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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

Cardiff Cross Challenge 2017: Report

If you have only ever known cross-country the Oxford way, you could be forgiven for thinking that the season runs from mid-August to December. However, despite the best efforts of one of oldest and most prestigious running conventions on the calendar, races do in fact continue into the New Year. Believe it or not, there is life after Varsity. And so on that note a diminished but determined team of dark blue vests (and the tent) travelled to the Cardiff Cross Challenge on January 22nd.

On an otherwise uneventful journey, DBJ (with Noah’s help) managed to prove once and for all that he is from Yorkshire and not Wales, as their questionable navigation to John’s supposed homeland took the minibus via Herefordshire, Somerset and ‘Berkfordshire’. It would seem, however, that Sam and his car took an even more roundabout route as he somehow managed to arrive later than the speed limited vehicle, despite departing earlier. Not that the minibus passengers minded the wait too much – this provided the perfect opportunity to use the luxury toilet facilities at the Cardiff Museum (who even supply their own toilet roll), and consume just the right volume of good quality coffee to reach the LC performance enhancing caffeine limit.

The women were first to toe the start line, with Bethanie Murray leading the way in 16th place, and also claiming individual bronze in the Celtic Cup whilst representing Ireland. Cecile Anderson put in a strong performance in 37th, with Kennagh Marsh, Natalie Beadle and Tilly Woods all finishing close behind in 38th, 40th and 46th respectively. On the men’s side Luuk Metselaar (anyone not singing in their head right now is in denial) finished an impressive 8th, with Jamie Parkinson also running well in 11th on a disappointingly non-muddy course. Luuk and Jamie were backed up by close packing from the rest of the Oxford men, who all finished around halfway through a strong cross challenge field.

Overall some great performances from a depleted team that was not missing the tent (even though it didn’t get used), but was missing some key names. Christofi was the most organised person in Cardiff, despite not being in Cardiff, via proxy as he provided a register for bus driver and stand in team leader Jamie to tick everyone’s names off – a task that was completed diligently and with photo evidence to prove it. Disappointingly the tent was left off of the register, but luckily made it back to Oxford (probably something to do with the fact that it never left the minibus). In search of a blue team to return home with (as opposed to the green one she arrived with), Bethanie was incorrectly directed to ‘the portaloos’, which weren’t actually Portaloos®, but everybody breathed a sigh of relief as by some miracle she managed to find the bus and avoid abandonment in Wales.

Having chosen not to race in Cardiff, Grumpy Howie was called out for his name-defining personality trait at an athletics workshop, although one can perhaps forgive his mood upon realisation that if he had taken part in the race he would have finished 2nd, according to a recently discovered, fully reliable, mathematically accurate, and logically sound formula known as the “1 minute per mile rule” – you heard it here first.

Congratulations to all who ran. Thanks to Kyle for his continued support and to the drivers for getting everyone (and the tent) across the border and back in one piece. Next stop, Sheffield, where Luke will be taking on the challenge of topping Jamie’s toll bridge and car parking expenditure with a simple taxi ride. Not to be missed.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall

European XC Champs 2016: Report

OUCCC was extremely proud to have two members competing in the 2016 European Cross-Country Championships in Chia, Sardinia. With an impressive third place finish at the Liverpool Cross Challenge and trial race, where less than 30 seconds separated the top eight U23 men, William Christofi secured his place on the Great Britain team. Meanwhile over in Ireland Bethanie Murray became national champion to ensure her name was on the start list for the U23 women’s event.

