Blues Varsity Report 2018

On the final Saturday of Michaelmas, the Oxford and Cambridge cross country clubs descended on Wimbledon Common for the Cross Country Varsity Match.

The action for the day kicked off with the traditional ‘old gits’ races. Former OUCCC Club Captain Miles Chandler warrants a special mention for storming to the top spot in the Men’s race, although Cambridge took the overall victory 91-158 with their strength in numbers.

In the first of the Varsity matches for the day, the Blues women took to the course to tackle a grueling 4-mile loop. This race was the first where the women competed with teams of 8, up from 7 in previous years to match the numbers in the men’s race. Both blues races are just a single lap, which makes it incredibly difficult for spectators to see all the action so we got reports from runners in both races to see how they played out.

Charlotte Dannatt (the eventual silver medalist!) recalls the women’s race:

‘The race started fairly briskly with people starting to slow before the bottleneck into the woods en route to the water jump (which this year was a river at least 12 feet wide and some 3 feet deep). Post river crossing a small pack of 2 Cambridge Runners, Alex Shipley and I broke away. This group dropped down to just two tabs and myself after about a mile which was pretty handy for the ascents and descents on narrow paths. Nearing the half way point, Nancy (Cambridge) and I had a decent gap on third place and a reasonable one on the majority of the field. I was just focusing on trying to stick on her shoulder and not let the space between us stretch, aided by the tremendous support from current and past Oxford athletes.’

‘Our gap continued to grow as we hit the fastest flat point of the course, but the terrain was far wetter, muddier and slippier than the previous year, making this part of the course more challenging. At one point, when I was slightly ahead, I thought I was going to take the win but coming down the last hill with about a half mile to go Nancy passed me and produced a small but significant gap. I continued to push to the line, closing the gap slightly but didn’t quite have enough to take her and clinch victory. Turning around I watched a stream of tabs come through before our next runner and knew that it was likely we wouldn’t be the victorious side this year.’

Cambridge were announced the winners in the women’s race (46 -33) but that should take nothing away from one of the strongest women’s teams Oxford have fielded in recent years. A special mention must also go to our contributor Charlotte for her outstanding run which landed her a silver medal, as well as Eleanor Bolton who overcame the heartbreak of being blues reserve last year to finish 6th and be the second Oxford runner over the line. The Oxford depth was also outstanding with Alex Shipley, Flo Scrafton, Anna Sharp, Laura John and Hannah Plaschkes all packing well and completing Oxford’s scoring team before Cambridge’s 6th runner – unfortunately, Cambridge had done the damage with 4 of the first 5 runners in.

So, with one match left to race, the overall Varsity Cross Country series was tied at 3-all. It all came down to the 128th Gentleman’s Match. 7.5 miles of brutal and lonely racing on the common. Tim Harrison recounts the ordeal:

‘Cambridge controlled the pace from the start with Phil Crout (Cambridge) leading through the water jump, although this may have been impacted by an early fall from Tim Lefroy (Oxford). George Gathercole (Cambridge) took the lead through the early wooded areas, ignoring shouts from his teammates to slow the pace down. However, as the race developed Oxford’s front men (Lefroy, Parkinson and Millar) emerged and were fully in control of the pace by the second mile. It was around this time that Noah Hurton (Oxford) and 3 of the other Cambridge athletes started to slide off the back of the pack.’

‘Positions were traded along the valley floor as there was no favoured racing lines across logs and ditches, but as the runners ascended the hill to the memorial there was a clear separation developing between the main pack and the back group that had fallen off. The pack gradually split up along the relatively flat section though the front 4 stayed tightly together. Oxford’s middle section seemed to struggle on the hard-packed gravel from miles 3 to 4 with Metselaar, Christofi and myself all sitting outside the top 8 positions.’

‘True to form, as the course hit the tussocky grass behind the windmill, Christofi woke up from his steady start and drove forward through the Cambridge runners. The change in terrain combined with the dark blue cheers drove me and Metselaar onwards. By the start of mile 6 Christofi had passed and dropped Cambridge’s Shreeve, Cox and Crout and was rapidly closing on Ryle Hodges (Cambridge); while Cotter (Oxford) and I sat with Crout (Cambridge). The front quartet of Gathercole, Parkinson, Millar and Lefroy sat tightly packed with the large dark blue presence ensuring that Oxford kept control of the pace and whilst denying Gathercole the best lines. Noah Hurton by this point had dug deep and dropped the 3 Cambridge backmarkers and was reconnecting with Luuk Metselaar. The final steep downhill section with just under a mile and a half to go allowed meant allowed me to pass Ryle-Hodges and extend a small lead on the undulating terrain that followed.’

‘Across the last mile, the front 4 remained tightly packed. However, anyone who bet against the class of Jamie Parkinson was left sorely disappointed as he unleashed his sprint finish, taking victory for the second year in a row. Gathercole narrowly edged out Tim Lefroy on the line leaving Millar comfortably in 4th place. Christofi followed through soon after and I managed to hold off a challenge from Cambridge’s Ryle-Hodges in the last 100m. Next in were another three Cambridge runners with Metselaar closing the Oxford scoring 6 closely followed by Cotter and Hurton not far behind.’

This incredible performance meant Oxford had managed to get all 8 of their team across the line before Cambridge’s scorers (first 6). The 50 – 30 scoreline is a testament to the high-level performance of the men’s team this year and, of course, sealed the Overall 4-3 Varsity Victory for the club. This capped off a fantastic series of races and, although we seem to say it every year (because the standard just keeps on improving), the standard of this series of Varsity matches was among the highest anyone at the club can recall.

We’d also like to thank our sponsors Neptune for helping us over several years to make events like The Varsity Match possible.


Charlotte Dannatt, St John’s College, and Tim Harrison, Keble College
-Adapted from the Blue Bird:
-Photos by Helene Greenwood and Claire Hammett


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, University College, OUCCC Club Captain

2018 OUCCC Pre-Season September Training Camp

Each year OUCCC organises a Pre-Season Training Camp in mid- or late September, a few weeks before the start of Michaelmas Term in order to get reacquainted with miles, hills and each other. For sure one of the highlights of the OUCCC calendar, incoming Fresher, Daniel Bundred, reports on our 2018 Pre-Season September Training Camp.

From September 13th-18th, this year’s camp was hosted at Gibside Stables, a long way north of the Pret-Greggs border. Still, this did not seem to hamper attendance as ­­­­­­­­­OUCCC turned up in force. Gibside Stables provided us with a wealth of scenic routes and the group wasted no time in making use of them with a variety of runs on Thursday evening. Extreme Pictionary made its return, albeit with the Yeti being transformed into a “caveman driving a Bentley”.

Friday began with a trip to a local pool, followed in the afternoon by an easy out and back along the Derwent Walk local disused railway trail and Dutty’s core session (complete with Paulin’s timing/commentary). Friday evening saw Paulin’s famous chicken curry before the arrival of Joe Dugdale.

Woodsy then went on to join Noah, Tim and Aidan at the Simonside Fell race on Saturday, with the latter two claiming 3rd and 1st place respectively, but not before Dutty became first finisher at this week’s Gibside parkrun, missing out on the course record by a mere 21s! There were solid performances also from Connor, Helene, Claire and Ellen with the ladies acquiring an impressive 1,2,3! The rest of us began our session an hour later with 1 mile tempo followed by 2 or 3 each of 4 and 2 minute efforts. After more running that afternoon, we assembled for pizza in the café at 18:00. Unfortunately, two dozen pizza orders proved too much for the National Trust to handle and the alcohol consumed by the time they had arrived at 20:00 laid the foundations for the events of later that night. More on that from our Social Secretary: Tim Harrison.

Sunday morning featured some impressive mileage nonetheless, with all except Woodsy surviving unscathed. There was a well navigated 10 miles around Chopwell woods as well as a 14 mile 1474ft run through the Pennines from Stanhope. Sunday afternoon was spent proving you’re never too old for the low ropes, with Dutty, Sam and Dani finding new ways to make the course more challenging. Sunday was quiz night, with Woodsy and Paulin taking us through a wealth of OUCCC trivia from how to be a supple leopard to last year’s Varsity results.

On Monday, there was more swimming, along with several morning and afternoon runs. Those who didn’t go swimming enjoyed a few games of hats, featuring Dutty’s “savagery” and an impressive number of references to Garforth given his absence. The evening featured an OUCCC singalong inc top hits such as “Luuuuk Metselaaar!!!!!!!!!!!” and “No Sympathy For Oli Paulin”.

Before leaving on Tuesday it was time for our second session. 2 miles at tempo followed by a pyramid (30,60,90,120,90,60,30 [1’’ jog]). The session was well run by all and marked the end of a successful 6 days of training; well done to all!

An enormous thank you to all those who helped organise the camp. In particular to Club Captain Helene Greenwood and Men’s Captain Oliver Paulin for their tremendous efforts in organising the camp! Thanks also to all those who helped ferry people to/from the station, those who helped produce copious amounts of wonderful food, those who baked beforehand and indeed to everyone who came for making all the Freshers feel so welcome and for sharing so much useful advice. A huge thank you also to Lesley Byrant for travelling all the way up north to administer deep tissue therapy as well as a fantastic workshop on Friday.

-Daniel Bundred, St John’s College