For members of Cambridge University Hare & Hounds, the transition from Varsity at the end of Michaelmas to BUCS at the start of Lent is a strange one. Race-sizes swell from the mid-teens to three hundred odd; vests are no longer white or blue, but a myriad of pinks, purples, oranges and greens; the steely dark-blue-crushing mentality that typifies Varsity matches dissolves into what is more formally termed a ‘banter race’.
But that’s not to say there’s nothing to run for. The men’s A team having been narrowly squeezed out of the medals in Brighton last year wanted revenge. The women, despite missing several of their big-game runners, had a winning Varsity record to defend (spoiler: they smashed it). In the men’s B race, there were rivals to beat, elbows to avoid, and nosebleeds not to be had (Francis). Above all, I think, BUCS is about reminding yourself how much fun a proper cross-country race really is.
11:30am, Saturday 6th February. The rain lashed down on a wind-swept, litter-strewn bog in Gloucester. The queue for port-a-loos stretched back into oblivion, and Ed Gazeley’s chat was already starting to grate. Needless to say, levels of fun were on the low side.
Not to be dispirited, the men’s A team began their pre-race preparations. Paddy Roddy, scout leader that he is, got lost on his warm-up, and was tasked with a brisk sprint to the start-line. Many (myself included) were queueing for the toilet as he claxon sounded, missing the sight of several hundred runners hounding their way to a treacherously narrow U-bend.
The course, although flat, was relentlessly muddy, and included a knee-deep pool of water to wade through and several tight turns to negotiate. The men’s A team performed extremely well on a demanding 10km course. Kelvin Gomez lead the sestet home in 17th place (his highest finish ever at BUCS cross-country), closely followed by Ollie Fox in 23rd a remarkable achievement for a first year. Phil Crout achieved his top 40 goal (coming 40th), and Paddy Roddy turned the screw on a certain Oxfordian in the closing stages, finishing in 54th. George Gathercole, another fresher on his BUCS debut, ran well to finish 86th. Josh Carr (who self-identifies as one of life’s winners) pulled out short of the line, overcome by mud-less visions of America. They finished 6th overall, an incredibly impressive feat when considering the running prowess of some of the UK’s other university teams.
The women’s race was the largest of the day, with just over 500 runners taking on the 6km course. Emily Ruane backed up her Blues Match victory with a strong 42nd place finish. She was followed by first year Lizzy Apsley (47th), who has running well all season. Completing the scoring team was Ruby Woolfe (93rd), who appears to be in great shape for the London Marathon in April. The team placed 10th overall; beating Oxford has become something of a formality.
The men’s B competition, traditionally dominated by under-worked and over-trained athletes from St. Mary’s, was the last on the agenda, leaving a thoroughly churned-up course for those left to race. Fresher MacGregor Cox, powered by Soreen, dipped inside the top 20. He was followed by good packing from Eliot Nevill (47th), David Buglass (56th), and Petros Giannaros (59th), who completed the scoring team.
Having braved treacherous conditions, jostled round narrow bends, and dragged their way through ponds of water, I’m sure everyone will agree that BUCS was certainly a rewarding experience. The strong showings from first year students suggest that CUHH are to have many prosperous years ahead of them. Thanks are due to Emma Elston for organising a great weekend away.
Onwards to Nationals, and yet more mud!