The Hare and Hounds braved the cold and the gloom last Saturday in order to battle it out on the Cuppers cross country course. With the Varsity match looming ever closer, this competition was no ordinary Cuppers race; claws well and truly came out, as this was the final opportunity for the Cambridge runners to display their form before team selection. Indeed, with tensions running painstakingly high, the Hare and Hounds left everything they had on the winding, autumnal paths of Wandlebury Country Park.
Gutsy performances were particularly rife in the men’s race last Saturday, in which tactics were tested on the 10.5 kilometre course. Beginning with an unusually slow first lap, James Hoad led the boys out in an incredible display of strength and stamina. Whilst the quickening pace in the latter stages of the course saw Hoad lose his lead, he was not to be deterred; finishing in 7th place in a time of 33:30, Hoad’s performance was a full 3 minutes faster than his run on the same course last year. Undeniably, Hoad’s run was one of the most impressive of the day, and displayed exactly the determination that the Hare and Hounds will strive to replicate in Oxford.
Victory in the men’s race, however, was ultimately claimed by Alex Short, in a swift time of 32:28. Crossing the line 30 seconds before anybody else, Short built on his impressive earlier performances at the RAF Match and in the Met League, to prove that he might just be in the shape of his life. If he can be kept from being selected for Great Britain in the European Cross Country Trials this weekend, Short will make an indispensable component of the Blues Varsity team.
Further gutsy performances were displayed in the men’s race by Will Ryle-Hodges and Sean Pohorance, who finished in second and third respectively to secure their own places on the Blues team. In fourth, it was excellent to see club captain Matt Leach return from injury in good form, finishing in 33:15 – just 4 seconds off the pace of his run at Cuppers last year.
The women’s race was similarly exciting. With the standard of the Cambridge girls this year being particularly strong, and with only 12 selected positions up for grabs on the Varsity teams, tensions were sky high on the start line. The 6 kilometre course was first completed by the incredible Lucy Gossage, who crossed the line in 22:30. Gossage, who happens also to be the UK Ironman Champion, finished with more than a 45 second lead, and safely secured her place on the Blues Varsity team. Further places on the Blues team were awarded to Rebecca Moore, Liz Mooney and Holly Page, who finished second, third and fourth respectively.
More contested, however, was the competition for the positions of sixth through to eighth, which saw the jostling of Lauren Major, Katy Hedgethorne and Megan Wilson throughout the race. Ultimately, fresher Major put in an outstanding performance to claim sixth place in 24:07, whilst Hedgethorne settled a summer-long rivalry by just slipping in front of women’s captain Wilson in the closing stages of the race. Whilst the strength of these three girls secured them places on the seconds Varsity team, similarly swift performances from Rosie Talbot and Carrie Beadle, in eleventh and twelfth place, were just missed out of selection. That Talbot and Beadle’s times would easily have led to Varsity selection on previous years, is truly indicative of the depth of talent in Cambridge’s female runners this year.
So who won Cuppers? In the men’s race, a hefty turnout of Christ’s runners – helped no end by the strong performances of James Hoad, Lorcan Murphy and Su-Min Lee – led to their victory. In the women’s, three solid runs from Holly Page, Chloe Beckett and Emma Elston made Homerton victorious – emphasising the Homerton ladies’ already sizeable lead in the College League series.
The standard at Cuppers this year was incredibly high, with all five of the selected teams, as well as the two unselected teams, looking to be quite exceptional. In two weeks’ time, the Hare and Hounds will meet their nemesis on the hilly fields of Shotover. If Cuppers has suggested anything, it’s that Cambridge will provide Oxford with determined, gutsy and relentless competition. Whether Oxford can match this is another question entirely.