For many runners at Cambridge the annual Varsity match is the biggest race of the term and the 24th of November was the date that had been underlined in training calendars for some time. This was the day when we would go up against our Oxford counterparts and the culmination of weeks of miles, sessions and races would be tested.
With tapers perfected, team meals eaten and tactics discussed (sometimes including PowerPoints) the time came for race day, runners found themselves milling around at the track waiting for the coach, unaccustomed to having fresh race ready legs the energy of the group was obvious. This year it was held at St. Neots, a course that the Hareys were familiar with from Cuppers, on home turf they were our races to lose.
First up was the women’s IIs team. Cambridge went into this 2 lap race with confidence with an experienced team. On the first lap a fast pace was set early on with Oxford runner Caroline Shipley taking it on, closely followed by Rachel Longstaff, Lizzy Apsley and Emily Ruane who made a clear break away, Anna Hollingsworth kept cool in a gap between the lead group and the chase pack where Meg Humphries, Becca Frake, fresher Joni Wildman and Philippa Chambers ran with a number of opponents from Oxford. The race unfolded in the second lap, Emily showed her strength despite recent injuries and “employed the simple expedient of running away from everyone” Oxford runner Caroline Shipley came second after leading most of the race. Anna worked through to finish close behind in 3rd, leading Lizzy, Rachel (who rolled her ankle going into the second lap) Joni and Megan into positions 4th- 7th, bringing home our entire scoring team of six before the second Oxford runner and all finishing inside the course record set by the winning time two years ago. Becca Frake and Philippa Chambers also ran strong races, finishing 10th and 12th, ahead of the remaining Oxford scorers. The results reflected the Cambridge heavy front end and the team should be proud of a win with 26 points compared to oxfords 57.
With celebrations still underway and Cava still being sprayed the time came for the men’s IIs, this was to be raced over a long course of 4 laps and was again taken out hard, with oxford runners pushing the pace. All the runners stayed together over the first lap, but entering the woods on the second the pace was pushed on by a large group of dark blues. James Coxon and fresher Jeremy Dempsey stuck with the front group, whilst the Luke Fisher, Jacob Brockman, Lawrence Hollom and Jose Gray train fell back with a few oxford runners behind. The race continued with a pack of 5 oxford runners dictating the pace with Jeremy and James sitting in, having confidence in their sprint finishes. Further back the aforementioned train was overtaken by Oxfords Aiden smith who had a strong final two laps that couldn’t be matched by the Cambridge runners, but he was traded for a runner from the front pack falling back. The race was set to be close, and there still being a group until the finishing straight the front positions were for the kickers, Coxon showed his strength and took the win, followed closely by renowned tea towel Oliver Paulin and Dempsey closing out the top 3. They were however followed by a string of 4 Oxfords runners, with Luke, Jacob’ Lawrence and Jose coming in 8th – 11th to finish our scoring team ahead of Oxfords 6th man in 11th. Fresher Daniel Slater then came in 14th ahead of Oxfords last man. The strength at the front end however was not enough for the team competition, and Oxford took the victory 36 points to 42. Special congratulations must go to James Coxon for lowering the course record by close to 28’’ to 33:57.
Starting just 5 minutes later, and so running at the same time was the men’s IIIs race. A number of comebacks from injury and illness meant Cambridge had another experienced team summed up with Pete Cameron’s response to being told he should really be a ii team runner “Is a door really a door when it’s ajar”. Unlike the earlier races the pace was taken out much more conservatively in the first laps with Cambridge runners not pushing the pace and again the race unfolded later towards the latter half. The two Scots brought home 1st and 2nd with Pete Cameron and Iain Davies respectively putting in strong finishes to open up a gap ahead of the next Oxford challenger. Tom Kearns also put in a strong kick, beating a dark blue to the line, followed by 4 oxford runners who left Tom Goulding and Rob Waddy in 9th and 10th. A sprint between club Captain Su-Min Lee and another oxford runner closed out both scoring teams with SML finishing in 12th. Mark Poynting (a fresher famous for his work in electromagnetism link) and James Ackland finished in 15th and 16th. The team result was secured by a strong front end and Cambridge took a narrow victory 38 point to 40.
Next up was the “Mob Matches”, the women’s IIIs and men’s IVs, famous for being the only full blues sport with an open competition at varsity recruiting had been underway, and an unprecedented mass of both light and dark blue runners competed. The women’s race set off with 40 runners up against a 5km two lap course. Oxford showed a fast front end, with Natalie Beadle taking the win, followed in by another oxford runner Egle-Helene Ervin, after a strong start with the front runners Emily Bradley finished in 3rd place. Strong runs from Rebecca Gilchrist, Emese Ratkai and Lucy Thompson saw them finishing in 5th, 7th and 10th respectively. Unfortunately the quality of the oxford team proved too strong and they took the win 346 to 556. The men’s IVs was also a sight to behold, with a sea of dark and light blue vests a fast start showed the strength of the team that Oxford had brought along, and again Oxford took the top two spots with Tom Renshaw followed by Charlie Sneddon, Robin Brown finished an impressive 3rd after working through. Mentions go to Harry Cox and Josh Harris finishing in 6th and 10th. Again the strength of Oxford at the front end led them to a team win 943 to 1066.
With the match total for the day 3-2 to Oxford it was going to be down to the after party to redeem the results for Cambridge, which after a coach mix up meant that no coaches would be going back to Cambridge a DNS heavy results sheet saw Cambridge win this convincingly 523 to only 54 points (arbitrary units)
A mention must also go to the supporters at the event, an amazing number of people came out to shout on their teams as well as organise betting for the spectators. As well as this some of our favourite Hareys were away at Liverpool pitting themselves against the best in the country. Hugely impressive races were run by M.J Cox finishing 61st and George Gathercole 40th (15th under 23). Nancy Scott showed her increasing strength put in a massive 10th in the under 20s. Oh and Oliver Fox finished 9th, 4th under 23 and has earnt himself another international vest and will be running in Euro Cross in a few weeks. Sadly this means he won’t be able to participate in the blues Varsity next weekend, but we have every confidence in James Coxon to put in an impressive performance following his iis win.
Congratulations to everyone that raced, the times that can be seen here are seriously impressive and show the strength of both oxford and Cambridge running at the moment, we’re not going to be underdogs at BUCS this season.