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The History of the Dorm Run

OW and athletics enthusiast, Simon Langley (T 96 - 01) shares the history of the Dorm Run.

In the March 1897 edition of The Cuthbertian we hear of a paper chase taking place on Shrove Tuesday (complete with pancakes for finishers - all runners finished!). For many years, the Dorm Run always took place on Shrove Tuesday, but this tradition was for unknown reasons discontinued in the late 1950s. Thirty one runners took part in that first race, it was won by R.H. Palmer (Pelham 1895-1899) and in one fell swoop, the Dorm Run was born. In 2020, the Dorm Run celebrates its 123rd birthday.

It appears that an established Dorm Run course took many years to come to fruition. The first race in 1897 was 8 miles long; we then hear in 1906 it was 4 miles, in 1910 4.5 miles, in 1912 it was (suspiciously precisely) measured at 4.16 miles and then in 1937 it was recorded as being one mile longer than usual (the times indicate a course of around 3.8 miles). By 1959 the course length seemed to decrease further (although interestingly, the quality of the runners increased significantly during this period). 1968 was the first year that the current course was used and apart from a couple of years where the felling of Clumber Park forestry required course alterations, the course has remained intact ever since.

We all claim that the kids of today aren’t as tough as they used to be and that health and safety spoils all the fun, but the Dorm Run actually hasn’t been cancelled since 1978. Influenza outbreaks curtailed proceedings in 1925, 1958 and 1978, whilst between 1940-1945 the Second World War and (it is assumed) a lack of adequate sustenance led to a 5 year hiatus. The other gaps in the records (this is not to say the race didn’t happen, there’s just nothing recorded) occur from 1898 - 1903, 1905, 1926-1930. Thankfully, epidemics are far less serious than they once were - a large number of pupils actually died from the various epidemics that occurred up until the 1940s at Worksop – hence the need for such a large sanatorium.

Due to the ever-changing nature of the Dorm Run course, records have also changed regularly. 1938 and 1939 saw record-breaking performances on the “new course” by G. Wontner-Smith (Shirley 1935-1941) and then the War curtailed proceedings until 1946. J.M. McKean (Pelham 1941-1950) was arguably Worksop’s first specialist runner and trimmed the record for the 3-4 mile course down to 22:55 in 1950 (for comparison, R.S. Wood (Mountgarret 1946-1951) won it a year later in 24:11). Worksop’s second "proper" runner arrived soon after McKean departed and R.C. Hill (Shirley 1951-1955) won the race in 1954 and 1955, trimming the record down to 22:31 in 1954 (both McKean and Hill were quality schoolboy milers, both capable of 4:30-4:40 for the distance). After the 1958 race was cancelled, the course changed again and in 1959 D.M.W. Griffiths (Mason 1954-1960) set a very fast 19:20 on the new route. Despite running slower the next year (underfoot conditions have a huge impact on times) Griffiths finished 5th at the England Schools Cross Country Championships, won the inaugural Midland Public Schools race and every single inter-school match, setting course records in most. Griffiths’ record lasted until the course changed for a final time in 1968 (20:39 was the next fastest time recorded on that particular course, which goes to show just how fast he was). When the existing course came into existence, it was John Shakespeare (Pelham 1970-1975) whom established the first record with 20:46 in 1975. A 15 year old Jack Buckner (Talbot 1975-1980) took the record down to 20:36 in 1977. The race was cancelled in 1978 and in 1979 conditions did not allow for even Buckner (by then a near sub 4 minute miler) to break his own record of two years earlier. However, in 1980 conditions were perfect and Jack Buckner stormed victory in a mind-boggling 18:35 (4:53 mile splits...), with second-placed A.R. Cooke (Scholae 1975-1980) also dipping under the old record (with 20:15). And that’s where the Dorm Run record story ends... Such is the quality of Buckner’s record, it has survived challenges from no less than four international runners in the form of Jack's brother Tom Buckner (Talbot 1976-1981), Simon Lewis (Shirley 1988-1993), Simon Heggie (Portland 1989-1994) and Oliver Dane (Shirley 2012-2017) - although it should be noted that Heggie was a 400m runner, but we're including him for his sprint finish! I cannot imagine that Jack’s record is going anywhere soon. Being a good runner is only half the battle, poor conditions will significantly slow down the fastest of runners – this is especially true on the trails of Clumber which become quickly very heavy underfoot, slowing progress significantly.

Oli won the event an unprecedented five times between 2012-2017. In theory this could well be improved upon in the future as more year groups are now at Worksop - although logistics currently prohibit this (i.e. those younger than the IVth form don't currently run the race).

Six other runners have won the event three times:

·         P.G. Turner (Mountgarret) 1931, 1932 & 1933

·         J.M. McKean (Pelham) 1947, 1949 & 1950

·         J.R. Buckner (Talbot) 1977, 1979 & 1980 (4th in 1976)

·         S.T. Lewis (Shirley) 1991, 1992 & 1993 (2nd in 1990)

·         Marcus Smith (Pelham) 1995, 1996 & 1997 (2nd in 1994)

·         S. Palmer (Pelham) 2004, 2005 & 2006 (2nd in 2003)

Tagged senior sixth form