As the days get bitterly colder and the snow begins to fall, spare a though for the hardy DUXC athletes who are now hitting the peak of their training schedules in preparation for the busy Epiphany term period. For the elite athletes, the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill in London and the Inter-Counties Championships in Birmingham are fast approaching, where DUXC athletes will find themselves competing against the very best in the country. However as a prelude to those events, many will join their fellow DUXC members in competing in the biggest race in the DUXC calendar, which is the final BUCS Cross Country race of the calendar at Stanmer Park in Brighton. 53 Durham athletes, varying from National standard to keen enthusiasts, will make the 6 hour coach journey to the South Coast for what promises to be a gruelling, draining race but also a fantastic weekend.
The standard at BUCS Cross Country Championship races is notoriously high and this bar is often raised even higher at this event as athletes look to finish the season with a strong final race. St Marys, Cardiff, Loughborough, and Birmingham are just a few universities who continue to produce and bring teams each year of the highest pedigree to this event, ,making it difficult for Durham to compete. Considering the high quality of the field, it would be a fantastic achievement for Durham to finish in the top 10 in the team standings. Nevertheless, Durham are going into this race with confidence that they can produce some standout performances.
In terms of the athletes, James Stockings and Luke Grenfell-Shaw have been earmarked to potentially run well in the Senior Men’s Race, which promises to be a hugely competitive contest. Michael Cameron is also another strong runner in this category who is capable of a finish in the higher positions. For the Women’s Team, there is a sense of great anticipation as Durham are fielding possibly their strongest ever Womens’ Team for a BUCS race. Among this group is Rachael Dunn, the current U20 XC Champion and Jenn Walsh, a former BUCS 1500m winner and who has represented Great Britain in the past. Alongside them are perennial high achievers Lydia Sharpe and Chloe Price, who are both expected to do well.
However the race is not just about the elite runners. The final race of the BUCS season always triggers a healthy surge in race participants from DUXC. People who have been training alongside the Durham City Harriers at Maiden Castle have the brilliant opportunity to represent their university in the sport which prompts many to compete. As it is the end of the race calendar, the race has become defined by its buzzing, high-spirited atmosphere as athletes can enjoy a well-deserved party once their race is over, to bring an end to their year of hard training. This party comes in the form of a mass social in the Student Union of Sussex University, thus providing an incentive for the weary athletes as they pound up those treacherous hills.
The race has not been held at Stanmer Park in recent years so many athletes are unaware as to the layout of the course. It is situated around the old estate of the Stanmer House and is predicted to be a undulating, hilly and naturally, a very muddy course.
As always, DUXC have been training alongside the Durham City Harriers, the local athletics club situated at Maiden Castle, which has long provided excellent coaching and opportunities for athletes to compete in local races within the North-Eastern leagues. With such a large group of dedicated, enthusiastic athletes, there is no doubt that DUXC will produce a spirited showing in Brighton and maybe even cause a few surprises.
Photograph: Mariama Dryak