Saturday 4th November 2017. While many remembered this day as the 178th anniversary of the Newport Rising, several young BUACers awoke with something almost as important on their minds - The National Cross Country relays.
The hallowed trip to Mansfield was filled with excitement and anticipation, as an army of athletes and spectators descended upon Berry Hill Park. The pressure was too much for some, as Tom Drabble rang his new coach for the 77th time that morning: "Mr Gunn will I be ok?" Tom was reassured and we eagerly awaited the start of the junior girls’ race.
Somehow BUAC had assembled one of the fiercest running trios imaginable, as cousins Sarah Chapman and Victoria Weir teamed up with Sabrina Sinha - a fresher whose career was already laden with medals.
Sarah Chapman was given the daunting task of taking on a high quality field in leg one. Sarah, who is known for her consistently consistent training, went out hard, screaming: "I'M SARAH CHAPMAN!" The bizarre warning to other runners appeared to have worked wonders when she stormed clear of the field and maintained a lightning-fast pace to give BUAC the lead going into leg two. It is certainly worth noting what a fantastic achievement 'winning' leg one is. Anyone who knows Sarah understands how hard she works and how much she puts into her running. I'm sure we'd all agree she is destined for big things in the sport.
The metaphorical baton was passed to Sabrina Sinha, and she raced away into the distance with the roar of BUAC supporters behind her. The second leg is an infamously tough and lonely one, but that didn't stop Sabrina running with iron-like grit and determination. Sabrina came into the club as a big name with a huge reputation, but has proven to be incredibly humble and has fitted into the club seamlessly - an epitome of what the BUAC is about. The undulating Mansfield course proved to be no problem for the multiple London Youth Games gold medallist. She ran an excellent second leg, and kept us well within reach of the medals going into the final leg.
Bringing the team home was none other than Vic Weir, who is without doubt everyone's favourite ever person to have had the Plymouth Gazette write an article on them. There were a host of teams in contention going into the final leg and Vic had to battle hard, fighting off the demons in her head and imagining the fantastic Toby Cooke at the finish line. Vic steered BUAC home to the bronze medal, a simply staggering achievement from these three girls. We hadn't seen them that excited since James McCrae announced he'd be doing naked hill reps at the training weekend! All three had run outstanding legs for the university which bodes well for the big races coming later this winter - well done guys!
After the ecstasy of the junior girls, it was the turn of the young men to write themselves into university folklore. Housemates Jethro McGraw, Alex Rieley and Callum McCormick took on the challenging course in a bid to return BUAC to the pinnacle of cross country relays.
Diplomat Jethro McGraw stepped up to take on a field more stacked than 12 Bristol Pear pancakes. The 800m man from mythical Belper is on a mission this year. During a church service he recently said "I just wanna prove the haters wrong innit, ain't no one gonna run like man like Jeff." After the priest asked him to leave he continued with his warm up, as he looked to build on a highly impressive 3rd at Bud's Run. The big man certainly did not disappoint and ran a storming 8:59 first leg, coming home in 3rd place. He is in outstanding shape, and rumour has it he may actually break the top 100 at the Birmingham League next week (surely not?!!!).
He passed over to Alex Rieley, a man who should be fresh from doing absolutely nothing to help in the house all year! Rieley, who came an impressive 18th at BUCS B, has taken advantage of the relatively easy nature of his physics degree by increasing his training load this season. He remarkably ran the 2nd quickest second leg of the day, and put us in second position after 2 legs. Sadly that wasn't enough to prevent Jethro informing Alex that his first leg was slightly quicker than Alex's second leg. Rieley was not happy. "It's all relative!" He screeched to the nearest child. It wasn't the time for physics - it was time to watch the final leg.
Callum McCormick, also known as the Wigan Warrior, was given the task of fighting off BUAC's challengers. There were endless international athletes on the 3rd leg, all vying for the chance to give their club the holy grail of cross country team running. Callum has had a torrid time already this season, having recently tore his hamstring as well as having shin splints, so for him to even be racing was a testament to his character. He got off to a great start and you could see just how much he was pushing himself. He'd studied the course just as well as he's studied Rainbow Road on Mariokart, and Mansfield had never seen such efficient turning. Unfortunately for BUAC, the quality of that third leg proved too much to hang on for a medal. Nonetheless it was a valiant effort from Callum as he brought the team home in 7th - even more impressive when you consider he was operating off 6 hours sleep for the month! It was a great effort from all three lads and they return to Birmingham with their heads held high.
Elsewhere, Jess Keane (Blackheath and Bromley) ran a barnstorming leg in the U20 girls’ race, clocking 8:38! Jess is another promising young fresher who looks to have a bright future ahead of her.
Niamh Brown (Aldershot) also had an impressive run, as she anchored her team to 5th place in a final leg of 8:49. Almost. The pride of St Albans Lauren Eckley and Naomi Baker had strong runs as they carried their team to a top 30 finish, while Mary McCarthy ran a highly impressive first leg for Hallamshire, emphasising the sheer depth the girls have. Also, a special mention to Louisa Whittingham, the sole runner in an incomplete BUAC 'b' team. That did not stop her sneaking into the top 10 'leg 1s' as she joined a select group of girls who broke 9 minutes. The girls had 4 (FOUR!) athletes in the top 10 fastest legs of the day, and showed why Brum is the place to be for female distance running.
Tom Drabble continued his good start to the season with a strong first leg performance of 9:11. Before the race Tom expressed his concern to us about two fourth places already this season. Rest assured, Stockport were miles away from the medals this time around so he didn't have to worry about that. Grant Anderson (also Stockport) managed to channel his inner rage to run a very respectable second leg. The angriest man in BUAC has been described as "the most sensible man I've ever coached" by none other than Bud Baldaro; high praise indeed. Another man coached by Bud - Patrick Taylor, slogged it out in the senior race for an impressive 17:41. The Scottish international, who reportedly vomited at the sight of so many northerners, has made an impressive start to the year both comedically and running-wise. It's great to have him back and as a regular fixture at the club.
The BUAC 'b' team featured Lewis Heartbreaker Laylee and Louie THE BOOT Boot. Both comfortably went sub 10 to show just how much depth the freshers have - particularly key after losing so many key athletes last season. This was further emphasised by Paddy Magner who was among the top 10 second legs of the day. Paddy has had a hard time from the media after controversially being the first man excused from "fives" at the training weekend. Hopefully the paparazzi will give him a break now. Bud's run champion Tom Dodd ran a typically excellent first leg for Birchfield. Some say he is still trying to work out the train game from the training weekend. Mikey Lennon-Whittingham ran well for Reading AC, he attributed his quick time to none other than Louisa, in a shock turn of events no one saw coming. Charlie Davis had a very strong run for Blackheath as he clocked 8:39, while it was great to see a return to racing for elder statesman Sam Knee-Robinson. The Irish international competed in the senior race and it’s great to see him back. Tuffin also showed his cross country pedigree, with an impressive leg 2 of 9:40 and demonstrating why he's "the main man, the bees knees, with the skills to pay the billz" (his words not mine).
There were also seasoned performances in the senior race. Both Cat Thomas (10:10) and Meg Davies (10:17) ran simply outstanding legs for their respective clubs. Both were comfortably inside the top 15 of a high quality senior women's field and they are results both thoroughly deserve, if not for their training then for their very reasonably priced massages (£5 an hour). Captain Fantastic Ella Shirley was 22nd in leg three in the senior women's race despite being among the youngest in the field. There can be no doubting what excellent captains both Ella and Boughy have been thus far, and it is easy to forget they are athletes with their own ambitions as well. They deserve real credit for the good start made by the club in general.
That concludes the report of what was a wonderful 'opening day' of the cross country season. Well done to all those that competed, particularly the junior girls and boys who represented the university so fantastically well. If Mansfield is anything to go by, we're in for a huge year, so let's keep pushing on.