A day at the races

3 minute read

When I joined the inaugural cohort of Oxford University’s MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership, I promised myself that I would try and participate to the maximum extent possible. So, I resolved to study hard but also to enjoy the many sporting and cultural attractions offered by the University and the city.

I run for enjoyment and have no regular training plan, but during the Covid-19 pandemic grew to love running around my local parks and roads in London. So, when I heard that my college planned to enter a team of students and staff in a 10k running race for charity, I naturally wanted to join in.

The Bidwells Oxford Town and Gown 10k has taken place annually for over 40 years, with up to 6,000 runners participating. The race was inspired by a local boy, Daniel Cleaver, who suffered from muscular dystrophy. All race profits benefit the Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK) charity, bringing together 70,000 people living with more than 60 rare progressive muscle-weakening and -wasting conditions.

I was delighted to join Jesus College’s team, which included the principal, some fellows and staff members as well as students, in my new green kit on a beautiful bright May morning. After some photographs in the First Quad, we made our way, with dozens of others, from Turl Street towards the University Parks. We walked past the beautiful Sheldonian Theatre, then left into Parks Road, past Wadham College on the right, alongside the spacious gardens at the rear of St John’s College and eventually reaching the park, where many of the runners congregated.

At the University Parks we warmed up to music for a while, pinned numbers on our shirts, then drifted over to the starting line in nearby Holywell Street, past the distinctive Keble College. Faster runners were directed to the front of an enthusiastic column of participants, with those of us who were slower further back. There was a wonderful atmosphere among everyone waiting expectantly along the road and on the pavements.

Once the starting gun sounded, we coursed along some of Oxford’s most beautiful old streets including the high-walled Queen’s Lane and ancient Turl Street, near the site of Oxford’s city walls. The route passed the gatehouses of New, Exeter and Jesus colleges, then round the picturesque Radcliffe Camera (on cobbles) and under Hertford College’s Bridge of Sighs. We were directed down the busy High Street and along Broad Street again, passing the front of Balliol College before heading north towards the University Parks. Many runners wore college colours and were a colourful sight as they streamed through Oxford’s city centre. On the occasions when I met a runner from my college, we’d both attempt a high-five.

The first 8km were fairly comfortable, but after that point I felt tired in the heat, despite slowing down and visiting a water station. It was quite embarrassing to be eventually overtaken by runners dressed as bees or accompanying small children in pushchairs! The last part of the route ran alongside the River Cherwell, under the shade of mature trees and past the Tolkien memorial bench. I was so hot and tired by this point that I would happily have jumped into the river. Yet many spectators were encouraging us to put in a few minutes’ further effort, and I was relieved to finish the race just over an hour after starting.

After the event, our team were all invited back to college for a welcome brunch, served at the long wooden benches in the 400-year-old dining hall. That day was apparently one of the few times during the year when sitting on the lawn in the Second Quad was permitted, so we lay down on the beautifully tended grass afterwards to relax for a while before heading away to catch the Oxford Tube. I was reluctant to leave, but my day at the races had been wonderful. 

Oxford MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership