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Achilles vs. Harvard-Yale/Penn-Cornell 2017: Report

Over the Easter Vac 8 OUCCC runners were part of a 54 strong Achilles team made up of Oxford and Cambridge students and recent alumni who travelled to America to compete in the transatlantic series.

The trip began in Cambridge (the American version) as we were met at Harvard’s impressive indoor track facility by our student hosts who took us away to varying standards of accommodation. Our first full day gave an opportunity to use the facilities on offer, however being distance runners we left the comfort of the banked track to brave the elements along the river. After warming ourselves up we made the most of our huge Achilles waterproof coats and explored Boston before heading to our first all you can eat dinner of the trip. By Wednesday we’d shaken off the jet lag and most athletes did their first big session of the trip, making the most of having the tabs as training partners instead of competitors for a change. The three main themes of the trip were social, culture and sporting so of course we spent the evening enlightening our hosts on the British culture of pennying, howzatting and various other social rules.

On Thursday we left rainy Boston for a slightly warmer Yale and some welcome hotel beds as we prepared for the first athletics meet of the tour. We were greeted by a real American Yellow School bus and another impressive indoor track. After some trail runs with the Yale team we headed back to Yale’s dining hall featuring a proper pizza oven to celebrate Alex’s birthday. Pre race shake outs on Friday included finding the New Haven equivalent of Armagh square complete with Irish flags so we were all ready to run fast again in the morning.

Alex en route to the win against Harvard & Yale

The Harvard-Yale match held on our first Saturday dates back 123 years and pre-dates the Modern Olympics. Everyone went into the meet knowing we were making History and that we had a real chance of beating Harvard and Yale in both matches. The schedule began with the 10,000m races which featured 2 match records for Achilles runners in very windy conditions and a 3rd place for Bethanie Murray in her first track 10k. Possibly the closest race of the day came next with a photo finish in the men’s steeplechase. Alex Howard just dipped far enough ahead of Harvard’s Will Battershill to secure another Achilles win by 0.04 seconds. Achilles wins continued to flow in from the field events but from an OUCCC perspective the next race was the men’s 800 featuring Louis Rawlings and Hugo Fleming. Sadly Louis was unable to retain his title from 2 years ago as they came in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Captain Luke Cotter took 3rd in the 5000m as did Dani Chattenton in the women’s mile. The men’s mile set off at walking pace,significantly slower than the women, going through 400 in 90 seconds. In the last 150 Cambridge’s Josh Carr finally picked up the pace to take the win, with Alex Gruen and Miles Weatherseed in 3rd and 5th. The overall scores finished extremely tight with victory for Harvard and Yale in both matches with the women’s results at 11-9 and the men’s 13-7.

The match was followed by plenty of kit swaps and a banquet in the centre of Yale’s indoor track. Having done plenty of the sporting part the team then headed to Yale’s track house to ensure the social and cultural parts of the trip were equally involved in our trip to Yale. Following brunch featuring waffles with the Yale crest and more pizza we headed to New York for our next leg of the tour.

Luke, Beth, Alex & Miles running in Central Park

New York was filled with runs in Central Park, trips up skyscrapers, attempting to hold up more buildings, American diners and many miles of walking. After a hectic couple of days we headed North for a very different view of New York State at Cornell University. With runs featuring waterfalls, cows whose milk was used for the uni’s ice cream and some beautiful trails Cornell was a world away from the city based unis. Plenty of time was spent in their athletes room at the indoor track as some of us tried to get on with some revision while the rest napped on the sofas. A dedicated track team area at Iffley would definitely be welcomed.

On Friday morning we made the long drive down to sunny Philadelphia for our final stop on the tour at the University of Pennsylvania. Getting off the bus we got our first glimpse of the famous Franklin field stadium where we would be competing the next day. Following a shake out with the Penn teams we headed to yet another all you can eat dining hall to fuel up ahead of the final meet of the trip.

Alex and Miles in the 1500m against Penn & Cornell (Photo courtesy of Bill Shearn photography)

The Penn-Cornell match began with yet another reminder that we were making history and before long the races were underway. The steeplechase was up first however Alex was unfortunately unable to replicate the previous weeks win coming in 5th. However Louis Rawlings was able to produce that famous kick to win the 800 in a time of 1.51.94 and was followed by Hugo in 5th. The women’s 1500 saw a strong last lap from Dani to secure her 2nd place and an outdoor PB. Alex Gruen, having only been called up for the team a few weeks before ran a big PB in the men’s 1500 for 3rd place, just 0.67s outside the full blue standard with Miles just behind him. Bethanie also ran a PB coming 3rd in the 5000m, an event that Achilles dominated by taking the top 3 positions. Luke also took 3rd in the men’s 5000m. A surprisingly large number of OUCCC runners were involved in the men’s 4×400 races however neither the Achilles official team featuring Hugo and Louis or the unofficial Achilles distance team featuring Miles and Gruen were unable to challenge Penn and Cornell. Obligatory post races photos, human pyramids, water jump dunking and stash swapping followed before we put the Blues Blazers back on for another banquet and track house after party.

