Milton Keynes Cross Challenge 2016: Report

Fifth Week: the beginning of the second half of term and notorious for a phenomenon that causes students to get pretty stressed and take part in multiple feel good activities such as adult colouring and alpaca cuddling in an attempt to ‘beat the blues’. Not for OUCCC. Cometh the end of fifth week, cometh the Cross Challenge and the only blues we were concerned with beating were a certain variety of minty green map reading novices strutting their stuff at the Met League.

We congregated on Beaumont Street at a very civilised hour, but in considerably less civilised weather, ready to board the coach. One can only assume that Aidan forgot to change his clocks a few weeks ago, as onlookers were left astounded by his on-time arrival ahead of Christofi. It later transpired that Will was delayed somewhat by a brief detour to the police station, having been caught attempting to smuggle thirty seven rolls of college owned toilet paper through the Univ lodge an hour earlier. Anyway, eventually we made it onto the bus and hit the road to Teardrop Lakes. Despite claiming that ‘the coach journey is the best part of the day’, Jamie had decided an extra hour in bed and a car journey with his newly crowned Sportsman of the Year successor was in fact even better. An hour of Two Door Cinema Club later, he may have regretted this decision. We will never know.

To be fair to Jamie he wasn’t the only person too cool for the coach journey. Sophia ‘I need to leave straight after my race so I can do three more training sessions today’ Saller also chose to travel by smaller vehicle and miss out on all of the standard coach trip activities. These included, but were not limited to, everybody massively overheating having dressed for a cross country race rather than a sauna and the classic register roll call of ‘hands up if you’re not here’. Luckily the coach driver did a significantly superior job of locating the race car park than we had done in our minibuses last year and in what felt like no time at all we were walking the familiar path to the course.

First stop on arrival for many were the portable toilets (which may or may not have been Portaloos® provided by Portakabin®). Whilst some people waited patiently for the privilege of the blue plastic cubicles, many chose to avoid both the horrendously long queue and any risk of trademark controversy by opting for slightly less discrete locations. Amongst all the toilet drama Olly and his helpers put up the tent. It wasn’t the best the OUCCC tent has ever looked, probably because Aidan helped, but it was nonetheless appreciated as a much needed shelter from the elements later in the day.

After safely stowing their bags and belongings away in the dry, the girls headed off to inspect the course and the solid underfoot conditions were a pleasant surprise. With drills done, spikes secured, and last minute layers left with LC, they were ready for the off. On a fast and furious six kilometre course Bethanie Murray once again led them home. She finished in seventeenth place and Dani Chattenton came through next to a brilliant thirty-third. Behind Dani there was some impressive close packing as dark blue vests filled thirty seventh to forty-first, with only one systematic absence in position thirty-nine. Sophia Saller, Helen Record, Helene Greenwood and Hannah Plaschkes all ran incredibly well and the top Oxford girls showed that they will indeed be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s Varsity matches. Further down the field this close packing trend continued as the rest of the team all produced hard fought performances. It wouldn’t be the MK Cross Challenge without some good post race Insta material, and the girls did not disappoint with a new angle for this year’s group selfie that may have broken the record for the most accounts to post exactly the same photo. Don’t worry though, they all used a slightly different filter and none of them used XProII (sorry Hugh).

The men couldn’t quite live up to this level of social media dominance, but they did dominate the race in impressive style. Those present at the previous evening’s Sports Awards might argue this was unsurprising, given the Olympic trials athletes within their ranks. Amongst a top quality Cross Challenge field the dark blue boys produced six of the top thirty and ten of the top fifty, led home by none other than William Christofi in eighth place. With European selection no doubt in the back of his mind, Will certainly gave his U23 competitors something to think about. He also demonstrated an interesting new tactical approach to beating ones rivals, in this case a famous BUCS face from Reading. If we set out not to beat the tabs, could that be exactly how we beat them? Someone who will no doubt play a leading role in that outcome will be Jamie Parkinson, who bounced back from pre-Cuppers illness to storm home in twelfth place. Not bad given that most of the well known names who finished around him are probably still wondering who on earth this orienteering hockey player who gate-crashes their national class line ups every now and then actually is.

Following injured organisational duties at Cuppers, it turned out that ‘Danger Varsity’ was in fact just a little bit too dangerous, even for Alex ‘dynasty’ Howard himself. A top twenty finish from Howie showed that his strength and experience will also be invaluable on Wimbledon Common. Coming in next was seconds team stalwart Dan Mulryan who produced an excellent run to finish in twenty fifth-place and make his first Blues team. Naively led to believe that all possible danger comes from above, fresher John Spill had been too busy looking up (or perhaps he was just running too fast) to spot a nasty piece of glass in South Park a week earlier, which led to an A&E trip and some ridiculous rehab spinning sessions. Powering through the pain DBJ showed us all how a game face is done properly as he followed Dan home in twenty-seventh. Another strong performance from Eoghan Totten saw him not far behind in thirtieth. One by one, and in quick succession, the rest of the team filed into the finishing funnel to round off another highly successful OUCCC outing.

With cool downs complete and team photos taken it was soon time to be heading home. The tent came down as the rain worsened, but luckily we had the warmth of the coach to look forward to and we were soon waving goodbye to the land of concrete cows and roundabouts. Huge thanks to Kyle for all of his support so far this term and out on the course at Milton Keynes. Next stop, something many of you probably won’t understand because it’s Varsity, it’s Varsity.

Full results can be accessed here.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall