2nds-4ths Varsity 2021

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.

OUCCC Preseason Training Camp, 2021

Incoming fresher Charlotte Buckley reports on an eventful training camp in Wales:

On Thursday 9th September OUCCC gathered in record numbers for the annual preseason training camp, this year held in Govilon (like Love Islan’) just outside Abergavenny. With no camp and a lack of races last season it was a great chance for the club to come together again while welcoming new faces into the fold too. No time was wasted in getting out on runs with groups heading out for 8-15km, exploring either local hill The Blorenge or the canal. Work was also being done in the kitchen with HC Liam taking control of curry preparations and the slicing of rice. The post-dinner game of hats was a perfect chance for freshers to begin to get to grips with the names and characters of the group. Assassins targets were distributed and Sam Brown took an early lead in the points race.

Friday marked the first session day, with runners splitting themselves between two locations in Abergavenny for 12 reps between 30s and 3mins in length with the added interest of negotiating cows for those at Castle Meadows. An afternoon walk up to Keeper’s Pond was a chance to cool off with a swim and, if your name was Liam, to (almost) cut off your toe. He survived this ordeal but could no longer say “I’m alive” after picking up Rhiannon’s watch later that evening. Grace and James put their engineering skills into action with a Jenga tower for the ages.

For a select group of early risers Saturday started with a parkrun at Bryn Bach with Miles taking the win. Others headed off for a run up The Sugar Loaf (famously named after a loaf of sugar) and three packed cars drove west to Pen Y Fan. All groups eventually made it to the start of the walk, some considerably less hungry than others, with The Barry Horns having made sure that we knew this really was Wales. That evening marked pub night, where runners were relieved to hear that (contrary to rumours) the rice had not been finished and stomachs could still be lined in preparation for the night ahead. Zimmy Zimmy turned to Timmy Timmy and some shoeing was done in preparation for doing this (albeit in a different way) to the Tabs come Varsity. In other news, red and blue tennis dresses are now the bookies favourite for kit secretary Jared’s pick for this year’s new stash – you heard it here first.

The following morning Grace and Twood headed off to the Welsh Orienteering Championships where they placed 4th and 6th respectively in the longest course of 11.4km. Long runs headed off in a variety of directions with groups splitting between the canal, The Sugar Loaf, and Pen Y Fan. For those in varying states of injury, fatigue and hangover activities included swimming (pond and pool), cycling, Lats with Liam, and both Sugar Loaf and Pen Y Fan hikes. The heat was raised that evening with a spicy chilli and quiz expertly organised by social secs James and Ellen where we discovered who spends too long on the group chat and who owns the iconic duck shorts (not to be confused with the similarly patterned trunks).

For some Monday meant another session with about half the group heading back to Castle Meadows for 3-5x5mins [90s]. Others explored The Blorenge once again while an OUCCC representative from each of the 4 nations of the UK made Monday the third day a group had headed up Pen Y Fan. For our final afternoon on camp, trips were made into town, to a local church and back to the infamous pond. Jirka continued to analyse the statistically impossible number of times a Paulin was being rolled in Catan and the day was wrapped up with 3 epic games of Mafia led by Twood. Soon Belinda was more frustrated by the limitations of her role as teenage mafia than her broken collar bone.

Some found time to run before a 10am departure on Tuesday while others channelled their energy into making connections between trains, buses and planes en route home.

A huge thank you to all who helped make the trip such a success, including but not limited to those who helped ferry people to shops, stations and mountains, assisted with the clean-up on Tuesday morning and cooked/washed up through the week. But most of all our thanks must go to Dan, Belinda and the committee for all their hard work in making this a memorable trip for freshers, leavers and everyone in between.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Wood & The Paddy Buckley Round

On Sunday 23rd August Tom Wood attempted possibly the longest SLR in club history, find out about this massive run below.

For the uninitiated, the Paddy Buckley is a circuit of 62 miles/100km and 28000ft/8000m vertical gain, across 47 of the highest mountains in the Northern section of the Snowdonia National Park. It was created following the popularity of the Bob Graham Round, a similar circuit of 42 Lake District peaks, as the complementary Welsh equivalent which fell runners would attempt to complete within 24 hours to gain membership to the notorious ‘Bob Graham 24 Hour Club’. While no such specified time limit exists for the Paddy Buckley, nor a prestigious club, runners still opt for the 24 hour completion target despite the round being regarded as a few hours tougher than its English partner. The route is split into 5 legs, taking in the Glyders, Carneddau, Moel Siabod & Y Moelwynion, Moel Hebog and finally Snowdon and the Eilio Ridge. A tough day out by anyone’s standards.

