With the club's young athletes mostly competing in the Essex Schools Champs at Basildon, there was little green-and-white action until the women's race, but when it came it was worth waiting for as our girls overturned the 13-point deficit to perennial league champions Highgate. Supermum Linda Jackson, as is her wont, started aggressively but this time nobody could stay with her. She led from the start and developed the gap relentlessly. For a while Lara Bromilow (Victoria Park) chased her, but after she lost a shoe the chasing was left to 25-year old Lisa Da Silva (Thames Valley), who had finished 4th in the Middlesex Championships a week previously. 41-year old Linda's eventual winning margin was a healthy 32" as she never came under pressure.
The rest of our best women were embroiled in more competitive racing as just 30 seconds separated 7th from 18th. Lauren Stewart is having a very consistent first season with the club but her 7th place here was her best yet after two 9ths. Kat Gundersen was pleased to get closer to Diana Kennedy than she did in the Essex Champs last weekend, and she will no doubt be aiming to get the better of her one of these days. Just 2 seconds separated them in 17th and 18th.
Bernie Pritchett (23) performed heroics after losing a shoe halfway round the first lap and running 3 miles with one bare foot, including on the potentially nasty wooded trail. Not only did she get around but she progressed through the field passing athletes including our own Rachel Lund (24). Rachel was not fully recovered from skiing-related stiffness but did a fine job of closing the scoring team of six in front of Highgate's 4th scorer. Highgate closed in 35, just behind our next woman in, Maggie Powell (33), who passed her and several others in a terrific charge after emerging from the woods for the second and last time. Bath-based Maggie has been a real bonus to the team with her return to consistent racing this winter.
Stef McCarthy (72), who always judges her fitness level well, ran a really good race off limited training, in the field of 98, the smallest field of the season. Julia Shannahan (86) paid the price for starting too quickly and Alex Wardle (77) was able to use her greater experience to work past her and open a substantial gap.
Team Manager Wardle thus goes into the final fixture with a 24-point lead and faces the challenge of fending off the anticipated Highgate response. "Mid-week I was only expecting to have three top-25 athletes, but the girls rallied to the cause tremendously. Now we have the opportunity to win our first-ever Met League title. We've always been the bridesmaid. Now we're aiming to be the bride!"
Teams: 1, WGEL 498; 2, Highgate 461; 3, Ealing 413; 4, Serpentine 385
League: 1, WGEL 2741; 2, Highgate 2717; 3, Serpentine 2526
The men went into this fixture with a sizeable lead of 340 points over Shaftesbury but absolutely no over-confidence. Serious Humbug lineups in the last two fixtures could eat chunks out of that 340 if we did not treat the races with respect. By Saturday morning when the ill had been discounted and new volunteers put in place, team manager Terry McCarthy felt we had a fair chance of defending the lead with dignity. As it turned out, Shaftesbury's problems were greater than ours and we gleefully seized the opportunity to extend the gap to 470 points, though Serpentine were the actual race winners this time.
Woodies flocked from all corners to defend the league lead. Ewen Malloch drove up (yet again) from Bath. Iain Cumming from Rochester. Matt Molloy hopped off a train from Leeds. Dads and brothers drove at high speed from Basildon after supporting family members in the Essex Schools. Students Jordan Donnelly and Craig Berg sacrificed their Pot Noodle money for train tickets, and a fleet of vehicles headed down the Epping New Road towards the A1.
From an early stage, our supporters were spreading the message that Shaftesbury's "tail" was weak and our sheer numbers ensured we were well-placed. They had three men in a classy top 6, which we answered with four in 17. Bertie Powell (8) was running his 29th consecutive Met League race and has made the Ken Bray consistency trophy his own in recent years, never being beaten despite challenges from Kevin Murphy and Matt Shone. This year Ewen Malloch (9) is applying the pressure but yesterday it went 3-1 to Bertie in Met Leagues as Ewen felt tiredness from his marathon training schedule and Bertie was lively enough to chase a breakaway group and leave Ewen behind. The race was won in impressive fashion by Neilson Hall (Herts Phoenix/Bedford).
Tom Phillips popped in a most effective result before returning to the University of Wales, 12th being his best Met League finish as he enjoyed the firm going. Craig Berg (17) will have regained much confidence after notching his best placing, too, 28" down on ex-training partner Phillips. Martin McLean is proving an extremely exciting signing, already up to 34th after only taking up running last August and finishing 84th at Ruislip in late November. He certainly impressed training partner Jim Roche (52) by powering away over the third lap, and is already only 40" away from the coveted top 20.