Louis just about to take the win in the 800m against Penn & Cornell (Photo courtesy of Bill Shearn photography)

In a trip of contrasts our last day in America was spent on an open top bus covered in sun cream as we explored Philadelphia. Before long it was time to head back to the airport (some taking slightly less direct routes there than others) with suitcases significantly heavier than when we left England.

The whole team had an incredible experience in America both through staying with students out there and getting to compete against some amazing athletes. Thanks must go to John Crosse for organising the whole trip, Dan Hooker and Hayley Ginn for being the team coaches and Caspar Elliot and Alice Kaye for team managing. Huge thanks also to the Achilles trust and the American Achilles foundation for funding so much of the trip and for giving us this once in a lifetime experience.

– Bethanie Murray

Alex, Luke and Miles at Franklin Fields, Pennsylvania where the match against Penn & Cornell took place.

Neptune Teddy Hall Relays 2017: Report

Eighth week is a curious one to all Oxford students, with the majority largely passing the time in a state of sleep-deprived delirium. In addition to this, OUCCC runners tend to have extra excitements awaiting in this week, with Michaelmas being the home of the Blues’ Varsity and Hilary the Neptune Teddy Hall Relays, both among the largest and most important on the racing calendar. This latter event extends our rivalry of choice to beyond that with our minty-green friends, inviting local universities and clubs as well as those of Oxford colleges and faculties down to the infamous Iffley Road track for some road racing entertainment.

Perhaps taking advantage of our familiarity with the course, the Oxford teams performed fantastically in all races, winning gold medals in each of the men’s, women’s and mixed teams. Not content with just taking the team prizes, Oxford athletes also took away individual fastest laps, with Luke Cotter and Dan Mulryan running the second and third fastest laps for the men, and Helene Greenwood, Emma DeCamp and Katie Truslove taking all three honours for the women. Results to be celebrated by all, but ones which admittedly provided some awkward moments in the prize-giving – we promise to external teams that there was absolutely no foul-play!

A massive thank you must be given to Bethanie Murray and Alex Howard for organising such a fabulous event, as well as to Libby Brown for organising the post-race tea (providing quite possibly the largest quantity of sandwiches and bananas ever seen in one place) and the team of marshals (successfully running between posts and the track whilst ensuring that (pretty much) everyone got around the course without getting lost).

Full results can be found here: http://www.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16418&RId=329

National Inter-counties XC 2017: Report

Excluding the ESAA championships for younger athletes, the CAU Inter-counties is generally the final race of what can seem to be a very long cross country racing calendar. This year, the event was to be held in combination with both the British Athletics Cross Challenge Final and the trials for the World Cross Championships, a tripartite combination which allowed for the very catchiest of event programme titles. Traditionally held at Birmingham’s Cofton Park, this year’s change of venue to Prestwold Hall just outside Loughborough was largely unwelcome in the run-up to the race, a sentiment to be cemented by the discovery of the testing conditions of the new course.

The journey for the Oxford contingent did not start off as seamlessly as would have been liked, with certain individuals apparently disputing the winning of the title of OUCCC’s ‘worst navigator’ at the recent annual awards dinner and sending the trek decidedly off-piste. Nevertheless, after finally reaching the venue and quickly warming up, the dark blue runners in the slightly less dark blue vests of their respective counties toed the line and were ready for the off.

Leading the Oxford runners home in the first race of the day (junior men) was DBJ who, in endeavouring to prove his future OUCCC career will be as successful as will be his rapping, finished in an outstanding 12th place running for Oxfordshire. In her last race as women’s captain Helene Greenwood debuted in the senior women’s category with an impressive 99th for Oxfordshire, followed by Tilly Woods (189th, Devon) and Natalie Beadle (212th, Cumbria); likewise the junior women were well represented by Kathy Peters (73rd, Sussex), Aileen Kearney (116th, Merseyside) and Anna Sharp (129th, Hampshire). To culminate the day’s racing the senior men faced 12k of gruelling Loughborough mud with Olly Paulin (96th, Warwickshire) and Noah Hurton (233rd, Cumbria) also having brilliant runs, ones that are likely to be particularly worthwhile if Vice-Captain Spill eventually gets his way and increases the length of the Cuppers course. All runs reflected two terms’ worth of an intense training and racing cross country schedule, and all should be proud of the achievements of this season.

BUCS Cross Country 2017: Report

As January disappeared faster than Howie playing hide-and-seek, OUCCC hit the greatly anticipated highlight of the Hilary term calendar – BUCS Cross-Country.  For those travelling up on Friday night, competitive vibes were already in the air as Jamie calmly guided the minibus to an impressive Full Blue marathon standard of 26:18, just dipping under the minute per mile barrier. On reflection however, it transpired that lessons had not been learnt from recent incidents in Glasgow and the course was almost certainly short due to Alex’s inability to calculate multiples of 1.6 beyond the distance of his long runs, or more simply to set his watch in imperial units.

“It really puts into perspective how far we’re travelling. It would have taken me an hour to run this and we’ve driven it in 9 minutes. We’re still not at a long run yet though. That makes me feel better about how long I run.”

