Leith Hill Varsity Match, 25 Feb

(Cross posted from Attackpoint. See also my leg by leg analysis and mistake and speed analysis.)

Leith HillOxford vs Cambridge Varsity Match at Leith Hill, Surrey. Running for JOK (ex-Oxford) on the Men’s A course.

A great race for me personally, in beautiful, technical terrain. I had some personal demons to conquer on this map, having had a disastrous run in my only previous outing here. Leith Hill is a small, technical area, quite Scandinavian in nature, particularly with the sunny, cold weather, open and intricate detail and a dusting of snow on the ground. Due to the size of the area, the race was in two parts, with a map change near the start, around half way around. The planning style was very much taking us into the difficult area for a couple of controls, then out for a couple of long, easy ones, and then back in, over and over again, until you made a mistake. I forced myself to run at a slower pace than normal, and pleasingly did not make any mistakes that cost me more than a minute – it’s been a while since I’ve had a clean race.

The first three controls were a warm-up through the edge of the tricky area, then a couple of easy ones. I actually ended up at 5 before 4, as I dropped a little low around thick vegetation, but this was OK as it was only a few metres from 4, and my split from 4 to 5 has got to be the fastest of all – 18 seconds! The course then did a long loop in easier terrain – I was a bit slow here, although some of the features were very subtle. After another technical section, which I unwisely took a chance on and got lucky on, it was time for the map changeover.

Leg 17 was long and tricky, and relied on an accurate compass bearing, but I was lucky to strike it pretty much on. After another jaunt through the difficult bit, which I had no issue with, there was another long leg away, I was extremely lucky here as I hit the control while thinking I was quite some distance from it. One final run through the tricky section was again OK, I was going very slow here so as not to mess up a so-far good run. The penultimate leg was long, and I switched off a bit – dangerous, as I deviated by about 30 degrees, and had a long plod to get back on the line. Probably only a minute’s mistake as I picked up the pace.

Unfortunately, Oxford and Cambridge were unable to run on the Saturday, as the latter team were stuck on a motorway. So they ran on the Sunday, in cloudier but still pleasant conditions. I was a little bit hungover so just spectated at the race, before psyching myself up for the long bike home. In the end, Cambridge took the team trophies, just, as they had strength in depth, and Alan Elder took the Men’s Individual Trophy for a storming race in 62 minutes – you have to be pretty good to run at that speed and not make big mistakes, in an area like Leith Hill. Helen won the Women’s Individual though, so Oxford didn’t quite go away empty handed.

Photo Credit: Pete Huzan

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