On race day in the Italian sunshine it was Bethanie up first, competing over 6.1km. In typical European cross-country style (ie. with pretty much no resemblance whatsoever to British cross-country), the course consisted of a fast and furious 1500m loop with man-made ramps, hay bale jumps and not a speck of mud in sight. Despite the unfamiliar terrain Bethanie performed well, achieving multiple middle distance PBs on route to 46th place. Perhaps more significantly, the unorthodox course gave Bethanie the opportunity to prove that her feet do in fact lift off the ground when she runs, as she successfully negotiated all necessary obstacles. An international steeple chase vest is surely the next obvious goal.

img-20161211-wa0005Over an equally rapid and competitive 8.1km course, Will performed exceptionally well, finishing in 33rd place individually and winning a bronze medal as part of the GB team. This fantastic achievement was celebrated with a trip to the podium, over-indulgence in a controversial choice of cereal bar, and probably some Latin story time.

Both Bethanie and Will returned to Oxford with tales of a thoroughly enjoyable trip to their first international championships. From beach runs, fancy hotels and crazy after parties to meeting AW cover stars and receiving a whole new wardrobe of team kit, it certainly sounds like an experience neither will forget quickly. And apparently the race was quite good fun too.

Full results can be found here.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall

Blues Varsity 2016: Report

Varsity is special. Described by many as impossible to fully understand until it has been experienced, the cross-country version of this ancient rivalry is no exception and the Blues races are the centrepiece of a day overflowing with history, tradition and nostalgia. From pre-race suits to complex spectating routes, photos with red flowers to pink-vest-wearing Bowers, and muddy water splashing to late night drunken flashing, there are countless quirks associated with the event. As Bethanie explained to this year’s freshers on the eve of their Varsity debuts, “If you have a confused question about tomorrow, the answer is probably tradition”.

We piled onto the coach at half past nine with the Blues and reserves suitably dressed up in outfit one of three for the day, and after a short delay the musical entertainment began. The ‘pump up playlist’ is a well-established coach ritual, designed to do as the name suggests and ensure everybody is suitably hyped on arrival. First up was Two Door Cinema Club, of course, followed by various other classics including a new favourite of LC’s featuring an Italian dessert. Other key track-listings were the PG rated “Fresher Prince Drop Bear”, an out-of-this-world performance of “Dan Fix You Mulryan”, a horrendously stereotypical reminder that Eoghan will in fact never run for the seconds, and one tune that has no doubt been stuck in everyone’s heads getting stronger since that very first rendition.

Amongst all of the karaoke excitement we made considerably faster progress towards our destination than we had done twelve months earlier, and in no time at all had left Archie’s bridge far behind us. French plaiting manoeuvres were conducted with their usual elegance, ribbons were distributed to runners and supporters alike, and Helene’s pink carnations were vetoed in favour of the, you guessed it, traditional red variety.

The first cross-country action of the day was the 25th Old Blues Race. Held alongside the Varsity races every year, this follows the women’s course and participants include recent Blues seeking revenge on old rivals, slightly less recent Blues who just can’t let go, and current Oxbridge students guest running because, well, why not? The former was the case for this year’s leading duo as Tom Frith (Oxford) took the win from Lewis Lloyd (Cambridge) and in doing so reversed the 2013 Men’s Blues result. A strong showing from Cambridge meant they took the overall victory.

At two o’clock Polly Keen, celebrating ten years since her individual victory as a fresher, gave the starting signal for the 41st Ladies’ Race and fourteen white vests set off in search of similar success. By the time they reached the windmill Sophia Saller, Bethanie Murray and Dani Chattenton looked comfortable running side by side in a fine display of dark blue dominance at the front of the race. Lizzie Apsley (Cambridge) ran well in a heavily outnumbered scenario to cling on for as long as possible, but by the time she reached the woods she had been decisively distanced. Feeling confident that they had secured an Oxford 1-2-3 but with no idea what was going on behind, all that was left for the leading trio to do was determine a finishing order. As they emerged from the woods and onto the memorial playing fields for the yet-to-be-named “Blues finish – who wants it?” run in to the line, it was Sophia who took the lead from Bethanie in a bid to prove that you do not need a Strava account to claim possibly the most desirable course record since “Jack Crabtree Sells Avon”. This bid was successful and Sophia, having been denied the honour by a course hiccup two years earlier, finally got her chance to break the tape on the Blues Cross-Country finishing line and add another tankard to her ever expanding collection that already included the full set of podium positions. Last year’s third place finisher Bethanie couldn’t quite match the triathlete’s surprise burst of speed on the home straight but nonetheless pulled out a well-deserved second place to round off a remarkable rise from resident camera-woman-chopper to OUCCC legend and queen of the Varsity tempo.

Sealing the podium clean sweep for good was another multisport and cross-country superstar Dani, having the race of her life when it mattered most to double the third place tankard count on the mantelpiece of 46. Helen Record showed maturity well beyond her cross-country years as she closed all the way to the line, claiming sixth place and more than making up for time lost messing around with a Lacrosse stick. With a late surge Captain Helene Greenwood caught one of the three light blues between herself and Helen to claim a brilliant ninth place and verify once and for all that there is no correlation between nail varnish and race day performance. Hannah Plaschkes finished strongly, in her trademark style, ahead of two Cambridge athletes and in eleventh place – a fantastic performance on home turf. Experienced Blue and model Oxford athlete Sarah McCuaig put in a gutsy run to close the seven-strong contingent in fourteenth place.

An incredible demonstration of talent and team work from the dark blue girls secured them a historic victory, the first for Oxford since 2011. General hysteria ensued in the finishing area as a mixture of disbelief, excitement, relief and a few happy tears spread across the faces of supporters and athletes alike. This was followed by a champagne shower for Kyle, congratulations from friends and family, lots of smiley photographs, and lots more general hysteria. Credit must go to the Cambridge septet who put up a fight on a course they have dominated in recent years, and will no doubt be back stronger in 2017.

Feet firmly back on the ground, it was time to turn attentions to the 126th Gentlemen’s Race. With William Christofi sitting out ahead of international duty, the Oxford boys had recruited Irish hero Eoghan, in the hope that his taste for obnoxiously bright hand-wear might carry him to similar heights as it had his fluorescent-fashion-sense twin and notable absentee from this year’s line-up, the 2015 champion, Mr. Mysterious Unterreiner himself. Back to the race and the boys stayed well bunched for the opening section of the gruelling twelve kilometre battle. By the first passing of the windmill Alex Howard, Jamie Parkinson, Luke Cotter, Eoghan Totten and Luuk Metselaar (dun dun duuuhhh) were all amongst the leading group, with Dan Mulryan, John Spill and Miles Weatherseed looking positive a little further back. Oliver Fox (Cambridge) then pushed on at the front and began to stretch out the field, taking Jamie with him as they rounded the top figure of eight loop, but eventually breaking away. Despite a well-timed, silver medal winning performance from Luke (no doubt inspired by race preview neglect), Cambridge took the victory and should be congratulated for a dominant display of tactics and strength.

Varsity is a special concept but it is also a cruel one. Every single one of the Oxford men gave their absolute all and it was a heart-breaking finale for such a close knit team. Hearts and souls were poured onto that course, but the harsh reality of Varsity is that with the ecstatic joy of victory comes the agonising disappointment of loss.

Life goes on and so does the Blues after-party. Alcohol was consumed, dinner was enjoyed and speeches were made (yes Helene, you did make your speech, and it was amazing). Luke declared his love for MacGregor and then fell asleep, missing out on the ultimate opportunity to find a nice girl. Helene and DBJ tore up the dancefloor, Miles proved his middle distance speed with a triumphant lap of the rugby fields, and Oxford, in the final tradition of the day, spectacularly lost the boat race. As we stood in the chilly midnight air (or downright arctic if you ask LC) waiting for the coach to collect us, and Dani got on a random bus in search of snow, the curtains were closed on another Michaelmas for OUCCC.

It has been a term to remember for Oxford University Cross-Country Club, and Kyle and the club committee deserve huge thanks for their ongoing support and dedication to a thriving community of athletes, team-mates and friends. See you at BUCS.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall