On Sunday the Cam floodplains were overwhelmed by a sea of eager cross-country runners, as the penultimate college league race of the year got underway. Starting at 2pm from Stourbridge Common (vaguely opposite the boathouses, for all you rowing types) this was to be the inaugural Fen Ditton run, a replacement for last year's Madingley Road race and a great opportunity for some multi-terrain travel. Indeed, Phil Scard had devised an impressively varied course that wound over deep mud, concrete and footpaths (not to mention that railway bridge!!), making any choice of footwear inappropriate and challenging even the most sure-footed to maintain their composure. A week's worth of snow had liquified the more susceptible regions of ground, condemning the majority of participants to a frustrating search for traction. One soggy finisher was even heard to utter: "The mud made me really grumpy... No - I'm serious. I was so angry." Cross-country runners are a passionate bunch.

Owing to a ferocious horizontal blast of hail, the race got off to an uncertain start, with much cursing and a cautious early pace. The ladies proceeded to cover 1 short and 1 long lap of Phil's masterpiece, totting up around 5.6K in the process. Emma Pooley (Tit Hall) ran aggressively from the outset to establish an ever-lengthening lead over Queens' Claire Day. The pair finished in respective times of 25:40 and 27:44, with Sarah Kummerfeld chasing into third place for Trinity (28:50). In the team stakes Queens' were victorious (for the third time in four races), extending their lead in the Ladies' Division to a tenuous 2 points. Caius, lying second in the division, minimised their losses with a second-place team finish, and continue to pose a very real danger to their adversaries as we approach the final league race.

The men's 7.7K event was closely contested by a leading pack of four athletes. Ed Brady (Pembroke) produced a surge in the final stages that saw him split up the foursome and seize individual victory in 28:44, followed at nailbiting distance by Matt Armstrong (28:48) of Tit Hall. Owain "I like to party" Bristow slid superbly into third place, with Nic Casini furthering the Tit Hall cause in 4th. Once again it was a case of 'Quality not Quantity' for this unfortunate college, as they careered into 6th place amongst the 2nd Division teams due to a shortage of competitors, in spite of squeezing both their runners into the top 4. Robinson snatched team gold in Division 2, with a mighty performance by Matt Sims (8th), and Catz took 2nd to tighten their stranglehold on the division. They are now 12 points clear of their nearest rivals and consequently unbeatable, even with one race remaining in the league. Promotion is a certainty, and will have many of the current Division 1 teams quaking in their boots...

Such a team may well be Queens', who were narrowly beaten by Catz in Cuppers last term despite sitting proudly at the top of the 1st Division. They followed the example of their female counterparts on Sunday, winning the team event convincingly with 3 runners in the top 9 places overall. Girton, lacking a certain Simon Rutherford, were forced into second place and relinquished another point's advantage to Queens' in the league. Pembroke found themselves drifting into 3rd, with Ed Brady's prime example balanced by the absence of Richard Ward (who was busy winning a bronze 1500m medal at the BUSA Indoor athletic champs that weekend) and a couple of severe hangovers from the previous night's Halfway Hall.

And so it is that we reach our current state of affairs: the Men's 1st Division and Ladies' Division are hotly contested after 4 races, with Queens' hanging onto each top spot by a meagre 2 points. Girton and Caius are hungry. Threats have been flying, banter is rife and the claws are being unsheathed for one final clash... on Sunday 13th March the Chris Brasher College League will be resolved, as the Hare & Hounds host their 5th and final race of the year: the Selwyn Relays.

Don't miss it.

by Andy Bell