II-IV’s Varsity Races 2018

With the first of the two Varsity weekends finally upon us, all eyes were turned towards the Oxford II-IV’s teams on Saturday 24th November, as they took on the Tabs across the grassy plains of Priory Park, St Neots. However, as all runners prepared to set off from the city of dreaming spires, whether the athletes would even make it to the start line had to be called into question as one of the coaches failed to make an appearance on the day. Fortunately, the trusty X5 came to the rescue and ensured that everyone (well, almost) made it to the penultimate stop on this most famous coach route.

The day’s racing action kicked off with the 36th Ladies Seconds’ race at 12:30. Visiting student Caroline Shipley showed her fine American cross-country running pedigree, featuring at the forefront of the leading pack from the early stages of the race. Caroline and Cambridge’s 2015 Blues victor Emily Ruane broke away from the rest of the runners on the second lap of the 5.5km course, with Ruane ultimately taking the individual win, and Caroline coming home second. Cecilie Andersen led in the rest of the Oxford women with a gutsy run, albeit slightly adrift of a large Cambridge pack. Cecilie’s performance was all the more commendable when you consider the fact that she had been training and racing with a broken wrist! Despite her lack of spikes, South African fresher Celeste Renaud was our third Turtle home, with Team Captain Hoogy just behind. Whilst there were some great runs from the Oxford Turtles, we were ultimately beaten by a stronger Cambridge team, of which half were former Blues runners.

Next up were the Tortoises in the 75th Gentlemen’s Seconds’ race: the most hotly anticipated race of the day as per some, and it most certainly did not disappoint. There was nothing between the two teams on the first lap as a huddle of white vests seemed to make its way in perfect formation around the outskirts of the park, weaving in and out of the woods. The field began to break up on the second lap, with OUCCC Men’s Captain, Oliver Paulin ramping up the pace all the way and remaining at the very front of the race. Things were looking good for the Tortoises, especially as Team Captain Aidan continued to make his way further up the field. On the last lap of the 10.3km course it became clear that it was going to be a fight to the finish line for the individual crown with Paulin and CUH&H’s James Coxon neck and neck. Paulin ran an impressive race, finishing as Top Tortoise and winning the prized plate in the process, but lost out on the overall race win by a mere second. Kirk Smith crossed the line in fourth place overall as second Tortoise, leading in a strong Oxford pack of Smiths, broken up nicely by Williams’ visiting student Ken Marshall. Ken was fifth, Liam (Smith 2) sixth and Aidan (Smith 3) seventh. With five Oxford runners in the top seven, Paulin was adamant that the Oxford men couldn’t lose. And once the scores had been added up and a 36-42 Tortoise victory announced, he made sure to make a quick exit to avoid the ensuing well-deserved champagne spraying.

Five minutes behind the Tortoises, the Oxford Snails were off in the 68th Gentlemen’s Thirds’ race, leaving spectators and OUCCCTV lead commentator Luke Cotter running between both groups of runners in an attempt to not miss out on any of the excitement. Another closely contested race, Robbie Brown earned himself the title of OUCCC Super Snail, as well as the much-coveted plate too, crossing the line in 3rd place overall. Positions five through eight were all filled by Oxford runners: Tom Quirk, Christian Smith, Yannick Markhof and former tab turned dark blue Joe Bowness. Although all of the Oxford runners ran extremely well, with finishing times that would not have been out of place in the Men’s Seconds’ race, they narrowly missed out on the overall Thirds’ title. With the Men’s Thirds being the only race that Oxford lost last year, you can rest assured that the Snails will be back stronger than ever before over the Shotover course in 2019.

The penultimate event of the day was the 32nd Ladies’ Thirds’ race, and the first of the two Mob Match races. Thanks to Mob Match Captain Jenny’s valiant efforts at galvanising the Oxford girls, we had more dark blue runners on the start line than the Tabs did, which at an away Mob Match is already a victory in itself. The Oxford women dominated the race from the get set go with Natalie Beadle and Egle-Helene Ervin marking themselves out as early race leaders. Natalie stormed to the overall victory in a time that would’ve seen her figure in the first half of the Ladies’ Seconds’ race, and second place went to Egle. Natalie Haarer, Leah Tillmann-Morris and Annabelle Evans completed the Oxford top five, finishing fourth, sixth and eighth respectively overall. The race was nothing short of a tremendous triumph for OUCCC with the final score being declared as a 346-556 Oxford win.

Finally, it was the turn of the Mob Men in the 61st Gentlemen’s Fourths’ race. Yet more persistent recruiting, this time from Mob Match Captain Peter Guevara, along with his truly inspiring American-football team style motivational pep talk, ensured that a large Oxford team was ready and raring to take on the Tabs. Oxford’s Thomas Renshaw took the individual race title, backed up by Charlie Sneddon in second place, producing a repeat of the Oxford 1-2 finish we saw in the Ladies’ Mob Match. Joseph Grehan Bradley, OUCCC’s Marathon rep Rahil Sachak-Patwa and Ben Passey closed out the Oxford top five in overall places fourth, fifth and seventh respectively. The somewhat complicated Mob Match scoring system makes tallying up the points, whilst spectating and supporting, tricky for even the most talented of Oxford mathematicians. Everyone was waiting with baited breaths to hear the outcome of the race and fortunately we were able to celebrate another Oxford victory (943-1066).