Mathematical controversies and some terrible steel puns aside, it was a smooth journey with Sheffield providing a destination that appeared to surpass the expectations of some members of the group.

“This is quite pleasant. I imagined the North more grim than this.”

On Saturday the rest of the team made the coach trip from Oxford, and by mid morning our 50 strong contingent of runners and supporters had set up camp and headed off to parade the latest addition to the OUCCC stash collection around the muddy fields of Graves Park. With course recces, spike length analysis and windswept hair braiding complete, Ed Sheeran blaring out the speaker system, and face paint, glitter, ribbons and vuvuzelas in full flow, the stage seemed well and truly set for the 2017 edition of BUCS Cross-Country.

The first race of the day was the Men’s A Race, and following encouraging performances at Cardiff a couple of weeks earlier it was clear that both Luuk Metselaar and Jamie Parkinson had carried this fine form through to BUCS. Both ran incredibly well, mixing it with some of the biggest up-and-coming names in British cross-country and coming home 9th and 11th respectively. This set the A team up for a splendid 4th place finish overall. A close internal battle between John Spill (56th) and Dan Mulryan (59th) closed the scoring team, whilst Miles Chandler came through strongly behind in 100th. Despite the somewhat heartbreaking fact that our minty green rivals took team bronze in the absence of several key dark blue names, it is something worth celebrating in Oxbridge unity that we filled two of the top four spots, and a combined team would have placed second only to St. Mary’s.

Onto the second race of the day – the Women’s Race – in which OUCCC had the third largest team behind only Birmingham and Loughborough, with an unprecedented 23 ladies competing. Bethanie Murray kept things interesting with a pre-race blood injury, but medical attention from the official First Aid officer, (“I bet Laura’s got a plaster in her bag”) soon had her on the way to the start line and ready to lead Oxford home in 21st place. Beth was followed by equally impressive performances from Helen Record in 47th and Emma DeCamp in 67th. Next in was newcomer Madeleine Turner, who burst onto the post-Varsity scene with a 74th place finish and in doing so unknowingly signed herself up for, “all future races for us from now on”, (Kyle 2k17). Captain Helene Greenwood was next in 108th, followed by Natalie Beadle (129th) and Becky Robinson (131st). Continuing her upwards trajectory since the start of the year, a sprint finish from Georgie Bingham saw her take 141st just ahead of Cecilie Andersen in 143rd. Kennagh Marsh and Rachel Skokowski were the next two home, followed by one lap track specialist Aileen Kearney, who produced the finish of the day as she used her 400m speed to fly down the final hill and pass an unsuspecting tab in the process. Tilly Woods, Liv Will, Lucy Farquhar, Kathy Peters, Rebecca Pullon, Anna Sharp, Olivia Hawe, Charlotte Robinson, Abi Witts, Kathy Page and Hannah Burrows completed a fantastic showing from the Oxford women.

Last to toe the infamous BUCS start line were the athletes for the Men’s B Race. Oliver Paulin led proceedings for OUCCC in this one with an excellent 30th place finish, and Alex Gruen was not too far behind in 44th. James Sewry (64th), Peter DeWeirdt (65th), Jed Marshall (76th), Mayank Agrawal (97th) and Noah Hurton (100th) were the next group home, all making the top 100. James Collins, Max Schwiening, Rahil Sachak-Patwa, Sam Garforth and Lawrence Percival completed the three strong Oxford teams and all finished well inside the top two thirds of the race.

With the races done and dusted we made our way to the hotel in search of showers and non muddy shoes, and then onto a rather nice (ie. crew date rules probably not acceptable) curry house. Despite being highly confused that Luke was not Libby, refusing to allow an order of side dishes without a main course, and insisting we leave without a trace by 7pm, our Indian friends sent us on our way suitably refuelled. Next stop was back to the Jury’s Inn, where the other hotel guests (including Christofi in the room above) were treated to a full cover to cover performance of the OUCCC songbook, featuring some stunning solos from Chris DBJ Martin and Jamie Leprechaun Parkinson. Once pre-Varsity poetry and plenty of other classics had been exhausted it was time to hit the pubs, and eventually clubs, of Sheffield. The events that unfolded over the following hours (until 5am for some) are of course far too extensive to detail in their entirety here, but highlights included resident Sheffield man Aidan taking everyone to see what, “proper northern pubs are like”, Lucy and Pot clocking an impressive 1am 10 minute tempo between clubs, and LC seeing his dreams crushed yet again but still managing to record a solid 9 miles on Strava.

The following morning provided perhaps the most impressive performance of the weekend, as DBJ and Jamie, not content with having run back from the race as a cool down the previous afternoon, embarked on a 15 mile adventure in some kind of strange attempt to ward off a hangover. Many others also embraced the traditional morning-after-the-after-party run and by 9:30am we were all sharing stories over a well earned multiple course breakfast before saying our goodbyes to the north and heading on our way. Thanks to Sheffield for hosting, to Rachel for organising and to Kyle for making the trip up to support us at another memorable weekend for OUCCC.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall