one and only Captain Bundy. The boys once again felt confident but weren’t about to leave anything to chance. The atmosphere in the Oxford camp was buzzing as dark blues swarmed the course to show their support. With Brad on hand to document every step of the race, the Tortoises did anything but live up to their name, leaving Cambridge reeling as they took the top 7 positions. Bundy also put in a particularly spectacular individual performance, earning himself the first Blues reserve spot, with Aidan just behind.
Keen to continue the streak, a trail of Snails soon took to the course. Dark blue domination was once again the headline and, led by captain Joe, our boys made Priory Park their own. They packed well and worked as a team to push the pace. This was rewarded as 8km later they had well and truly cleaned up (other than the minor Jared-sprint-finish-related blip that shall not be named) taking 2nd-9th. Though this concluded the teams, the real talent was yet to spike up…
In the minds of many, the team races at Varsity are simply a distraction from the main event. MBEs and Noble Prizes pale in comparison to the glory the final two races of the day could bestow upon competitors. I refer, of course, to the greatest display of athletic ability in the country, nay the world… the Mob matches.
Rings of “MOB” had echoed through the dreaming spires for weeks as the masses prepared themselves to fight for eternal glory. Taking victory in an away Mob match is no mean feat and it was going to take something special to do it here today. However, following the creation of a truly rousing hype video by Captain Rebecca, and some last-minute rallying to curb chaos by John and James on the men’s side, our troops gathered in unimaginable numbers.
Up first were the women. Team runners forgot any and all post-race exhaustion as they returned to the course to spur their comrades on. The girls got off to a brilliant start and sped up the first hill of the course, following the 6km route mapped out by the Turtles earlier in the day. I could not have been more confident in the depth of talent on the women’s side and yet even I was taken back by the dark blue annihilation that followed. The Tabs managed a measly 3 runners in the top 20, with Anika and Klara leading the charge in 1st and 3rd respectively, and the other girls storming in behind. Watching the women’s Mob was one of my absolute proudest moments as captain and one I will always treasure.
Last but not least it was the turn of our Mob men. Fresh from receiving the recognition they deserved, courtesy of James’ profiles, and having watched their teammates dominate the well-manicured playing fields all day long, they were prepped and ready to go. Every last bit of energy was bellowed from the lungs of Oxford supporters; we knew just how much every place counted. The boys ran their hearts out and performed brilliantly, though the results were unclear come race conclusion. Had the Tabs finally been cut some slack?
Runners bundled back up, team photos taken, and various trophies awarded, we snuck our way onto the light blue’s bus. Cambridge’s sport centre facilities proved to be their only superior attribute of the day and spirits were high as we prepared for a night of celebration. However, there was still the unfinished business of that final race. I will truly never forget the moment the news came through on the captain’s group chat… THE MEN’S MOB HAD DONE IT!!! The sports centre foyer erupted in triumphant cheers as the realisation of our resounding 5-0 victory sunk in. The rest of the evening passed by in a blur of decent crewdate food (?!), disturbing coloured Hawk’s walls, and a sleepy Spoons trip, as 2nds-4ths came to an end for another year.
I am sat writing this report about 6 months on and yet I still feel the same rush as if I were out there in the wind and chaos. There was something so visceral and alive about that day, and cliché though it sounds, everyone truly came together as one. Without the unshakeable comradery we displayed, I am convinced the results would not have been what they were. From the 2nds to the Mob, each and every runner gave it all for their teammates. That for me encapsulates the spirit of Varsity and it will be something I carry with me forever.