“After speaking to BUCS yesterday they confirmed that the event is still going ahead” – the update from the BUCS XC Facebook group was like music to the ears, allowing the all-encompassing pre-BUCS excitement to keep escalating. Tilly misses her first ever lecture in three years to join a group of eager Friday-day BUCS travellers, the majority of which, we soon realised were members of South West origin. Said members analysed the best service stations in the West Country, while Jamie P (cheers drive) made headway towards an increasingly snow-less Exeter, trying to catch up coach Kyle (from here on ‘KB’) with an upbeat playlist strumming along in the background. The rest of the squad left the following morning at a spritely time of 5:50am, and in the blink of an eye, traded a snowy Oxford for a sunny race venue at Bicton College, Exeter.
BUCS LEAD-UP; SETTING THE SCENE (some background reading to add a bit of context to the 2019 edition of BUCS XC, skip to next section “THE RACE” for immediate race deets, or read on, do read on)
“We created our own lane so they can see our drive” (*drive for BUCS medals) – KB; a moto fit enough for us to realise how we’re part of something special: Oxford Distance Project. A club which is going from strength to strength: smashing gender parity for university sports teams and making Oxford Sports Fed’s mouths drop with the number of entries required to be manually entered for the 2019 BUCS XC campaign.
A record of 70 entries, 37 men and 33 women, reduced to 27 and 22 only through illness or injuries. The latter was not however, about to stop the following mighty squad of Dark Blue supporters (Figure 1): Lucy.W, Belinda, Evie, Hoogsta, Lucy.F, Hannah, PG, Liam, Christian Smith and Eoghan from coming, meaning OUCCC was out in force, a now restored 60-strong contingent with KB + special guests (family, friends, alumni and Holly Hammett).
Figure 1: Dark Blues, those who ran and those who sang
Hilary term at Oxford officially commenced with a session at South Parks on the 12th January, an ideal training venue for the forthcoming ‘biggest race since Varsity’… The countdown was in full swing, and before we read on and re-live how our club took on this year’s BUCS XC Championship let’s have a throwback to Saturday 3rd February 2018 to when the countdown really started. Re-cap: Men’s A team finished 4th on paper but ended up on the podium with deserved bronze medals round their necks after Loughborough’s administrative disaster, then our Women finished 5th, their highest team position to date, while the Men’s B team produced a stunning performance to climb the podium for Oxford’s second bronze medal of the day (this time outright). How the media remembered this:
“Cambridge and Oxford have benefited when Birmingham and Loughborough have faltered… Oxbridge universities will be ready to pounce should the third of the big three fall next time out” – FastRunning Magazine’s BUCS Cross 2019 Preview.
Little did FastRunning know that other universities outside the heavily sports-funded ‘big three’ universities also had Ctrl-F + “BUCS…” returning big hits on weekly emails and social media pages (shout-out to ODP and intergender Facebook Messenger groups: you’ve revolutionised the meaning of Facebook). Even vocal reminders of #howManyDaysTillBUCS could be heard serenading the start of the first rep at club sessions.
KB prepared the squad by crafting BUCS-esque #HillyLoop circuits round South Parks, by getting us to practise the fast (MASS) BUCS start, a true art, and by ensuring we all got our individually-appropriate pre-race tapers in. Our race prep was strengthened by run-outs at the Chiltern League and through some especially impressive performances at the regional champs the weekends before. This served to boost team morale and confidence where ‘to dream of where the medals live’ was something now carrying abundant factual evidence.
This year’s BUCS course embodied the ‘best of British cross country’: pitched over four fields with a mix of shallow and steep inclines, where tight turns and narrowly taped sections tested our agility, where patches of tufty terrain and muddy-to-get-moshy patches tested our balance, and importantly also, our abilities to wisely seek out our #ownLanes.
The best bit of the course (Figure 2) was the route to the finish line, which was, by both physical and emotional definition an endurance-themed rollercoaster. Imagine a downhill 100m segment towards a water feature (Bicton College’s LAKE) with ‘optional’ crossing potential (Clairo; let us never forget; Figure X, end of report), then, suddenly, a 90 degrees right turn bestows unto you a sharp 80m hill sprint where roaring spectators create an echoing channel to keep you moving upwards, just like the infamous L’Angliru climb in Asturias, a breath-taking final stage to the annual Spanish cycling tour La Vuelta (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFHznUIur88).
Figure 2: Sonya’s Hill’s key features
The appropriately named “Sonya’s Hill” (Sonya Ellis, Exeter Uni’s Head Athletics Coach and BUCS course director) was a multifaceted beast; the hill’s peak (Figure 3) was U-shaped meaning before you had time to take a level stride you were hurtling down an even steeper descent and scrabbling up a zigzag camber to the finish line, with legs swimming in lactic acid and a Heart Rate of (220 – – age) bpm.
What this meant to spectators:
The course lent itself to premium spectator coverage which meant OUCCC TV was as on-point and live as ever, raking in the views back home: “Allez les Blues”- Speed, 3:19. Thank you Woodsy and Charly D for livestreaming to the world how OUCCC took on the three BUCS races. I’ll never forget the genius cheers from that legendary Northern accent: “Come on Eleanor you’ve got this….there’s a tab right behind her! Come on Charly D give her the shoe!” and “come on Millar, come on Lickey Lickey…you’ve gotta keep going mateee” and my personal fave “come on Flo you want this…IT’S BUCS”. Here’s a second moment to shout out to all the OUCCC members who came to support despite being side-lined through injury. You guys contributed to the BUCS experience and your cheers will forever be present in our individual and team finishing positions, next year you’ll hopefully get to see this yourselves.
Figure 3: Top of Sonia’s hill, view of the lake
What this meant for Oxford’s medals chances
OUCCC Women’s race: Packing and Progress in Da Club
Oxford Women became the 4th best British University XC team for the 2019 season, finishing behind the ‘big three’ aforementioned sporting Unis with 50 points (counted by first three scoring positions). This bettered their 5th place with 78 points from last year. Individually, Eleanor Bolton continued the obliteration of her winter season (4th at Varsity, 1st at Northern’s) by leading the team home in 10th place, the highest individual finishing position to date?! Charlotte Dannatt (2nd at Varsity, 5th at Southern’s) also had an incredible run finishing 14th in what has got to be the most competitive BUCS field ever. Important to note is how Eleanor and Charlotte ran side by side for most of the race, recreating the productive #packing seen in recent training sessions. Flo Scrafton completed the scoring team in 26th, sandwiched by Tabs (who likes bread anyway?) in her 4th BUCS appearance. Anna Sharp finished 32nd in one of the most impressive results of the day (throwback to previous years shows off her progress: 243rd in first year, 89th in second year). Cecilie finished a superb 78th, Natalie 94th and Tilly 171st – all three securing BUCS XC PBs while Club Captain Helene (ref: Storm Helene; Figure 4) also dipped into the top 100 for the second time, but in a race with 642 starters this was cracking stuff. A final mention goes to recent alumni and now GB international Dani Chattenton who finished 7th place, an awesome achievement, where her progress through the years (30th last year, 92nd at her first BUCS) highlights the classiness of this ex-Dark Blue athlete.
Figure 4: Club Captain Helene with Vice-Captain/BUCS coordinator/hype woman Flo Scrafton
OUCCC Men’s A race: Oxbridge Domination and Return of the Tofi
Is that, wait no, surely not, again? Oxbridge 2nd and 3rd podium positions? One hates to say it, but the order went: Cambridge in 2nd with 52 points (first four scorers) then Oxford in 3rd with 53 points (Figure 5). However, with Loughborough placed in 4th with 61 points and Birmingham in…please visit the link below for this information as it was beyond the scope of this report, the faith must surely be restored for an accurate prediction and fair credit distribution in next year’s BUCS Cross Preview.
