Should I Cross the Pond?

Hopping across the pond and going to America on a sports scholarship is a goal many runners and other sports people dream of. It is a well trodden route for British runners who are deemed to have potential to go further and, at the end of last year, three of my fellow Cambridge University Hare and Hounds made the move with two more investigating it this year. Until eight months ago this was something I had never considered, and then I got my first request to apply for a place. After rapidly checking this wasn’t a hoax, I began to get really excited and questioned friends who were also going through the process. Once I had got my head around the complex American system and terms such as ‘red-shirting’ (this is when an athlete does not compete for a year in order to extend their eligibility to a season where they are in better shape) I began to assess the pros and cons of making the application compared to applying for a Masters in Cambridge and carrying on with my running here.

The advantages of taking my running to America were obvious. Firstly, the quality of com
petition over there is far higher. A fellow member of CUHH has estimated that coming in the top 60 of an NCAA race would place you in the top 5 at BUCS cross country. There are great athletes inNCAA Britain but over in America they become concentrated as the colleges compete in an extremely competitive environment. This environment is often attractive to the top runner and forces them to perform well if they are to succeed.

On top of this, the funding available for sport in America far surpasses that in Cambridge. This is crucial as, without a scholarship, American fees would make attendance impossible for many people. The funding also means that athletes are given full sets of high quality kit for free and they have physios, nutritionists and coaches assigned to them. Basically, all your sporting needs are catered for.

It is also far easier to focus on your sport in America and see how far you can get. The pressure of work is certainly far less than in Cambridge and you are expected to prioritise your running over your academics. After three years of Cambridge deadlines and expectations this could be seen as a welcome change. Furthermore, if you want to combine the quality of running in America with world class academics then you can. Places such as Stamford are proof that top universities don’t have to ignore sports funding, and I am a firm believer in the idea that doing sport can improve your academic performance.

However, there is another side to this story, a side which has influenced my decision not to apply to America and to apply for a Masters in Cambridge. America can make you or it can break you. Alongside all the stories of success and enjoyment are tales of athletes being made to run through injury, therefore making the problems worse, and an unhealthy focus on sporting success at the expense of the individual. To me running has always been a hobby I enjoy and I fear the pressure many colleges in America place you under would break me. The coaches over there are highly paid professionals and they know that if their team doesn’t perform they may well be sacked or they might lose a significant amount of their funding. This causes them to push athletes to their limits. Some people thrive in this environment but if you don’t you are stranded far from home in an unfamiliar place being made day after day to do something you are no longer really enjoying. A couple of people I know went to America on sports scholarship but have now returned after finding the intensity just too much

Despite these issues I was still tempted by America. Maybe I would thrive, maybe it would be the making of me and launch me on a career path I had never previously considered. There were two elements that really put me off applying to America. Firstly, my academic interest is in the history of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria and this is clearly easier to study from England than America. The Masters in Medieval History offered by Cambridge has really captured my imagination and I really hope I get in!

Secondly, and more importantly, the type of running they do in America does not suit me. The races I thrive in involve hills, mud and longer distances. That is why cross country is my favourite running discipline and I even tried out my first mountain race in September. It was great fun! However, in America ‘cross country’ seems to involve about 6km around a playing field and running on the track in the summer appears to be compulsory. The idea of being forced onto flat, boring ‘cross country’ courses does not appeal – I am concerned enough about reports that BUCS cross country this year is on a flat course! Also, one of my friends who is in America reports that everything is done as a team. This is good in theory and she seems to be enjoying it but I have always valued going for steady runs by myself. They give me time to think and never being allowed to run by myself would be far from ideal.

Furthermore, I have got to know Cambridge in the last two and a bit years. It is a wonderful city that suits me, evenCUHH logo if there is a deplorable lack of hills. Given the running success I have achieved in Cambridge why would I risk all and head to America? The Cambridge University Hare and Hounds is an amazing club. The other club members are friends first and runners after and I have developed a good camaraderie and friendship with our coach. I love Cambridge, I love CUHH, I love Anglo-Saxon history. Why would I leave?

America would be an adventure and the sports system over there has the potential to produce world class athletes. However, while the atmosphere and type of running over there suits some people, it is not for me. Give me the hills and mud of England and the sport system in Cambridge any day!


Gender equality in sport

Gender equality is an issue that is close to my heart. I feel that sometimes women are too quick to blame sexism for why things don’t work out for them but sexism undoubtedly exists and the glass ceiling is a very real problem. This is the case in sport as well as in business or any other sector of work. Only 18 per cent of qualified coaches are women and almost half of all publicly funded national governing bodies relating to sport have less than a quarter of their board as women ( The pay gap is obvious as well – in 30 per cent of sports men get paid significantly more prize money than women with football, cricket and squash as three of the main offenders ( Improvements have been made over the years, such as when the Australian open in tennis began offering equal prize money in 2001 and athletics in 1993, but the job is not complete.

