Inter-club races

The Chariots of Fire Relays

With the end of summer and the track season finished, attention turns all too quickly back to cross-country. The Chariots of Fire Relay, around the last week of September, is a good stepping stone during the transition. Organised by people of the city, the course is less than two miles along the Backs and through the town centre, specially purged of pedestrians and tourists for the occasion.

Teams contain six runners, and can be mixed or single sex, with many categories for the winning of prizes. Cambridge usually enter one ladies’ and one men’s team, and to date have won every year they did so. The compeition is not stiff – the previous winners from the local army base have been too ashamed to race since we appeared on the scene – but Crofton Paletes must be prevented from winning at all costs. There is also a category for best college: being a charity event it is expensive to enter (around £100), but this is not much shared between a team, and many colleges will contribute towards the cost.

Phil Scard

Manchester University Cross-Country Relays

As the first competitive fixture of the Michaelmas term, the Manchester relays offer a great opportunity for freshers to show what they have. Held over a flat, fast 2 mile loop through the fields and woods of Wythenshawe park and incorporating the popular water jump obstacle across a small stream, this fixture provides the perfect transition from the road/track onto the country. Men’s team complete 6 x 2 miles, whereas the ladies require a team of 3, but with no limit on the number of teams, everyone who wants to can get a run.

The race organisers boast of staging the largest University XC relay in the country and with Student teams (past and present) from all over Britain competing against many local clubs and schools, a field in excess of 60 teams is usual. However, as with all of our fixtures, CUH&H have a strong history of success at Manchester, with both men’s and ladies A teams rarely out of the medals, which due to good sponsorship of the event means some good prizes to be had.

The race is really only the warm up for the main event of the evening party. After refuelling with the delights of the curry mile, much drinking and dancing is interspersed between the beer racing where performances are noted carefully for events later in the term!

Darren Talbot

The RAF Match

Obviously this is run against the RAF, but it is actually a tri-match between the RAF, CUH&H and the Eastern Counties (EAA). The race is hosted by one of the three teams, responsibility being rotated each year.

This race is the first outing of Michaelmas term for the light blue team (other than college races), so it is the first chance for us to show the outside world what we’re made of. There is no limit on numbers in this race, so anyone who wants to race for Cambridge can do so.

At the front, the standard is high with some of the best runners from across the region, and the team race is always closely contested. But this race also gives the chance for all abilities to race against people of similar standard.

It is a great way to get involved in the Cambridge team and increase the team spirit in the build up to the varsity matches, and it is always an enjoyable day out.

Richard Hewitt

Mob Match

Although the name might suggest a football-fuelled frenzy of hooligans, the Mob Match is in fact a very respectable fixture. “Mob” refers to the fact that everyone (ladies, gents, first, second, third, …. nth teams) starts the race together in one mass start. Hosted by Thames Hare and Hounds (the oldest X-country club in England) on Wimbledon Common, the Mob course follows the historic Varsity Match route for most of the way. As such, it is an important indicator of form for team selections. Better still, it is a thrilling mixture of woodland, mud, and hills that epitomises what X-country running is all about. There is also a tradition that at least one runner should knock themselves out trying to demolish a tree with his/her head, though it up to you whether you embrace this opportunity!

Emma Pooley

The Varsity Matches

There are seven Varsity Match team races in total, 4 for men and 3 for women. Of all the races in Michaelmas term, they are by far the most important.

The seven races are divided between two separate occasions. The men’s 2nds – 4ths and the women’s 2nd and 3rd team races take place on the Saturday at the end of the penultimate week of Michaelmas term. The venue alternates between Shotover Country Park in Oxford and Wandlebury/St Neot’s Priory Park in Cambridge. The men’s and women’s 1st team (aka Blues) races are hosted by Thames Hare & Hounds on the Saturday at the end of Michaelmas term. They take place on neutral territory on Wimbledon Common in London.

Teams and Scoring

Here are two charts summarising the teams and races:


Team Team name Number of Members Number to score
Cambridge Oxford
1st Blues Blues
2nd Spartans Tortoises
3rd Barbarians Snails



Team Team name Number of Members Number to score
Cambridge Oxford
1st Blues Blues
2nd Cheetahs Turtles
3rd Gazelles


The scoring system in all the selected races is simple: add up the positions of each of your scoring runners and the team with the smallest total wins.
The Blues and the men’s 2nds and 3rds, are separate races (8 against 8). The men’s 4ths and the ladies’ 3rd team races allow unlimited numbers of athletes and so everyone will get to race in a Varsity Match team. We can not understate how important
it is to get as many people out on the course as possible.

* Scoring for the Mens’ 4ths and the Ladies’ 3rds. Read this carefully and it might just make sense.
The scoring is done as in all other matches, but only the number of athletes in the smaller team are counted. Say your heroic light blue side enter 100 to the dark blues meek 50. The first 50 cambridge athletes score, and all the Oxford athletes would also score. The caveat of this system is that if an Oxford runner finishes last he/she will score the full 150 points so we need every face we can muster!

2nds – 4ths Varsity Match

By the end of the Michaelmas term Cambridge cross-country folk are getting restless. Weeks’ worth of anti-Oxford banter has stoked the flames of Varsity passion, and our thirst for Dark Blue blood is becoming unbearable. With the rage welling up inside, there is only one way to satisfy our needs (and thus save the world from a bunch of crazed students in singlets). The season climaxes in two cross-country battles against Oxford: the Blues race on the last weekend of term, and the 2nds – 4ths contest the preceding Saturday. As the name suggests, “2nds – 4ths” is a chance for those runners in the 2nd team and below to take on, and vanquish, their evil Oxford counterparts.Are you sitting comfortably? Good – then I’ll begin…

Eight men compete in each of the 2nd and 3rd teams, with the 4ths being open to anyone who is brave enough to wear indecently short shorts in a
public place. The Men’s 2nds are called the Spartans and the 3rds are called the Barbarians and both are separate races (eight against eight). Their Oxford counterparts are appropriately named the Tortoises and the Snails respectively. The ladies’ 2nd team comprises 8 so-called “cheetahs”, who race separately to the open 3rd team. Hosted alternately by Oxford and Cambridge, the annual event is followed by a night of wild entertainment and general carnage… After a friendly post-race curry we scamper off to the dance floor and strut our funky stuff. It is custom for the host team to mix up buckets of filthy (yet free) cocktail, fuel for the groove.

The final contest of the day rears its ugly head in the form of a “boat race” between Light and Dark Blues. The club’s hardest drinkers go head-to-head in a dash to the bottom of their beers, whilst the rest watch on in stunned awe/pity. Delightful.

Alcohol aside, 2nds – 4ths is the peak towards which we climb in the first term, a clear focus for training and one of the real highlights of the racing year. If you love cross-country, this one’s for you.

Believe the hype.

Andy Bell

Blues Varsity Match

It’s Saturday afternoon. Michaelmas term has just come to an end and it will soon be Christmas. The winter evening twilight outside already seems to be descending on South London…

Small crowds are gathering around a club house next to some rugby pitches. This could be any minor local sporting event. But it isn’t. There is an air of anticipation for in fact, this is Wimbledon Common and this is the big one. Everyone there knows how much the Blues match means and everyone feels the tension. The scores are close and the ancient rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford burns as strongly as ever. Who will be victorious this year?

Being selected for the Blues is a fantastic achievement. It puts you into the cream of Oxbridge running talent. You will be representing your University at the highest level in one of the oldest racing fixtures in the world (the first Gentlemen’s Varsity Match was in 1880). You will, quite literally, be following in the footsteps of great athletes such as Roger Bannister, Chris Brasher, Herb Elliott, Bruce Tulloh, Richard Nerurkar and Stephanie Cooke, to name but a few.

They all ran their hearts out on that course. And what a course. The ladies’ is 4 miles and the Gentlemen’s is 7 1/2. Who could forget the water-jump, the toast-rack, the butts? All names that you’ll certainly never forget once you’ve run through them.

No doubt you came through adversity in your preparation. Perhaps you were rocked by frustrating illness or injury. Yet months of training have left you in superb condition or you wouldn’t have made it. Now is the time to forget about all of that. It’s not about that.

There may be individual scores to settle and you may be awarded a Blue for your performance in the race. But it is not about personal glory either.

On the day it is about racing in it’s purest form. It is about racing for Cambridge like there’s no tomorrow. Cherish it. There won’t be many more opportunities.

And when it’s all over, victory secured, more fun begins. There’s always a kicking Black Tie dinner and party. This will include a boat race hopefully providing a great opportunity to rub salt into their wounds.

Don’t forget: if you are not competing, you are still needed. Go watch and support. It is spectacular.

Ben Hope

Cambridgeshire County Cross Country Championships

A new year and a new opportunity to pick up the cross-country campaign where you left off after Varsity. This event can take place anywhere in the County so it’s a good guarantee that the course will be on the flat side. The top 6-8 finishers in each race are selected to represent Cambridgeshire in the UK Intercounties Championships in March.

A note of caution: If you have previously run in your home county’s championships then you should continue to do so or ask your county manager to consider you for Intercounty team selection if it’s run after you’ve come back to Cambridge. Running in the Cambridgeshire Champs will render you ineligible to represent your home county in the same cross-country season. To be eligible to represent Cambridgeshire you must have lived continuously in the county for nine months.

The Cambridgeshire County Secretary can be contacted from here.

Owain Bristow

Southern Counties Cross Country Championships

This event is an excellent sharpener for BUCS and is really not to be missed if you’re a fan of the traditional cross-country course and running in outrageously huge fields. It all happens every year, usually at the legendary Parliament Hill in London on a gruelling circuit that is likely to leave you muddy, breathless and grateful that you put in all those hill sessions! Be warned though, the Senior Men run over the old school distance of nine miles. Better make the most of your junior years…

You can compete in this event for either CUH&H or your home club, if it’s affiliated to SEAA (South of England Athletics Association).

Owain Bristow

BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sports) Cross-Country

Officially the BUCS cross-country champs are the pinnacle of the winter season. A chance for Cambridge runners to race against their compatriots from other universities, to see which university/student is top dog, to see how good we really are.

But that is only half the story.

For some there is the chance of national glory, we regularly challenge for both individual and team medals. Others may be out there to thump
mates from other universities, to race for the sake of racing, to generally go out there and cause havoc.

But BUCS is also about having one hell of a weekend. As a club we travel across Britain with our pre-race banter, we swamp the races in a sea of
light blue vests, we scream our lungs out supporting, bask in the glory of those who do good, eat, drink and dance the night away. Then we return to Cambridge very very satisfied.

BUCS – for many the major racing aim of the winter season, for all a weekend not to be missed.

Rowan Hooper

Hyde Park Relays

The Hyde Park Relays are an annual student road running relay first held in 1949, organised by Imperial College Cross Country Club and attracting
students from across Europe. The venue for the relays is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, winding around the Serpentine lake and down to Hyde
Park Corner (for the men). The men’s relay consists of 6 legs, each 5.153 km; the women’s relay consists of 4 legs, each 3.355 km. The course is
relatively flat and fast, providing a great opportunity for CUH&H PBs. The light blues have recorded some impressive team and individual
performances over the history of this event. D. M. Turner ran the fastest relay leg a total of six times, making him the most successful individual in the Hyde Park Relay’s history. Other Cambridge runners have appeared in the top ten fastest individuals each year, thereby ensuring strong team performances and some race hardware.

While the total number of competitors exceeded 1000 in 1988, the relays have also attracted other athletes of international repute. Herb Elliot
participated in 1962, and David Moorcroft shared the course record in 1976. While Sebastian Coe ran the fastest leg in 1978, Hugh Jones set the current lap record of 13:12 in 1980.The Hyde Park Relays – compete against the best and become a part of racing history.John LewandowskiNational Cross Country ChampionshipsThe older, cooler brother of the Southern, this features more of the same testing terrain and even more runners who will have travelled from up and down the country to be beaten by you. The venue varies on an annual basis between the South, North and Midlands. In recent years it has been held in Leeds, Birmingham and London.Most people tend to run for their home club in this event. But if you don’t have one then you can run for the Cambridge University. Due to a quirk in the rules you must be entered in the Southern to do the National, even if you have no intention of running the former! But the Club Secretary will happily take care of all of that.Past results can be found here.Owain BristowVarsity Field Events and Relays (VFEAR)Okay, no beating around the bush, this isn’t a cross-country its track. If you’re a middle-distance athlete who has been using our training to build-up your stamina during the winter (which works rather well, just ask a couple of guys called Seb and Steve…) then this event is a good chance to sharpen up your speed before the full summer season begins.The location alternates between Cambridge and Oxford every year, with teams of athletes taking part in a variety of bizarre, little-run relays with some heavy objects thrown in for good measure. For the CUH&H guys there is a 4×1500 and 4×800, and for the girls a 3×800 and a medley relay (600,1600,1200,800). In all cases guest teams can run alongside the varsity teams.Further details and past results can be found on the CUAC website.Owain BristowTeddy Hall RelaysA great race to finish off the season with ultimate flair. This relay event, around the town (its not yet prestigious enough to be a city) of a mediocre cross-country team, provides an excellent venue for a warm up to the track season. At around 3 miles per leg with men’s teams comprising of four runners and women’s three, although it means having to go to Oxford, this trip is well worth making.Starting and finishing at the University’s athletics track, which has – to be fair – seen several pretty awesome athletes do their stuff in its time, the race is a great finale to the Lent term. The race is against other uni’s from across the country and everyone is welcome to compete, as we can enter several teams.The downside of the day is, of course, the 6 hour round trip on the infamous chunder bus!James MasonParis RelaysYou’ve spent Michaelmas and Lent proving Cambridge’s domination over all Britain, now it’s time to take on Europe.French, Spaniards, Dutch, Germans, Italians, Russians, and of course the Brits abroad. Travel in style (some dirt cheap airline) to Paris, free accomodation and food (not as generous as it sounds) at the Ecole Centrale, a beautful relay course around the grounds of a chateau, and
then crack open the beers for the party to end all parties. Put 300 students together in a foreign country and the inevitable happens –
‘Eurobang’. The music stops when the last person leaves the dance floor, but not before the infamous 4x400m relay (if you want to know why it’s infamous, you’ll have to go and see for yourself).It’s cheap (no matter how much you drink – this is France), it’s a great laugh, and depending on the night before, you get to spend time sightseeing in one of Europe’s greatest cities (having just proved we ARE Europe’s greatest university).Finish your season in style – vive le Cambridge!Phil ScardIsle of Man Easter Athletics FestivalA three day running festival in the Isle of Man, and a chance to whip out the now famous pink vests. A 10km road race on Good Friday, and hill race near an ancient castle on Saturday capped of with a 5km road relay on Easter Sunday. Regularly destroying full grown better drinking teams with our pace, power and persistance, the iom festival is not to be missed.Roman Road RunThis is the last competitive race of the cross-country season. Posing each year as a (rather literal) warm-up for the club’s Annual Dinner., it is traditionally held on the last weekend of the Lent term. Several features of the Roman Road Run contribute to its famed status and render it a fitting end to the muddy part of the year:

  • The course is a bit of a Titan. Stretching out over 9.5 miles, it dwarfs our other cross-country fixtures in terms of distance and can come as a bit of a surprise when you’ve been easing off on the old training.
  • It doesn’t look like much of a Roman road. It’s far from being the straight, flat, effortless ride you might imagine; the route winds back and forth like an angry serpent, plunging through foul bogs and sucking at your helpless road-running shoes with its muddy lips. There’s also a surprising amount of undulation, and the terrain is definitely unsuitable for chariots.
  • We are treated to a thrilling staggered start, in that four or five groups of runners are set off with 5-minute intervals between them. Interestingly, everyone gets to pick their own handicap; this doesn’t affect the final results (as the finishing times are all adjusted to account for this devilish scheme) but it does lend an atmosphere of excitable confusion to proceedings, with runners drifting back and forth through the field and no one ever quite sure of what position they’re really in. It also gives more casual participants the chance to take on and beat the cream of Cambridge athletics in a cataclysmic clash of egos. All in all a rather fabulous idea, what what.

Amongst the competitors in this ancient contest, one generally finds a horde of eager beavers from Cheshire Tally Ho and the Thames Hare and Hounds, and in the past even arch-enemy Oxford has been invited to take part. It is a most sociable gathering of like-minded souls, and after the run we are bussed back to Cambridge for a spot of light refreshment at the track pavilion. Then it’s back to college for some showering and sprucing, as the social event of the year – the Annual Dinner – looms large overhead.Andy BellInter-CountiesThe Inter-Counties acts as the selection event for the World Cross Country Championships in alternating (odd) years (think of it as Cuppers UK). The races are held in the spacious grounds of Cofton Park on a course that is mildly hilly and tends to hold up pretty well in the face of bad weather. At least until the senior men race anyway?In order to qualify to compete you must usually finish within the top eight in your county championships in January. Make no mistake this is a tough race, as it should be with GB vests at stake. The men run for 12km and the ladies have 8km to contend with, so unless you want your five seconds of fame on Sky TV, don’t be tempted to sprint up the first hill!

Owain Bristow