#0daysuntilvarsity: II-IVs 2017

The first of the two Varsity Cross-Country weekends had come upon us. The culmination of seven weeks of sessions around Exeter-Hertford and up and down South Park was finally here. You could feel the anticipation amongst the runners as we made our way up the Old Road to Shotover Country Park, fortunately in minibuses this time, and not running as per the Sunday long run norm. Any fears that the Tabs may get lost en route to the race venue were put to rest when we were briefly held up behind their coach struggling to make it up the steep incline to the starting area (which I guess was to be expected of a vehicle hailing from the Fens). And no sooner had both teams set up their base camps than the captains had set off to lead their runners on a final course inspection. The somewhat confusing Shotover course had been meticulously marked out by Mob Match Captains extraordinaire Libby and Woodsy, meaning odds on losing any runners this year were rather high. And in case you had been fooled into believing that this was some Olympic-esque running event, the outcome of which was the be-all and end-all of your athletic career (editor’s side note: it is), the #WACAW tattooed on the path in flour reminded us that after all, we’re all choppers aren’t we?

At 12:30 the 35th Ladies’ Seconds race got underway. The 5.6km route followed a two-lap course, that whilst only undulating by northern-standards, was positively mountainous to most southerners. And indeed, the hills of Shotover proved too much for the Tabs as the Oxford Turtles claimed a convincing thirteen point victory over the Cambridge Cheetahs, the first Turtles’ victory in five years. Fresher Eleanor Bolton put in an extremely impressive performance to take the individual title in a time of 24min3sec. Anna Sharp and Natalie Beadle both had very strong runs to finish 3rd and 4th respectively. Women’s Captain Rachel Skokowski brought the win home in 7th place as she was followed up by the rest of the Oxford pack taking positions 8 through 10, all beating the final Cambridge scorers.

Barely had the Turtles’ post-race celebrations begun and it was time to turn our attention to the next race of the day, the 74th Gentlemen’s Seconds Match. The race that ensued over the 8.2km out-and-back and two lap course played out as a very tightly fought battle. Alex Bampton finished as the first Oxford runner home in second place in 29min57sec, and unbeknownst to him at the time, in doing so booked his place in the Oxford team for the Blues Match a week later, on Wimbledon Common. Had it not been for Oxford’s Varsity 1500m champion Alex Gruen’s final surge along the Plain, where he overtook a pack of Tabs to come 3rd overall, who knows what the overall outcome of the race would have been? Modern Pentathlete turned full-time cross-country runner Tommy Lees led in another Oxford group in 6th place, with Club Captain Luke Cotter coming 7th, just ahead of last year’s Club Captain and the 2016 Seconds Match winner Miles Chandler. Luke’s performance was all the more incredible when you consider his mileage for the whole term hasn’t really exceeded today’s race distance, now that’s true dedication to the club. Liam Smith closed the Oxford scoring team in 11th. From a spectator’s point of view the match result looked too close to call, and coming across a very dejected LC sitting in the mud, you’d have had good reason to believe that the Cambridge Spartans had taken the title. But it soon became clear that a couple of miscalculations had been made: all part of the scoring team’s plan to keep everyone on their toes of course, this is Oxford after all. To everyone’s great excitement (well almost everyone) it was in fact the Oxford Tortoises who were the match champions, for a second year running, with a five-point victory over their Cambridge counterparts.

The 67th Gentlemen’s Thirds race was run on the same race route as the Seconds Match, starting only five minutes later. Although this match ultimately did not go the Oxford Snails’ way, there were still some solid performances from the Oxford men, notably from Joseph Grehan-Bradley, who finished second overall. Adam Waldron, Tim Harrison, Tom Lamont and Joe Bowness all stuck together as an Oxford pack taking positions 6 through 9.

Next up were the two Mob Matches, with the 31st Ladies’ Thirds Mob Match first. There is nothing quite like the Mob Matches in any other Oxbridge Varsity match, in that anyone who wants to can run for their team. To be able to say that you represented your university and gave it everything to show that your blue is the right blue in one of the oldest and most famous inter-university rivalries in history is something pretty special and unique to cross-country. You’ll have to excuse my cheesiness here but it’s truly heartfelt, whilst not the oldest of the Varsity Cross-Country races, the Mob Matches represent in many ways the true essence of what sport is about and they are some of the most eagerly anticipated races of the OUCCC year. Moreover, taking place on the Saturday of 7th week, the fact that a huge 41 women took part in the race undoubtedly marks it out as the perfect end to a very successful Oxbridge “This Girl Can” Week. In the elite world of sport where funding is often dictated by medal counts, we can sometimes be led to believe that winning is all that matters (and don’t get me wrong here, this is definitely the case with Varsity because there’s no second place, you either win or you lose), but in the Mob Matches it’s almost always the case that the team with the highest number of runners wins. Participation is the key to success in these events and Libby and Woodsy are due massive congratulations for their tireless work recruiting their epic Oxford Mob Match squads. And so, it should come as no surprise to you that with our 25-strong team, the Oxford Women won the Mob Match with a significant 252 to 418 point victory over Cambridge. Dani Edmunds took the individual crown, with Rachel Parlour running in for second place. The depth we have here on the Oxford Women’s side this year, that has perhaps been slightly lacking in previous years, was evident in the results in that out of the top six finishers, five were OUCCC, with Esther Pigney, Lucy Farquhar and Claire Hammett finishing in places 4 to 6.

The final race of the day was the 60th Gentlemen’s Fourths Mob Match. Continuing with the general theme of the day, the individual title went to an Oxford runner, Cameron Taylor. After searching high and low on Power of 10 to for his winning time, I’m afraid to say that it would appear Olly Paulin had forgotten about his stop watch duties at this late stage of the day. Or maybe he was too busy celebrating all the OUCCC victories, who knows? Anyway, Tom Fabes ran himself into third place and positions 5 through 8 were again occupied by a tight Oxford pack consisting of Andreas Halner, Colum O’Leary, Robbie Brown and Ed Stace. A closer match than in the Women’s Mob, Oxford nonetheless still emerged as victors of the Men’s Mob with a score of 828 points to 973.

The races today resulted in a 4-1 overall match victory for Oxford, and hence the whole event was nothing short of an incredible triumph for OUCCC. Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the following week’s Blues Races, we all knew that the overall Varsity Cross-Country trophy would be back with us once more. With many a reason to celebrate, the festivities continued well into the night with the Seconds to Fourths After Party. But sadly, as heart-breaking as it is, all good things must come to an end and with that it’s time for everyone to reset their countdowns to the best weekend of the year. Huge thanks must go to the Oxford Captains Luke and Rachel, as well as to Woodsy and Libby, for all their hard work in ensuring that the Seconds to Fourths Varsity matches were as successful as they were. And last but not least, whilst it’s very much a love hate relationship between us and the Tabs, thank you to them for putting up a great fight in all of the races, see you at BUCS next year.

Oh and in case you were wondering it’s #360daystillvarsity.

– Helene Greenwood, University College

Pre-season Training Camp 2017

A popular and well-anticipated annual event, the 2017 OUCCC training camp took place between Friday the 15th of September and Tuesday the 19th of September at Rydall Hall in Ambleside, Cumbria. The Camp saw a smashing turnout, with 34 runners from a wide range of colleges and degree programmes.

 A variety of challenging sessions were available, on both road and fell, incorporating a good deal of climbing, descending and flat. Runs included short, sharp pyramid-style reps to help build speed and strength, an example being the 10 / 8x 2 minute reps in Ambleside park on Saturday morning. On the other hand, longer six to ten mile runs were also available to help improve endurance and general technique, including loops around Rydal Water and sections of the River Rothay. Runners could keep to whatever pace was comfortable, ensuring everyone got the most out of the session.  Miles Chandler and Will Christofi were always ready to share their expertise on core and warm up exercises, from the benefits of penguin walking to pre-bed planking. With two substantial sessions on offer most days, even our most dedicated Blues runners felt like they’d trained well!  If a full day of running wasn’t enough, there were also opportunities for the triathletes to swim. As in previous years, Lesley Bryant, a professional Soft Tissue Therapist, very kindly gave us much appreciated sports massages and brought a variety of equipment to help us warm down after a run.

There was plenty of opportunity to socialise. Myself and the other new students were given great advice and a crash course in both running and OUCCC history. Subjects included varsity bitterness, the importance of the captaincy and most importantly, how, in 1981, Julian Goater won the English National Cross Country Title by almost two minutes.

Other highlights included “Extreme Pictionary” (with multiple cameos from The Yeti), a Charades / Articulate hybrid and Miles’ simultaneously entertaining yet infuriating “Moon Game”. Others contributed more technical games, requiring complicated skills, such as counting, common sense and the ability to remember your own name.

Aidan Smith kept Oxford’s reputation for academic rigour alive with his excellent quiz, which was hotly contested and left usual pub-quiz territory in the rear-view mirror.  Our knowledge of club history, Australian bush fires and the Polish economy were all thoroughly tested. Also on the agenda were ping pong, den building and, unexpectedly, a Saturday night showcase of Esteemed Captain Luke Cotter’s more unconventional (yet impressive) party tricks.

We all ate incredibly well thanks to the delicious cooking of Tilly Woods, Oliver Paulin, Kathy Peters, Noah Hurton (and many others!), of which their chicken curry was particularly tasty. Ambleside’s Badger Bar also provided a great meal.

As others have rightly said, a huge thanks to the principle organisers for arranging such an enjoyable camp, namely Noah Hurton, Luke Cotter, Tilly Woods and Oliver Paulin. Thanks to all those who brought their cars and helped shuttle us all between train stations and training sessions. All club members provided great advice and company. I’m sure I speak for the other freshers (and all others new to the club) when I say that we were made to feel extremely welcome as new members. We all look forward to training with the club in Michaelmas term and beyond, especially given that events such as Cuppers (and later Varsity) are approaching on the horizon.

-Matthew Proctor, University College

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.