Roche himself and Jordan Donnelly (41) were none too impressed by their performances. Roche has had a difficult season following his autumn marathon attempt while Donnelly is not doing his training justice. Alex Chklar (72) turned in another decent effort and picked up good points in this, his second sport. Dave Cox (90) has seen his training continually disrupted in recent months but he still took the honours as first M50 (and M55!!) by 3 seconds from London Irish's JJ Quirke.
Ever-present M45 Iain Cumming clinched his highest position of the season, 104, but damaged a calf muscle in the latter stages which has jeopardised his participation in next week's South of England champs, not to mention the London Marathon. Triathlete Matt Molloy (118) was next in, satisfied with his run though he cannot be 100% while sporting a large lump on his hip, the outcome of falling off his bike in training.
For half the race, it looked as though Terry McCarthy (137) would have the glory of closing the scoring 12, but Paul Manson (129) came through strongly and surprisingly given his 3-year injury battle which has included two knee operations.
With our first 12 safely home, Shaftesbury had to wait for their last three men in 162, 223 and 228, thus underlining the value of decent vets and the wounded but willing.
When questioned whether the league title was wrapped up, McCarthy snapped, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings, and 'er indoors is busy with Corrie!"
Teams: 1 Serpentine 1532; 2 WGEL 1439; 3 Hillingdon 1365
League: 1 WGEL 7074; 2 Shaftesbury Barnet 6604; 3 Serpentine 6573
Also of great interest to us was the Division 2 battle. Our B team went into the fixture with a lead of 120 over Beagles "A" and 579 over Herts Phoenix "A". On their home turf, Herts Phoenix were the big winners as they cut the gap to a mere 174 but, on the bright side, a small but always high-quality Beagles team (they fielded 6 men, all in the top 85) only beat us by 23 points, leaving us heading the table by 97 points.
This was thanks to a magnificent response by our B team-type guys. Manager McCarthy reported that he, "went into a corner of the Wilshire Rest [the clubhouse bar] on Tuesday night looking for volunteers, and five stout yoemen stood up, chests thrust out and shoulders back." This spirit ran right through the team, and when Martin Mack dropped out of the race injured, it meant that all our participants contributed to the B team total, including Tom Phillips' dad Stuart (261) who won a minor victory in avoiding finishing last, though he committed schoolboy errors for which he would have chided sons Tom and Ben, by having his laces come undone AND forgetting his spikes after the race!
Paul Stockings (149) was gutted to be beaten by his team manager and felt he was running faster than his final position showed. For Steve Dawkins (a very tidy 177) this was his first-ever race after training with our Ashton group for the last few Tuesdays, and it was bound to be a nervous occasion as the young man saw himself surrounded by honed, chiselled athletes on the start line as well as our B team. Dave Barrett (185) made his first appearance of the season in response to the bugle call and just held off a mighty run from Steve Lambert – 186 on this flat terrain, up from 252 on the hilly Ruislip course that he has been talking about in awe ever since.
Michael Murphy (195) did well again and ducked under the magic 200 mark, just ahead of Andy Smith (196). Julian "Juice" Thorpe (218) caught Tom Spanyol with half-a-lap to go and said, "Let's go in together", which they did emerging from the woods at the end, at which point Spanyol (214) showed his true colours by darting off. But Thorpe was generally happy just to get back racing again.
Alan Bird (234) felt he had to justify his recent insistence on not being struck off the active athletes register by turning out, and in so doing he gained good points for us as well as taking a healthy break from his currently stressful job in finance. The enigmatic Alex Davies (257) looked like a man on a mission – or something stronger and more sinister – when he shot off at the start in about 160th place, but he rather paid for his temerity.
Manager McCarthy was delighted with the commitment, "They're a great set of lads and they don't get much glory. Division 2 is tough to get out of for a B team, but we're getting there. One last effort required but, of course, the B team depends on the A team – they can't do it alone."
Div 2 teams: 1, Herts Phoenix 906; 2, Beagles 524; 3, WGEL B 501
Div 2 standings: 1, WGEL 4024; 2, Beagles 3927; 3, Herts Phoenix 3850