Saturday January 31st highlighted the biggest date in the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds calendar for Lent Term: BUCS. After the long-haul trip up to Stirling last year, the club were relived to be taking the considerably shorter journey down to Brighton. Having missed out narrowly on medals in Scotland, both men’s and women’s teams were keen for a podium finish down on the South coast. Even after a good few weeks of training in Cambridge, this was always going to be a tough challenge against the heavyweight universities, with Birmingham and St Mary’s posing the stiffest opposition. With most runners heading down South on Friday, a carb-heavy meal was in order; Â£10 worth of hearty Italian cuisine later, Travelodge beckoned in preparation for Saturday’s race.
BUCS cross-country splits the men’s competition into two races, with six runners from each university being selected for the A race (where the first four runners for each team score) and the rest entering a 450-strong B race (again with top four to score). The women, on the other hand, all compete in a single event (with only three to score). The competition was held at Stanmer Park which meant several decently-sized hills peppered across the course but – perhaps posing a greater threat – an obscenely muddy surface thanks to a week of heavy rain. Cross-country at its finest.
First up was the men’s A race, which was likely to provide the best chances of medals for CUH&H. Alex Short lead the team out and found himself in the front pack of runners; as the race spread out he continued to run strongly, completing the 12km course in 8th place with a time of 39:57, a great achieved when battling against some of the country’s finest runners. Captain Lewis Lloyd and Kelvin Gomez ran alongside each other for much of the race, before Lloyd got the final edge over the Gilbraltan; the two finished in 24th (41:11) and 28th (41:15) respectively. Alex Milne ran well to come in just behind in 34th (41:36) to complete the team’s overall score. James Chettle (61st and 42:42) and Phil Crout (82nd and 43:54) were Cambridge’s 5th and 6th runners.
It was always going to come down to the wire, but heartbreakingly the men’s A team found themselves fall agonisingly short in the race for a bronze medal, missing out to Loughborough by a mere two points and St Mary’s (who finished second) by only nine. To put this in context, the team in fifth place were 54 points behind Cambridge. Tough though this was to take, the team should take a huge amount of satisfaction in narrowly losing out to universities who pride themselves on rearing top-end runners. Fourth best university team in the country is still nothing to be sniffed at, and on top of this, they managed to avenge their Varsity defeat to Oxford in some style, finishing 149 points ahead of their dark blue rivals.
The women’s race was next on the agenda, tackling a 6.4km course. Liz Mooney – who has had an excellent season so far – ran extremely well to finish 15th (24:38) against a quality field of runners (amongst whom was Commonwealth Games finalist, Jessica Judd). Katherine Turner continued her impressive return from injury to finish 24th (24:50), closely followed by Emily Shearer in 24th (25:20) who completed the scoring for the women’s team.
74 points overall meant a fifth place finish, once again behind the impressive outfits of Birmingham, St Mary’s and Loughborough. Importantly, however, was that the team notched a convincing 64 point advantage ahead of the Oxford team, backing up a dominant Varsity display in December.
The men’s B race was the final event scheduled for the day. Although this was predictably dictated by several strong St Mary’s runners at the front, all the Hare and Hounds put in gutsy performances over a course that had deteriorated significantly over the day. Paddy Roddy proved that organising the weekend away was no barrier to putting in a fine performance himself, as he was the first runner home in 21st place, completing the 8km course in 27:57 and earning him ‘Animal of the Week’ status. He overtook Josh Carr on the final lap, who was the second home in 35th place (28:34). Rich Ollington (29:13), another Blues runner, followed in 62nd, and the scoring team (11th overall) was completed by Joe Bowness (70th and 29:53) who will now feel he has made a full return to form. Mention should also go to Ed ‘All Chat’ Gazeley, who is finally managing to pull his weight on the race course as well as the social scene. No wooden spoon for him this year.
So although CUH&H will be disappointed with the lack of BUCS medal to go alongside Varsity glory, the club should be immensely proud of their efforts, running toe-to-toe with some of the best universities Britain has to offer. The team may not have had the Stanmer to win, but certainly had enough to punch well above their weight and cement a status as one of the country’s finest running universities.