The Mob Matches really encapsulate the essence of what cross-country running truly is about and to win both at an away II-IV’s Varsity Match is a brilliant result, and something that hadn’t previously been achieved by the Oxford Teams in quite some time. Moreover, it’s a result that highlights the incredibly high level of strength and depth that we are fortunate enough to have here at OUCCC at present, as well as the awesome team spirit. Huge congratulations to every single Oxford runner who competed in Varsity, giving it everything in their races and in doing so, helping to secure some fantastic Oxford wins. Many thanks must go to Su-Min Lee and the rest of the Cambridge Hare and Hounds for organising such a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable day of racing at St Neots. Thank you also to all the light blue runners for providing such good opposition across many tightly fought races. And with the score for the 2018 Varsity Cross-Country Races standing in balance at 3-2 at the culmination of the II-IV’s Matches, the overall result for this year was far from certain. With the Blues races yet to come, all dark blue hopes were to be pinned on the Oxford Blues Teams as they took on the fields, brooks and Butts of Wimbledon Common the following weekend…

Helene Greenwood, Club Captain

2017 Blues Varsity

As always, the day of the Varsity Match began with its own set of unique formalities after the teams disembarked at Wimbledon Common. However, after the photos, the blues blazers and carnations were swapped for running kit and a nervous sense of anticipation, which would build over the following hours.The first race for the day was the 26th Old Blues’ Race. Despite some strong individual runs from past and present Oxford students, Cambridge’s superior numbers helped them take the match victory.

With most of the competitors in the Old Blues’ Race now lining the course, all attention turned to the 42nd Ladies’ Race. Many thought that the Oxford team was one of the strongest in years, but with four fresh faces all in their first year at Oxford, it remained to be seen how they would perform in a high stakes Varsity Match. However, there was no reason to fear, as the Oxford girls dominated the race from start to finish, with Floren Scrafton storming home over the final kilometres to take a comfortable victory, followed by Sophia Saller who finished in a well-deserved third place, and Charlotte Dannatt, who came in fourth – an amazing performance as a fresher.  Kim Horner and Dani Chattenton rounded out the Oxford scoring, coming in 7th and 8th respectively, and Connie Hurton and Hannah Plaschkes completed a fantastic day for the Oxford women, both beating in the last Cambridge scorer to finish in 10th and 11th place respectively and seal a 23-34 victory for Oxford. There was jubilation and celebrations for the Oxford women before attention again returned to the course for the 127th Gentlemen’s Race.

The Gentlemen’s race is usually a battle of patience and attrition over the gruelling 7½ mile course, but Cambridge seemed to make a concerted effort to push the pace along after the water jump in the first few miles. However, any marginal early advantage they may have gained was neutralised when they needed some of Jamie Parkinson’s orienteering experience to make sure they continued on the right path. As the race wore on it became clear that it would be an incredibly tight race with just a couple of runners swapping position enough to hand the advantage to either team at any given point in the race. In the second half of the race, a series of groups emerged, and it became evident that whichever team could win more head-to-head battles within these groups would be the overall winners. The front four was one such group, consisting of Jamie Parkinson and Will Christofi from Oxford, and George Gathercole and 2016 Varsity winner Ollie Fox from Cambridge. The race was too close to call right into the last few hundred metres until Jamie put down a withering burst of speed to take the individual victory ahead of the two Cambridge runners. Christofi was next in, very close behind in 4th, and he was followed in by a pack of Oxford runners: Jack Millar, Dan Mulryan and Luke Metselaar who took 6th, 7th and 8th respectively. Olly Paulin from Oxford was locked in a key battle with Phil Crout for much of the match, but with some help from a stray tree root Paulin edged out the Cambridge runner to finish in a strong 11th in his first Blues match. Three Cambridge runners were next in, followed by Alex Bampton and Kirk Smith in 15th and 16th respectively. There was tension directly following the finish, as nobody was completely sure who’d won, but the Oxford Blues were ecstatic when the final result: Oxford 37 – Cambridge 41 was announced a few minutes later. This was especially exciting as it represented the first time since 2010 that both Oxford teams were victorious in the Blues Varsity Match. Great credit must also go to both Cambridge teams who ran very strongly on the day, contributing to one of the strongest days of Varsity competition in many years.

Overall, it was a great day for OUCCC, completing a marvellous term where Oxford also won the II’s – IV’s Varsity Match 4-1. None of this would’ve been possible without our fantastic and dedicated coach Kyle, who puts in hours of work every week, and our committee who put a significant amount of time and effort into organising the club so everything goes smoothly. Of course, the continuing support from Neptune has also been a driving factor in the club’s sustained success. It has helped us run the strength and conditioning sessions and travel to races among many other things necessary to keep the club healthy, and we would like to extend our thanks to Neptune.

Alex Gruen, Balliol College

#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