Nick Butler reports on two valiant near-misses for the Hare and Hounds in a Leeds mudbath...
Many people would find the idea of spending a Saturday afternoon running around fields in Leeds bad enough even without the hills, cold and knee-deep mud engulfing the course. Yet the Hare and Hounds took to the conditions like a duck to water (albeit of the boggy variety) and relished the chance to challenge the cream of student talent.
First up was the Men's 'A' Race with each university entering their top six runners over a gruelling 9.8km distance. Despite making his BUCS debut, fresher Lewis Lloyd enjoyed a barnstorming race, putting himself near the front early on and holding on for a fine 15th place finish. Six places behind was Matt Leach who - despite originally being a reserve - beat a host of bigger names in a stunning effort. Will Ryle-Hodges and Tom Watkins completed the scoring team in 30th and 41st respectably with typically gutsy performances, and Robin Brown and Joe Christopher followed closely behind. With Southampton's Steve Connor taking an unexpected win, St Mary's - the Manchester Utd of distance running - less surprisingly took team gold ahead of Birmingham and Loughborough with Cambridge matching their 2011 effort in 4th.
The sole women's race saw 459 starters, and while GB star Emilia Gorecka (Royal Holloway) dominated throughout, there was plenty of Cambridge PhD pedigree on show close behind. Alison Greggor recovered from a slow start to finish an excellent 10th with Hare and Hounds stalwart Polly Keen enjoying her best ever BUCS in 12th and Rachel Kitchen completing the team in 60th. This time it was Birmingham who triumphed, ahead of St Mary's and Loughborough, with Cambridge again just one place outside the medals.
The final race of the day was the Men's 'B' race, and with a thousand spiked shoes doing more damage then any ploughman could, the aim had become more about avoiding sinking than running fast. That said the Hare and Hounds again excelled and the team of Alex Young (13th), Matt Grant (20th), Peter Townsend (30th) and Mark Plackett (42nd) finished 3rd university and 6th overall behind a St Mary's stampede.
Overall Cambridge were agonisingly short compared with the "big three" but were very much the best of the rest. They performed superbly in terrible conditions and thoroughly deserved the evenings all-you-can-eat-buffet and after party indulgences. For many the focus now turns to the track and the indoor season but rest assured the Hare and Hounds willbe back and gunning for Loughborough and a medal position in 2014.