However this bleak picture of inter-national sport is not necessarily reflected across the spectrum. My experience of sport and gender equality while at university has been almost entirely positive and any move towards greater equality have had the full support of all member of the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds (CUHH) so that the situation now resembles one where there is no discernible difference in the treatment of the men and the women.

It is true that there are more men in CUHH than there are women (there are 24 selected male runners for Varsity cross country and only 14 women) but this reflects a national trend rather than anything within the university. Roughly 1.9 million fewer women participate in sport every month than do men and over 2000 men compared to 865 women competed in the National Cross Country Championships last year. Indeed, CUHH has made improvement in this area, the tireless work of the last two ladies captains (Megan Wilson and Katy Hedgethorne) bringing the quality of the ladies side up to a position whereby the number of selected women was increased from 12 to 14.

In all the ways it feasibly could have been, my experience as a female athlete in Cambridge has been one of fair and equal treatment. The men and women train together, have socials together and are in every way one club. It is true that it is easier for this to occur in cross country than sports such as hockey or football given our races tend to be on the same days in the same locations but there is a team spirit in CUHH that pays no attention to gender. This attitude has always been prevalent in CUHH with the ladies Varsity match being on the same day and in the same location as the men’s since its conception in 1976. Our current junior committee had 8 women and 12 men, a balance which accurately reflects membership of the club.

While I cannot pretend that CUHH’s track record is one of gender equality throughout every stage of its history, I can say that every time an inequality is pointed out all members of the club have supported it being changed. This has been most noticeable in the criteria with which a full blue, Cambridge’s highest sporting accolade, is awarded. When I arrived at the university two years ago it was significantly easier for man to gain a full blue than a woman. Every man who ran in the blues Varsity match and beat a scoring Oxford runner was awarded a full blue whether they won the match overall or not. However, for the ladies only four of the six blues Varsity match contendRAF 2ers were eligible for their full blue and even then only if the team won the match overall. I fell fowl of this absurd rule in my first year, being awarded a half blue after Varsity despite beating five out of Oxford’s six runners. Thankfully this system has now been changed (Katy Hedgethorne succeeded in changing it in 2014 and then I got in changed again last term to take into account the increased size of the blues team) so that the criteria for a female full blue are the same as the male criteria. I in no way wish to devalue the full blues awarded to the men before this change – gaining a full blue is an exceptional achievement and it is the ladies criteria that has been changed to ,match the men’s not the other way around. I just wish to point out that the existence of a blatant inequality like this in 2013 was shocking to me but that CUHH have successfully removed this issue.

Cross country running is still not entirely equal – the ladies blues match is disproportionately short when compared to the men’s match. CUHH has been entirely behind me in my attempts to solve this by lengthening the course but the move has been blocked by our counterparts in Oxford. They wish to address the balance by shortening the men’s race and a solution has yet to be reached.

I have nothing but praise for CUHH when it comes to gender equality and fair attitudes, it is just a pity that my experience at university is not reflected nationwide.

See you next week!


Seizing opportunities

Hi everyone, sorry it has been so long since my last blog! Since arriving back at university for my third year time has just flown – there have been so many new faces to great and old friends to catch up with. The start of a new year is a good time to reflect how lucky we are to be able to attend university, study something we enjoy and participate in other activities which we love. The excitement at the start of a new year is infectious and you can just sense that the number of opportunities that are going to be thrust your way. I have been brought up in the spirit that you only regret what you don’t do and what better time to put that philosophy into action than when starting afresh with a new year at university.Fresher's Fun Run 2

The idea of making the most of every opportunity is of course applicable to whatever stage of life you are at but being in the melee that is Freshers’ Fair makes the number of different things you can try blindingly obvious. This year I largely avoided being sucked into the numerous mailing lists on offer but, even though I am a third year, the variety on offer could not be ignored. This year I decided to combine my new found faith with my sport and join the Cambridge Christians in Sport society, a supportive network that operates across the country (

For Freshers’ in a new place the organised chaos of Freshers’ Fair can be a bit daunting. However, if you push on through, university is a great place to try something new or revive an old hobby. Being me, I am obviously going to advocate taking up a new sport, preferably cross country running. There are many reasons to take up a new sport at university of which fitness is almost the least. As an article I recently read ( puts so eloquently, sport at university allows you to grow and develop as well as producing friends and memories you will treasure forever.

Beyond this, I find that sport is perhaps most important as a coping mechanism. When you are stressed about an essay or fed up with endless reading and study there is no better way to let off steam than to go for a steady plod across Grantchester Meadows or up the river to Fen Ditton. Even though I feel I am not running very well by my standards at the moment, running is still invaluable as a way to clear my head and focus on something other than my seemingly insurmountable work pile.

For those of you not at university, the chance to start something new may not be laid out before at a fair but the opportunities are still there. Everyone will be within a short distance of a park run or a running club so all you need is the drive to go out and discover what it is you are missing out on. You will not regret it!

Liz 🙂