Last weekend witnessed the term's first exciting instalment of inter-college cross-country warfare, with the Coe Fen Relays taking place early on Sunday afternoon. Marking the third fixture in the Chris Brasher league, this event represents a critical milestone on the path of college cross-country, and an early indicator of final league performances.

It is also the first of two relay races to grace the competition each year and, as such, sharpens the focus on depth of strength as a crucial asset to teams vying for league success. Comprising four 2-mile legs around the parkland of Coe Fen, with men's and ladies' (and mixed) quartets racing simultaneously, the relays are famous for being flat and furiously fast... This year was no exception.

The two niftiest individual times of the day were whipped out in lap 1, as Ulrich Paquet blasted home a 9:22 for Wolfson, tailed over the line by Matt Armstrong (Trinity Hall) in 9:27. Although last year's winner (James "limp wrist" Mason, in 9:20) had been marginally quicker, the elite flock of gentlemen who went on to break the magic 10-minute barrier was almost twice as large this time around, and a number of tremendous personal improvements were recorded. Pembroke Captain Ed Brady hacked a huge 53 seconds off his previous best to finish joint 2nd in 9:27, whilst team-mate James Traer and Catz-man Tom Offord each shaved more than half a minute off their times and helped contribute to strong team performances.

Fastest lady home was Robinson's Claire Willer (no surprises there, then!), who placed a joint Robinson-Emma team 14th after lap one. 15 seconds adrift was Dr. Joan Lasenby, running a sturdy 11:24 for Trinity Fellows, whilst the 3rd fastest ladies' time of the day went to... Dr. Joan Lasenby, this time on the fourth leg of Trinity Women's team, and only four seconds behind her earlier performance.

With various colleges unable to find four willing entrants for the race, this cheeky double-lapping was also championed by Lee Harper, Alex Ho, Ed Pain and Ian Malone, evidently overwhelmed by the joy of running and unable to suppress their energetic urges. Other tactics involved merging college teams (Ed Pain ran once for his dear old Pembroke team, and once for rivals Jesus!) and fielding mixed teams (Trinity Fellows), possibly in the hope that no one would notice. Although these fascinating hybrids were technically disqualified from scoring, they competed with the wild ferocity and pride of an angry Tekky, and added an extra fascinating dimension to the event.

Of the eligible teams competing, Girton snatched away a surprise victory in the men's first division, anchored by Hare & Hounds supersleuth Simon Rutherford. Next across the line were Pembroke 'A', followed by 2nd-division Catz 'A' and a slightly uncomfortable-looking Queens' team, who are still hanging on to pole position in the league by the skin of their teeth. Kudos to Alex McIntosh of Queens' for sweeping up the greatest number of places in a single lap (he passed 7 runners on leg 3, bringing the team from 12th to 5th position).

In the second division, Catz were once again dominant, increasing their overall lead in the division to 9 points, and illustrated their supremacy by swarming the course with 3 full teams. Emmanuel nabbed second spot (5th overall), with Wolfson 3rd onto the podium (just behind Clare's illegal Lee-Harper-tastic trio). Matt Armstrong and Nick Casini were surely left wondering what might have been had they been able to field a full four men for Tit Hall: after two scorching laps, they had established an outstanding lead of 1 minute 5 seconds over all opponents, but were unable to continue due to an absence of further competitors. A sad tale indeed.

Ladies-wise, Claire Day produced a stunning anchor-leg of 11:49 for Queens', propelling them into first place on the day and affirming their top-table position in the league. Main rivals Caius came in second, with Emmanuel completing the triumphant trio of teams in third. Having won the last two inter-college races, Robinson were afflicted by injury problems on Sunday and failed to raise a full four runners.

With two fixtures left in the league (Fen Ditton on Sunday 27th Feb, and the Selwyn Relays on Sunday 13th March), things are most certainly hotting up. There is but a single point separating the two leading teams in the Men's Division I, and similarly in the Ladies' Division!! Anything could happen (maybe even Catz slipping from their throne in the Men's seconds, though I wouldn't like to bet on it) - only time will tell...

So get keen, start believing the hype and bust a gut out there for your college!!

This race was brought to you by:

--Andy Bell

See here for results.