Ekiden Relay 2024

Adam Schaffer | Sunday, June 30th, 2024

On that bright cold day in February 1880, the illustrious founders of our humble club would never have envisaged the profound influence the Hare and Hounds would have on the advancement of Anglo-Japanese relations 144 years later. Yet, on 24 June 2024, the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds proudly and valiantly set forth on their diplomatic mission, competing in the inaugural UK Ekiden relay. The race was the first of its kind to take place in this particular northern hemisphere island nation, and the team was grateful for the support which accompanied a momentous event, enjoying the corporate hospitality of the Financial Times, and parent company Nikkei. Indeed, Maya Hodgson was quick to connect with the CEO of the former on LinkedIn post-race.

The 123km race from O*ford to Windsor saw ten of the Harey’s finest toil along the Thames path against O*ford and Birmingham, amongst a contingent of corporate teams. The scenic surrounds offered no respite from the 26-degree heat and with legs of up to 14km, grave battle with Helios was the order of the day. Certainly, the TSI (tasuki saturation index) had hit 100% by the time this author was handed the sash on leg 9. Pre-race nerve/excitement/dread computations were countervailed by the perceived NARPiness of solo running along the river with bum-belts, carbon plates, and a baby pink sash.

Jumping James “JAckland” Ackland got the Hareys underway with a flying start out of O*ford, handing off to Jeremy de Mpsey who was out to prove that the great unwashing had well and truly begun. At this point we were placed third behind O*ford and Birmingham. Emilie Canova, Milly Dickinson and Zelda Brufal all ran well to maintain our position, whilst navigating “countless gates,” proving this to be more than an ordinary semi-urban trail race. Maia Hardman, leg 6, embarked on a “truly emotional experience,” punctuated by some geese, and the evaluation of long-term life choices. Just as Marcus Manlius was driven to action against the Gauls by the honking of the sacred geese on the Roman Capitol in 390BC, we can only assume that Maia was emboldened by the same spirit to overcome stairs and nobly hand off to Rennie.

When James Rennie (not Pete Molloy) took the tasuki, we were 20 minutes behind Birmingham. By the time Rennie arrived at Henley on Thames, we were 7 minutes ahead. Whether it was Rennie’s own expert navigation of a route which started only a mile from his home, or the inability of his Birmingham counterpart to follow a series of red arrows, which opened this chasm, we will never know. Either way, Rennie’s performance was the standout. He recorded the fastest leg 7 of the day and set up the Hareys for elevated podium success. Though recent club philosophers have subscribed to the “more is more” theory, the route choice of Rennie’s Birmingham opponent is definitive proof that this is logic misguided.

Alasdair Fletcher, arguably the most in-form runner of the day, having not so long ago cycled across the United Stated of America, ran valiantly through the heat to maintain most of the gap. When this author handed off to Maya Hodgson to take on the last leg, the gap remained about 5 minutes to the Birmingham runner behind. With only 10km to go it was going to be close. Maya quipped on the train to the race, “I just don’t want to be getting chased down in the last leg.” Like a new-age Cassandra, her prophecy was true but destined to never be believed. Maya’s fate was sealed. It is really scary being chased by a Birmingham runner who has represented England, but by putting one foot in front of the other, Maya held off the late Birmingham charge. As the Wikipedia page for Ekiden reads, “The race was won by Oxford University. Team captain Maya Hodgson led the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds home, placing second ahead of Birmingham University. The race coincided with a high-profile visit to the UK by Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.”

It was fitting that we were rewarded on the podium with Konpetio, the sweet edible gift traditional of Japanese imperial weddings. It takes ten days to produce Konpetio, but only 50 minutes on the Thames path to produce such sentiments as, “it was so fun I would commit to seriously thinking about doing it again.”

Rarely do the Hareys have the opportunity to advance international relations by participating in the sport that we love. Yet, spurred on by the knowledge that we were doing some good, we battled through the heat of the day and suitably sipped on our Sapporos swathed in the southern sun. Second place when all was said and eki-done.