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News > Archives > A brief history of the Dorm Run

A brief history of the Dorm Run

The Dorm Run was first held in 1897 and is still going strong today. Here we take a brief look at some of the winners and record holders over the years.
3 Jul 2020
Written by Simon Langley
Dorm Run participants from 1986.
Dorm Run participants from 1986.

In the March 1897 edition of The Cuthbertian we hear of a paperchase taking place on Shrove Tuesday - complete with pancakes for finishers - all runners finished... For many years, the Dorm Run continued to take place on Shrove Tuesday – a tradition that was discontinued in the late 1950s. Thirty-one runners took part in that first race and it was won by R.H. Palmer (Pelham 1895-1899) and in one fell swoop, the Dormitory Run was born. In 2024, the Dorm Run celebrates its 127th birthday and despite the assertations by various sources in the running world that the Notts 10 is the oldest race in Nottinghamshire, 1897 trumps 1970 whichever way you look at it!

It appears that an established Dorm Run course took many years to come to fruition. The first race in 1897 was an impressive 8 miles long; we then hear in 1906 it had been reduced to 4 miles and stayed around the same length until 1937, when it was reduced slightly to 3.8 miles. By 1959 the course length decreased 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 minor course alterations, the course has remained intact ever since – an undulating 3.8 mile trot through the trails of Clumber Park – not long enough for the purists and far too long for the rest.

Race cancellations are thankfully a rarity nowadays, but the COVID19 pandemic resulted in the 2020 race being scrapped; for the first time in 42 years. 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. 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.

Due to the ever-changing nature of the Dorm Run, course records have 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 yet another new route. Despite running slower the next year (poor conditions) 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 at most. Griffiths’ record lasted until the course changed for a final time in 1968 (20:39 was the next fastest time recorded on that 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 future European champion 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 stormed victory in a mind-boggling 18:35 (4:53 mile splits on a less-than-flat course), with second-placed A.R. Cooke (Scholae 1975-1980) also dipping under the old record (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 (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 becomes very heavy underfoot with a bit of inclement weather.

One runner who deserves a special mention is Oli (now a member of staff at the College), whom won the event an unprecedented five times between 2012-2017. In theory this could well be improved upon in the future given the new setup at Worksop… Theory and reality are of course very different things! Oli’s record is likely just as safe as Jack’s.

The winning individual has worn the fleur de leys of Pelham 29 times and the crown of Talbot 20 times over the years – these houses do have an advantage as they have been around the longest of course. The all-important winning house totals (not always diligently recorded) currently sees Portland at the helm with 22 wins with Talbot at 18 – this is all the more impressive given Portland is no longer a senior house, yet is still way out in front.

The Dorm Run remains (for many) as the highlight of the sporting year at Worksop – it is certainly a special race and long may it continue! This wise quote from the 1975 Worksopian magazine should be heeded though: “…”Shakespeare effortlessly shattered the school record, as no doubt future futters will shatter his”. Records come and go, but winners last forever.

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