Achilles vs. Harvard-Yale/Penn-Cornell 2017: Report

Over the Easter Vac 8 OUCCC runners were part of a 54 strong Achilles team made up of Oxford and Cambridge students and recent alumni who travelled to America to compete in the transatlantic series.

The trip began in Cambridge (the American version) as we were met at Harvard’s impressive indoor track facility by our student hosts who took us away to varying standards of accommodation. Our first full day gave an opportunity to use the facilities on offer, however being distance runners we left the comfort of the banked track to brave the elements along the river. After warming ourselves up we made the most of our huge Achilles waterproof coats and explored Boston before heading to our first all you can eat dinner of the trip. By Wednesday we’d shaken off the jet lag and most athletes did their first big session of the trip, making the most of having the tabs as training partners instead of competitors for a change. The three main themes of the trip were social, culture and sporting so of course we spent the evening enlightening our hosts on the British culture of pennying, howzatting and various other social rules.

On Thursday we left rainy Boston for a slightly warmer Yale and some welcome hotel beds as we prepared for the first athletics meet of the tour. We were greeted by a real American Yellow School bus and another impressive indoor track. After some trail runs with the Yale team we headed back to Yale’s dining hall featuring a proper pizza oven to celebrate Alex’s birthday. Pre race shake outs on Friday included finding the New Haven equivalent of Armagh square complete with Irish flags so we were all ready to run fast again in the morning.

Alex en route to the win against Harvard & Yale

The Harvard-Yale match held on our first Saturday dates back 123 years and pre-dates the Modern Olympics. Everyone went into the meet knowing we were making History and that we had a real chance of beating Harvard and Yale in both matches. The schedule began with the 10,000m races which featured 2 match records for Achilles runners in very windy conditions and a 3rd place for Bethanie Murray in her first track 10k. Possibly the closest race of the day came next with a photo finish in the men’s steeplechase. Alex Howard just dipped far enough ahead of Harvard’s Will Battershill to secure another Achilles win by 0.04 seconds. Achilles wins continued to flow in from the field events but from an OUCCC perspective the next race was the men’s 800 featuring Louis Rawlings and Hugo Fleming. Sadly Louis was unable to retain his title from 2 years ago as they came in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Captain Luke Cotter took 3rd in the 5000m as did Dani Chattenton in the women’s mile. The men’s mile set off at walking pace,significantly slower than the women, going through 400 in 90 seconds. In the last 150 Cambridge’s Josh Carr finally picked up the pace to take the win, with Alex Gruen and Miles Weatherseed in 3rd and 5th. The overall scores finished extremely tight with victory for Harvard and Yale in both matches with the women’s results at 11-9 and the men’s 13-7.

The match was followed by plenty of kit swaps and a banquet in the centre of Yale’s indoor track. Having done plenty of the sporting part the team then headed to Yale’s track house to ensure the social and cultural parts of the trip were equally involved in our trip to Yale. Following brunch featuring waffles with the Yale crest and more pizza we headed to New York for our next leg of the tour.

Luke, Beth, Alex & Miles running in Central Park

New York was filled with runs in Central Park, trips up skyscrapers, attempting to hold up more buildings, American diners and many miles of walking. After a hectic couple of days we headed North for a very different view of New York State at Cornell University. With runs featuring waterfalls, cows whose milk was used for the uni’s ice cream and some beautiful trails Cornell was a world away from the city based unis. Plenty of time was spent in their athletes room at the indoor track as some of us tried to get on with some revision while the rest napped on the sofas. A dedicated track team area at Iffley would definitely be welcomed.

On Friday morning we made the long drive down to sunny Philadelphia for our final stop on the tour at the University of Pennsylvania. Getting off the bus we got our first glimpse of the famous Franklin field stadium where we would be competing the next day. Following a shake out with the Penn teams we headed to yet another all you can eat dining hall to fuel up ahead of the final meet of the trip.

Alex and Miles in the 1500m against Penn & Cornell (Photo courtesy of Bill Shearn photography)

The Penn-Cornell match began with yet another reminder that we were making history and before long the races were underway. The steeplechase was up first however Alex was unfortunately unable to replicate the previous weeks win coming in 5th. However Louis Rawlings was able to produce that famous kick to win the 800 in a time of 1.51.94 and was followed by Hugo in 5th. The women’s 1500 saw a strong last lap from Dani to secure her 2nd place and an outdoor PB. Alex Gruen, having only been called up for the team a few weeks before ran a big PB in the men’s 1500 for 3rd place, just 0.67s outside the full blue standard with Miles just behind him. Bethanie also ran a PB coming 3rd in the 5000m, an event that Achilles dominated by taking the top 3 positions. Luke also took 3rd in the men’s 5000m. A surprisingly large number of OUCCC runners were involved in the men’s 4×400 races however neither the Achilles official team featuring Hugo and Louis or the unofficial Achilles distance team featuring Miles and Gruen were unable to challenge Penn and Cornell. Obligatory post races photos, human pyramids, water jump dunking and stash swapping followed before we put the Blues Blazers back on for another banquet and track house after party.

Louis just about to take the win in the 800m against Penn & Cornell (Photo courtesy of Bill Shearn photography)

In a trip of contrasts our last day in America was spent on an open top bus covered in sun cream as we explored Philadelphia. Before long it was time to head back to the airport (some taking slightly less direct routes there than others) with suitcases significantly heavier than when we left England.

The whole team had an incredible experience in America both through staying with students out there and getting to compete against some amazing athletes. Thanks must go to John Crosse for organising the whole trip, Dan Hooker and Hayley Ginn for being the team coaches and Caspar Elliot and Alice Kaye for team managing. Huge thanks also to the Achilles trust and the American Achilles foundation for funding so much of the trip and for giving us this once in a lifetime experience.

– Bethanie Murray, Jesus College

Alex, Luke and Miles at Franklin Fields, Pennsylvania where the match against Penn & Cornell took place.