Paddy Roddy captained CUHH, the University Cross-Country club, to one of the most successful years of the club’s history. An individual blue and a stunning bronze team medal at BUCS clearly left Paddy hungry for more academic-based running plaudits. Having moved to UCL for a PhD, the Blue Bird caught up with Roddy regarding the differences in running between the two universities: after all, if anybody is in a position to accurately judge it’s him.
Paddy started running as a New Year resolution in 2011 at the end of year 11. “There’s a 10km that goes past my house called the Two Castles Run” (which he later won in 2015) “from Warwick castle to Kenilworth castle which had a minimum age of 15 (although I had thought it was 16). I started with the aim of running sub-40 but started too far back meaning there was a 4 minute difference between my chip time and my 38:11 gun time. I then joined my local club Kenilworth Runners and competed for them for 2 years before starting at Cambridge.” Roddy competed in road races, multiterrain and cross country but had never done any track before coming to Cambridge. His club didn’t have a youth section at the time, so all his running was either done solo or with adults. The higher training volume that came as a result of this was to form the basis of an extremely successful career at university. Roddy arrived at Cambridge with very recent PBs of 16:04 5km, 33:39 10km and a 72:52 Half-Marathon.
During your time here you achieved a lot, including captaining CUHH to a BUCS medal and winning your blue. What stands out as the thing you’re most proud of?
Being Club Captain of CUHH was a huge honour. The role is a lot of work and did dwarf a lot of my final year, but it was worth it in giving back to the club. For many years CUHH had tried and failed to get a medal at BUCS XC. BUCS is often dominated by three main running universities: St. Mary’s, Birmingham and Loughborough. This usually means to stand any chance of getting a podium you need to run well and hope one of the big three have a bad day. We were lucky in the sense that Birmingham did indeed have a bad day. However we came third despite some injuries/illness and held off Oxford (who came in as 4th team) whose first two were in the top 11.
When it came to applying for undergrad the focus was always academics first followed by sport facilities. This was similar in my approach for postgrad applications. UCL won a new CDT (Centres for Doctoral Training are one of the three main ways by which EPSRC provides support for Doctoral Training) (in Data Intensive Science) which stood out to me and was the main reason for applying (as well as having a big cosmology department). However, I never originally wanted to be in London, having grown up in a town and then living in Cambridge – I was used to the idea of going on a run and being in the countryside within a mile or two. Unfortunately, after accepting my place, I later found out that STFC (my funding council) were awarded extra funding for the CDT and hence all of the universities which I applied to were also given some CDT places. What made this worse is that Cambridge were also given some places… It should be noted that my girlfriend at the time was in London which was an influence on location choice.
What were your first impressions of sport in general at UCL?
Firstly compared to Cambridge they do fund sport. UCL has an elite athlete programme, as well as a performance athlete/team programme. At Cambridge I was very used to the idea that the university didn’t really care (although this seems to be changing) and any funding I managed to get would have been through bursaries such as college or through Hawks.
And your first impressions of running at UCL? Does it stack up any differently in relation to the other sports than in Cambridge?
At Cambridge athletics (CUAC) and cross country (CUHH) are split as two separate clubs. I’ve always thought it was odd but it did work quite well – except from at athletics Varsity as a distance athlete. The clubs are both very inclusive but operate slightly differently socially. Athletics don’t have any competitions in Michaelmas (except Freshers’ Varsity), have some indoors in Lent (including VFEAR), but the real focus is on BUCS and Varsity in the summer term. As CUAC don’t have competitions all year round, there is a bit more room for boozy socials and it brings a lot like-minded individuals together. At CUHH we race all year round, many people are active for their home club and hence many of us don’t really drink. The system meant you had two quite disconnected clubs but were individually close-knit. UCL RAX (Running, Athletics & XC) encompasses three different sections of the club. The running side is the non-competitive runners which act the same as the EZ section of CUHH. Athletics is the track & field athletes, and cross country is the distance runners. The problem with this is as a newbie is that I only know the distance runners because I train/race with them, and don’t know two-thirds of my own club.
How do you rate the stash?
UCL have very recently rebranded as ‘TeamUCL’ and have started a centralised kit shop with Akuma as the official provider. The upside of this is that everyone representing UCL will look the same, and should have a better representation at BUCS. The downside is that the kit is expensive, and there’s been a long delay to get access to the kit. Akuma are a rugby company, which probably explains why I have an XS running vest – which themselves feel different to other running vests.
I can imagine London makes it quite a lot harder to get in long runs without being interrupted by traffic. How are you managing? Any tips for people looking to get runs done in London?
Stick to parks. Most of my runs tends to be going from park to park, or doing laps of a park. Now that I am run-commuting I try and do routes which avoid the need to cross a road as a much as possible, by going via parks or running along the Thames. In a way it’s not too dissimilar to running through fields and going through gates/styles, but I prefer that to traffic lights.
How do the facilities you’ve used stack up?
Bloomsbury Fitness is the UCL gym but it’s similar to Cambridge where its a public gym and not that cheap. As part of University of London they also have a gym at Student Central. However, most of my training is outdoors anyway so I rarely use the facilities. In terms of an athletics track, most members train with Highgate Harriers and such use the Parliament Hill track. Unlike Cambridge we don’t have colleges with very well kept grass so most interval training we do is either on the roads or at the track. RAX has been awarded Performance Team status which means that the top athletes get free coached weekly strength & conditioning at Bloomsbury Fitness which is a bonus.
What’s the ability level like? Any standout athletes?
I’m only familiar with the cross country side of the club, in which RAX is somewhat shy of CUHH. The club is quite young though and so it perhaps takes time to build the quality. In terms of athletes, the standout athlete is Gus Cockle who is a second year undergrad who ran 14:03 for 5,000m as a 17-year-old. However, Gus only really competes for UCL at BUCS and hasn’t done any of the LUCA races.
How’s the training intensity and general work-life balance?
The comparison is not exactly fair now being a PhD student, however in my first year I have a lot of lectures so it’s not that dissimilar. Looking back, I realise how fortunate we are at Cambridge, there’s plenty going on and you’re never more than 2miles from where you need to be (unless you’re a runner of course). A PhD is a bit more like a job, you do get paid (sod all though), but you’ve generally got to be in the office (or lab etc) during the day. However, Cambridge is small enough that you could do stuff at lunch time and make it back. Now I set off in the morning and stay at UCL during the day and go back in the evening. If I want to do something fun in the evening I’ve got to plan when I’m going to run etc. I’m running a decent number of miles which has recently got easier now that I can run commute. The reality is that most evenings, by the time I get back from doing sport, I have time to have dinner and not a lot else before going to bed.
What’s been the most surprising thing since you moved?
Parks closing… Being a runner I ideally want to run on grass as much as possible. Kenilworth, where I grew up, and Cambridge both have very easy to access to fields and I can run for miles with just the occasional road crossing. I have always hated running laps as its quite boring, I would always rather just run across fields with a different route every time. Here in London, I don’t have that easy access. My nearest decent sized part is 1.5miles away, but even then, the perimeter is only about 1.5miles, this means for any decent length run I must do a lot of laps. However, the thing that annoys me most is that is that the parks close at dusk, meaning if I want to do a run before or after work I have to stick to the roads.
Talk to me about your Varsity match – you haven’t been in London long, but do you feel there’s the same hype?
Varsity is a huge part of Oxbridge sport, which can be both good and bad. I think Varsity gets a lot of people to train (harder) than they otherwise would, particularly for those who weren’t that into their chosen sport before starting at Oxbridge. However, it becomes such a big event that the ‘real’ competitions such as BUCS can get overlooked. From a Cambridge point of view, we always had the most people training in Michaelmas, with a steady decline into Lent (when BUCS is) and further still in Easter. UCL have their Varsity against KCL (Kings College), however from an XC point of view, I think it’s just an athletics varsity. Anyhow talking to fellow athletes, Varsity is just not as a big a deal, sure they want to win but people don’t care in the same way. During the XC season there is the LUCA league (formerly LCL) which puts all the universities in London head-to-head over five races from October-February. The races are often dominated by St. Mary’s but each uni tends to have a couple of good athletes. The races are well attended, and the races are of a good standard.
Do you have any particular goals for your time at UCL?
UCL don’t have a Blues equivalent. They do have an Elite athlete programme but the general criteria is you have to have represented your country (which is much easier in some sports than others). My goals are mostly separate from UCL; I want to improve my road and track times, and compete well at cross country races. In terms of UCL-specific goals, the target is to do well individually at BUCS.
What’s the one thing you miss most about sport at Cambridge?
Although I never really did college sports (besides a brief stint of rowing), I think it’s a great way for people to do a sport that don’t want to compete at university level. CUHH & CUAC are both very inclusive and so you did get a large mix, but in other team sports you have to trials to train with them. I have a friend who also came from Cambridge to UCL, who wants to compete in sport in a low key way, but there isn’t the same opportunity. That being said, the thing that I miss most at sport at Cambridge is the Hare & Hounds.
On the flip-side, what’s the one thing you like most about sport at UCL that was lacking in Cambridge?
The fact that they fund sport. I understand that Oxbridge is all about academic focus, but surely students shouldn’t have been out of pocket. Colleges were generally good (although it varied massively) at funding students, but you get far more support financially from a university like UCL as an ‘elite’ athlete.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the differences in setup or attitude towards running or sport in general?
RAX is very inclusive club, and the fact that ‘Running’ forms part of the main club – rather than a separate branch like EZ with CUHH – is nice. However, this does mean that the ‘better’ athletes are less likely to train with the club (on the steady runs at least). At CUHH are steadies were a lot quicker than at RAX, which meant that the top athletes did run (almost all of time) with the club. However, this also mean that we probably lost a lot of people who simply didn’t want to get lost after struggling to keep up. Running in Cambridge is also much safer which does help in terms of staying as a group rather than crossing endless traffic lights.
The Cambridge runners still remaining would do well to watch out for Roddy at BUCS in February, where I get the impression he won’t mind taking a few scalps for UCL. The Blue Bird wishes him the very best of luck with his sporting and academic career!
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