3:50AM. This had been my usual bedtime since March and the lockdown, but waking up at this time felt surprisingly easy. Looking back, this was probably the easiest part of the day. An hour later I found myself walking over to the ‘Croeso, Trenau’ (or ‘Welcome, Trains’) sign in Llanberis, for a few minutes of calm before my 5:00AM start.

 

As soon as my watched ticked over to 5:00:00, I was off. 4:45/km isn’t the sort of pace many cross country runners would be happy to find themselves at, but for the first kilometre out of a hundred I was content. Having failed to find myself any support for Leg 1 or 2, I was solo, but having practiced this section countless times I was confident I’d not run into too many problems. What I hadn’t practiced was the first ascent through the Dinorwic slate quarries up Elidir Fawr in the pitch dark, with my headtorch shining back into my eyes in the low mountain fog. After an hour fumbling for the right lines in the dark, in a constant mild panic, the sky was suddenly bright, but the mountains no more visible in the thick cloud. Serious caution was needed ascending the moonscape of the Glyders and crossing to the infamously technical Tryfan over wet rock with impeded visibility, but I was glad to see the two summit stones of Adam and Eve to mark the top of the eighth summit of the day, the fifth over 3000’ and the final one of Leg 1. Dropping below the cloud I picked some speed back up to arrive at Bwthyn Ogwen and my parents’ support vehicle for a change of water, change of supplies and change of headwear – swapping my headtorch for my serious business hat.

 

Leg 2 began as I ascended Pen yr Ole Wen and watched and waited to be enveloped by cloud. And that I was. The conditions on this leg were the worst of the day, with horizontal driving rain, a tough wind and the same low cloud that had affected my visibility on the previous section. In just a t-shirt and shorts, the only I option I had was to finish the leg as quickly as I could so I could swap my soaked shirt and put on a waterproof – that and to gain back the 10 minutes I was down on my schedule since my navigational fumblings on Leg 1. So that’s what I did, ticking off the summits of the Carneddau faster than I’ve done before I made it down to Capel Curig 12 minutes up on my planned leg time, 2 minutes up on my overall schedule.

 

With a fresh shirt and jacket on, the long climb to the 14th summit, Moel Siabod, began. This time I had a running mate, Ifan, to provide some support, updates on how much time I was dropping at every second peak and to feed me all of his Scottish Tablet. I combined a slow ascent up Siabod with a flying descent, before I began to lose one minute, two minutes, ten minutes on the subsequent peaks. This leg was long and boggy, and my speed was dropping all the while. I held onto my optimistically fast 17:20 schedule until just before half-way on this leg and so half way in total, but through the Moelwyns and up Cnicht the time was dropping like a rock. I was in the deepest calorie hole I’d ever been in, having missed out on an hour and a half’s worth of food on the first leg, so was really shuffling slowly on the long descent from Cnicht. This was equally matched by my one-word responses and failing temper.

Leg 4 was a welcome change from the stress of keeping pace, as I’d accepted from here on in it was about my survival. And the sub-24 would be nice too. The first climb, Bryn Banog, is notorious as the killer of the runner on this route, but settling in with a pair of poles I was up and over Moel Hebog too without any issues. My pacer for this leg had attempted his own Paddy Buckley a couple of weeks earlier, and gave it another go the week after my attempt to smash the record in 16h37 – the greatest run of all time in the Welsh Hills. I was glad to have him showing me his ways on this section. The sun set for me in a deep red over the Nantlle Ridge, and I knew by the end of Leg 4 I’d get the job done.

 

A dark and slow ascent up Craig Wen, Yr Aran and then Snowdon remained, with Gareth Wyn Hughes, a local who I always hope to beat in Eryri fell races, on the pace. It was a slow couple of hours until I found my way to the top, with a faint headlight in the distance meaning that it would be another failed chance of being the only people on the mountain. By the 43rd summit of the day, Crib y Ddysgl, the bad conditions I’d faced on Leg 2 had returned; the howling wind, low cloud and rain was again making things tough. By far the most runnable part of the day, the Eilio Ridge, was the equivalent sprint-finish, but was really anything but in those conditions – turning into a long slog to bring myself home in just under 21 hours.

 

I really was pleased to have finally done what I’d been thinking of doing for the past six months. The bi-weekly mountain long runs and dress-rehearsals of 50 and 70km had been put to their use. I was also glad to have gone out hard, even if it meant for a slower finish, and I’m happy I was able to keep to record pace for eight hours at least. Now I’m going into temporary retirement from ultra-running, and after a month of lying in bed maybe I’ll get back to running cross country too. But we’ll have to see about that.

 

Thanks to Ifan, Math, Gareth, Mark & Alice, the Potters and my parents, without whom this would not have been possible.