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.

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.

DARK BLUE DOMINANCE – II-IV Varsity 2019 – Shotover, Oxford

On a cold, crisp morning, multiple people woke up around Oxford ready for a day of shoeing.

The first race of the day was the women’s seconds, a competition we expected to be tight but ended up setting the dark blue tone for the day. Turtles captain, Ella Sharrock, reports:

‘Cecilie Anderson led the race from the start on a really tough course to take the win, while Gabrielle Chappell paced her race perfectly, moving up into second on the smaller second lap and fighting off 2 fast finishing tabs on the final straight. A special mention also has to go to Leonie Glasson, who only found out she was running in seconds a week before the race and, despite both this and her dislike of hills, raced excellently to come in as 6th oxford scorer (10th overall). Our women’s seconds were dominant, stacking the top 10 with 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th place finishes to thrash the tabs and set the ball rolling for an epic day of tab-shoeing.’

Next up was the Men’s seconds, Aidan Smith, tortoises captain gave us some detailed insight into the race and the team mentality:

“Slow and steady wins the race.” Milan Campion, Tortoise 2019

“There goes Milan, doing exactly what everyone told him not to.” Sam Brown Araujo, Blues 2019

‘In the tightest race of the day, the men’s Tortoises edged the Cambridge Spartans 39-41, with Oxford beating Cambridge man-for-man through the first five scorers, but left with a nervous wait as Cambridge closed their team before Oxford’s last scorer

The race went off at a calm pace, with Tortoise captain Aidan Smith leading out the flat first mile, the whole race tightly packed in behind. As the race completed the out and back, from the supporters’ cheers it became clear that Cambridge had made the immense blunder of selecting a team also containing a Jamie, Aidan and Tom. On home terrain, under those beloved Shoe-tover treetops- our own personal ‘Gabbatoir’- the Tortoises lapped up the extra cheers as the Cambridge supporters unwittingly fired them up further at every corner. A devastated anonymous source confirmed Cambridge will be undertaking a full review of selection strategy before St Neots next year (for unorthodox selection advice, Tim Harrison is available to consult at very reasonable rates- Shotover tripwire, pedal grease and a bubblewrapped Miles Weatherseed sold separately).

As the course narrowed past the bike jumps, the Tortoise presence at the front was strong, and Tom Wood saw this as his moment, surging past on the downhill to the steps and immediately almost doing a Paulin. Up the steps Jacques Maurice and Milan Campion hit the front, and looking around Milan saw 5 Tortoises, and, confident he had done as much ‘slow and steady’ as anyone could possibly ask for, pushed on, splitting the group. A furious Jamie ‘Sit and Kick’ Parkinson just about made it across to the front pack, visibly quivering with rage that our supposed new track fairies had no idea that the only sensible way to race is kick at 5 miles, with Noah’s least favourite OUCCC Runs Chat member Jamie Edgerton (Tab) also making the selection.

Up the final hill of the first lap, the chasing pack split, with Renshaw breaking away, pursued by Jose Gray of Cambridge, leaving the remnants Aidan Smith, Aidan Rigby, and Lawrence Hollom to chase along the Plain. In the lead group, Jacques fell off first as quad cramp saw him drop back through the chasing pack as the second lap started, with Milan falling off the Jamies soon after.

At the front, experience prevailed, and in the words of Jamie Edgerton,  “[Jamie] knew exactly what he was doing and left me for dead halfway through the second lap”. Clear by Cowley Club corner, he could ride the rollercoaster solo and cruise home in 1st. Behind him, Renshaw had to share his rollercoaster car with Jose and a struggling Milan, but after enjoying being back in the company of a fresher after the longest break this term, eventually discovered that not slowing down when running up hills appears to be a superior strategy to slowing down when running up hills, and opened up a decisive gap on Jose on the steep climb up Weatherseed Walk, closing hard on Jamie (but not Jamie) on the finishing straight for 3rdand a reserves spot.

Behind, Aidan surged through the flat midsection of the last lap to break away from his two Tabs, and started to close on Milan through the rollercoaster. With Milan in sight ahead and behind Rigby working hard to regain contact up the final hill, Aidan hit the car park in 6th. As the pace ramped up along the Plain both Aidans passed Milan, with Aidan Smith almost catching Jose Gray in the final few meters to finish 5th.  Behind, Milan had been working through his Tortoise Workbook and decided maybe mindfulness could prevail upon him to endure another 400m of ‘slow and steady’, a commendable example of self-control which unfortunately coincided with the final 400m of the race. However, he just held off a charging Lawrence Hollom for 7th. Matt D’Aquila, a man famous for his love of the midnight rain (and milk) on his bare skin, and his ability to make Paulin (even on crutches) appear competent downhill, finished just behind for a very impressive 9thon a tough course, showing he is definitely no stereotypical American flat track bully (in any case, he is Italian, which explains his ability to take any quantity of wine into his stomach with ease, albeit temporarily).

Further back, fortunes were more mixed. Once it became clear his quad was going to see him at best hop the last mile to the finish, Jacques, in a last minute attempt to convince Tim he really had been Blues material all along, took the hard decision to drop out. After his very brief trip to the front of the race at the steps, Tom Wood found himself off the back in the second lap, but managed to avoid relaxing to his usual standards of punctuality just enough to pip the Snails’ Earth Science Tom on time, finishing 14th. Dan ‘Ted’ Bundred had a disrupted build up, but successful application of a time honoured stressie symptom treatment technique (repeating `it’s just tendinitis’ whilst sobbing over a photo of last year’s winning mob team) saw him beat his own pre-race prediction by one place (thanks, Jacques!) and round out the finishers.

Post finish, the atmosphere was tense, with nerves equally high from the closeness of the race and the fact that Paulin was involved in calculating the scores. Fortunately, after breaking Tortoise hearts 2 years ago and arousing suspicion that he might have been a Tab sleeper agent (Miles Weatherseed’s 10th best Varsity moment), this year he showed he does in fact know how to count to 8. Oxford 39, Cambridge 41.  Oxford win.

39-41. Dan Bundred actually finishes a Varsity match. Aidan continues his transformation from former Blues runner into specialist captain a la Eoin Morgan. Jacques spends Saturday night kneeling on the High Street, staring longingly at a blue visor through the window of Sweaty Betty. Milan realises that if he’d only gone out twice as hard, he’d have had a bigger time cushion when he died. Tequila starts writing his DPhil application a year early. Tom Wood finally discovers a way to avoid Renshaw’s company for half an hour.

The Jamie Parkinson legend comes full circle. New legends begin. The Tortoises rumble on to a 5 year winning streak.

Almost worth paying £310 to fly over from Zurich and kill two polar bears for. #WATAW’

Following this nail-biting race was the Men’s 3rds who approached their race in high spirits, and full of energy thanks to the delicious home cooking of resident sports-academic Alex Betts. Captain, Joseph Grehan-Bradley, reports.

‘Most responsible for the teams enthusiasm, perhaps, was the fact that each team member strongly believed that they had a good chance of winning Saturday’s race. The Cowley Club pre-race prediction board testified to how remarkably evenly balanced each individual’s prospects were. Only dark horse Alex Jackson was not touted to cross the line first before proceedings began.                              

The dominance of dark blue became evident from the races very early stages. Strong packing from the off, led by Zac Hudd, allowed Oxford to get a stranglehold on the race before we had even hit the trees. As we hoped, Cambridge’s runners suffered up and down the hills. Consequently, the breakaway group of Jackson, Ben Passey and Joseph Grehan-Bradley had established a healthy lead by the beginning of the second lap. Quite fittingly, it was the under-estimated Jackson who transformed that lead into a decisive victory, winning the race for Oxford a full 21 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. Fast finishes from Joel Dungworth and Tom Barrett ensured that 4 of the top 5 were wearing Oxford colours. Tactical manoeuvrings from Hudd and Toby Ralph further down the order prevented Cambridge’s runners from really threatening Oxford’s dominance of the team standings. In the end, our final scorer came through in 10th to set up a convincing team win. A satisfying result, and testament to the hard work all the 3rds put into training over this term.’

Could Oxford have got off to a better start before the mob match races began? 3-0? I think not. It was now the turn of the female mobbers to take to the mud and try to emulate the success of their teammates before them, as Women’s mob captain, Amy, recounts:

‘The 2019 Womens’ Mob match was the 3rd biggest race in the history of the event, with 26 runners from Oxford and 18 from Cambridge. After the first lap, the field was headed by Helena Page alongside 3 other Oxford athletes and 2 tabs. After a conservative first lap, triathlete Kinga Zielinska moved through to win the race in a time that would have placed her mid-pack in the 2nds race. A particularly impressive run given her bike session in the morning and cycle to Shotover… Rebecca Walker had a very strong finish, moving up 3 places in the final few hundred metres, helping Oxford to claim 7 of the top 10 places. The race was successful for Oxford, bringing the 4th victory of the day and was enjoyed by all, even those making their cross country debut!’

Could we get the clean sweep? Spoiler alert – YES! Will Shardlow, our men’s mob captain, summarises the final bit of shoeing (sorry Cambridge):

‘The fear in the eyes of the opposition choppers was evident from the off as they were dwarfed on the line by Oxford’s largest ever mob turnout, the tribal cries of ‘mob mob mob mob mob mob mob’ still ringing in their ears… Oxford dominated from the start, a sea of dark blue washed straight to the front and remained there, stubbornly impenetrable throughout. Confidence was high – a certain runner having enough breath to spare as to start a mid-race chant! Here and there a light blue vest made a plucky attempt to separate the pack at the front – but was to be all in vain. The athletics boys ended up dominating the podium – with Charlie Sneddon coming out on top and Max Buckley in 3rd. Joe Edwards came through in 2nd, a very impressive performance considering his training consists of the odd club run and a trip to spoons (think he’s worried about getting too fast and leaving his chopper mates behind…) The top 8 finishers were all from Oxford, making for another excellent victory to top off a very enjoyable and successful Varsity match.’

So all in all, a very successful day for the dark blues and one we hope to emulate next week at Wimbledon Common for the blues matches. I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Will and Amy (our mob match captains) for all the time and effort they put into organising such a brilliant day and to all our athletes who volunteered – setting up and taking down the course, marshalling and time keeping. Also, huge thanks to our amazing coach, Kyle, for his continuous support and without whom we would not have achieved such a dominant victory. Alex Betts also deserves a special coaching shout out for stepping up to take the Wednesday lunch time sessions and providing so much support and guidance to all athletes.

Days like Saturday really show what OUCCC is about and what it means to be a dark blue – the incredible team spirit and encouragement of everyone is something to be really proud of and is why we achieved what we did. Congratulations to EVERYONE who raced!