Christofi returns to BUCS to lead Oxford men home in 4th, the highest individual club finish in recent times while Jack Millar secured the club another excellent top 10 finish in 8th position. Jamie Parkinson ran strong for 15th and Tim Harrison completed the scoring tally in 26th, managing to hold on after showing unmatchable dedication to the “BUCS fast start”. Luke Cotter and Oliver Paulin both finished close behind in 36th and 37th positions where again the sights of #packing and teamwork were so inspirationally present throughout. Big congrats to all six guys for bagging the club some more silverware!
Figure 6: Men’s A BUCS XC Bronze medallists (top). Photo of Tofi featured in AW (bottom)
Men’s B Race: Noah Hurton’s Army
Noah had been demonstrating increasingly meaner form over the last few months (debuted for the Blues at Varsity) and in incredibly cool fashion, over a course fit for a Cumbrian, never ever looked back until crossing the line in 2nd (just to see th satisfying gap created), Figure 7. Oxford men’s B team finished 8th overall with 125 points (four to score). The team comprised 21 members with eight finishing in the top 100. Robbie Brown was the next Oxford scorer in a very promising 29th, followed by American visiting student Kenneth Marshall in 38th and Joe Morrow in 56th. Another notable individual performance was Joseph Dugdale finishing 4th! Figure 8.
Figure 7: Individual silver for Noah Hurton Men’s B race podium
Figure 8: Joseph Dugdale back on the scene
Emotive Smokehouse and Spoons
After the medal’s ceremony presented by British distance legend Jo Pavey and the last round of team chants about Oxbridge lacking social skills and how Loughborough can’t do admin, OUCCC broke away for some down time before the big night ahead. OUCCC’s Best ever Social Sec Tim Harrison lived up to his own high standards by taking us to dine at Zita’s Smokehouse. The setting was perfect, smokey satisfying flavours and thick cut chips with pitchers of beverage proved hugely moving for OUCCC’s Woodsy. Next stop, Spoons. Imagine a Spoons Empire, this was their HQ and we and several other Unis including The Tabs were weary, beer-goggled and parched travellers who stumble across an extraordinary discovery. Like a reduced version of the ‘wow’ people feel when they trek up the Peruvian Andes and spot the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. All this Spoons tucked just a stone’s throw away from OUCCC’s very welcoming and excellent weekend residence, The Great Western.
BUCS XC Afterparty
“The events that unfolded over the following hours (until 5am for some) are of course far too extensive to detail in their entirety here” – BUCS Cross Report 2017… but highlights this year were: the extra hill reps put in just to get there; the first impressions of the venue being another lit Student Union, and the new or re-establishment of relationships between our present and former Club Captains with some of Cambridge’s finest athletes. However, the initially perceived ‘beautifully busy scenes’ were conducive to shoulder joints being displaced, teams getting stuck in the sludge or fed to the moshpit or sliding around the edges of the dancefloor in spilt sins. The playlists in the two dance rooms were not really up to OUCCC (potentially too high?) standards but given the class A company of the squad it was impossible to not enjoy it, and for some, the pure joy of cracking open a cold one with (or all over) the boys got seriously lit.
The following morning a small group of better-for-wear athletes made it out for an inspiring long Sunday run, while the rest of us slept in or made the most of the hearty elaborate food for a 3-hour breakfast session. Without pre-warning the coach driver turned up 30 mins early (or 1.5 hours early for some who weren’t aware – apologies) and kicked up a grumble in his smoking hot coach. We arrived back to Oxford in great spirits, with blurry eyed and DOMS from a 24 hour stint to be very proud of.
Thanks to Great Western Hotel for hosting us, to the committee for organising, to to Kyle for making the trip up to support us at another memorable weekend for the OUCCC. Lastly, thanks to all you Dark Blues who participated in any aspect of the big BUCS weekend… BUCS XC 2020 anyone?
Figure X: Clairo’s BUCS XC course recce heroics
-Floren Scrafton, Worcester College, OUCCC Women’s Vice-Captain