As the runners limbered up, the sun came out and Great Court sparkled.
‘I promised it would be good weather,’ said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, with a twinkle in his eye. The Trinity alumnus and Honorary Fellow was invited to start this year’s Great Court run, which was postponed in October 2020 due to the pandemic.
On Saturday, the stars seem aligned for the re-staged event.
Counted down by the Archbishop, the serious runners set off in a burst of speed, keeping to the flagstones and avoiding the cobbles – the key rule – in a bid to run Great Court’s 341 metres before the Trinity Clock struck 12, which it does twice.
This year, two competitors – Peter Molloy and Isaac Flanagan – beat the clock with times of 46.8 and 47.2 Yes, that’s seconds. The first woman over the line was Penelope Batty. Arthur Conmy and Theodore Seely were third and fourth respectively.
The unknown factor in the race is the timing of the Trinity Clock, which runs fast, medium or slow depending on climatic conditions and when it is wound, according to Dr Hugh Hunt, Fellow in Engineering and Keeper of the Clock.
Professor Joan Lasenby, Fellow in Engineering at Trinity, and a keen runner, said:
The Clock is not super fast today, it’s medium fast so you do have to be a very good runner to beat it. It’s the best result in recent years.
As spectators, including the Master, Dame Sally Davies, Senior Tutor, Professor Catherine Barnard, and the Dean, Professor Sachiko Kusukawa, congratulated the winners, the Archbishop admitted that he had not run the race as an undergraduate.
He said the experience conjured up memories of Chariots of Fire, the 1981 film that recreated the feat by Lord Burghley in his last year at Magdalene in 1927.
David Burghley, formally David George Brownlow Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter, was Britain’s leading hurdler in the 1920s, winning two Olympic medals and numerous Amateur Athletics Association titles. He is thought to have been the first person to run around Great Court before the Clock struck twelve.
This year’s winners were modest about their achievement.
‘I’m not particularly fast but I like to make sure I have done my best’ says Penelope Batty, a first year studying Archaeology and Anthropology.
She started cross country running around her home city of Portsmouth and as a member of the University Athletics Club her preferred distance is the 400 metre hurdles.
‘It keeps me fit and it’s social’, Penelope said. ‘Running helps combat stress too, particularly during exam season’, she added.
The first man over the line, Peter Molloy, from Edinburgh, runs with the University Hare and Hounds and hopes to compete in the Junior World Orienteering Championships in Turkey this September.
‘I just kind of grew into it’, said the first year, who is studying Medieval and Modern Languages. ‘I love running, the training aspect, how it motivates you.’
‘It’s taken me all over Europe to some amazing places that I wouldn’t have got to see otherwise.’
For the Archbishop, who has been a Visiting Fellow at Trinity this term, the opportunity to start the Great Court Run was ‘the icing on the cake. It’s been wonderful,’ he said.