[Now updated with women's race report]
The saying “when it rains, it pours” has never rung truer than for WGEL’s men’s cross country squad, who faced driving rain and a depleted A team as they took on the second race in the Start Fitness Met League series at Stevenage on Saturday.
With injury, illness and globetrotting adventures ruling out front-end talent such as Tom Phillips, Darren Southcott, Donatas Tumaitis and Angus Holford to name just a few, it was up to the rest of the squad to step up and deliver the goods.
Note: team standings are still being finalised by the league. An updated report will be published once the final team results are known.
As with the first fixture at Claybury, new signing Joe Townsend was first across the line in 18th. Matching his position from the first race is a sterling effort, given Stevenage once again featured its traditional influx of high quality guest runners from Cambridge University to add to the already excellent field.
Hard on his heels was James Stockings, backing up a flying run at last week’s National XC Relays in Mansfield with another excellent performance to come home 25th. Less than 10 seconds down on James was Tom Beedell in 29th, another very solid performance which got Woodford’s A team off to a promising start with three runners in the top 30.
Fourth in for the team was Dan Steel in 37th, getting out of the blocks a lot quicker than at Claybury and holding his position to the finish. Steel’s form on the country is improving with every race, and it is clear from this performance that his speed over the shorter stuff is coming back following his escapades at the Comrades Marathon earlier in the year. Just two places back in 39th was Tomaz Plibersek, who recovered well from going off a little too quickly to duck inside the top 40 as 5th scorer.
With the field now streaming in thick and fast, next came sixth scorer Bertie Powell, sporting his traditional red and white hat as he finished a creditable 57th. Mileage-king Simon Beedell was next in for the team, taking the 7th scoring place just 30 seconds back from Powell in 72nd. After missing him at the first race in Claybury, it was great to see the pink shorts of XC specialist Kevin Murphy back in green and white hoops and chasing Beedell all the way to the line in 75th and eighth Woodford man.
Stepping up from the B team, but losing fifteen places on his Claybury result, was Louis Clark in 102nd. Clark was initially happy to have taken the scalp of Harold Wyber, 11th scorer and 113th overall, until Wyber mentioned that he’d run the whole way round the course feeling like he had a lead belt round his waist. Still, a bad run from Woodford’s metronomic ultra runner is still a performance to be proud of for most.
Cracking the A team in his first appearance of the winter season was Julian Russell. After the race Russell was undecided about whether the fact he had a decent finishing kick at the end was a good thing, or meant he had held back too much. As it turned out, he beat next man in Gary Coombes, so that kick had been crucial in securing him the status of eleventh scorer. Coombes filled the all-important position of 12 A-team scorer in 155th, an excellent result in his debut Met League season.
Behind Coombes, a battle royale was taking place for the coveted status of B team captain, with Gareth Cavell and Pete Caton coming into the finishing straight neck-and-neck. Cavell had taken the maverick approach of wearing football boots for the race, and the studs did the business as he narrowly edged out a hard-kicking Caton for 218th place to 219th.
After the Cavell/Caton sprint-off, next in for Woodford was none other than Met League legend Paul Stockings in 357th. A result just nine places down on his finish in Claybury, which bagged him top spot in the C team, this time elevated Stockings to the heady heights of third B team scorer.
Behind Stockings was Richard Holland, 4th B teamer in 375th and clearly finding the Stevenage course much tougher going than Claybury, ceding over 100 places on his result from race one. Another to show consistency race-to-race was Tom Spanyol, with his 391st comparing very favourably to a 387th at Claybury and good enough for 5th in the B team. Sixth and final scorer was Trevor Powell, who took home the title of biggest improver, his 413th a huge jump from 437th at Claybury.
With the new signings bedding in and club stalwarts coming into form as December approaches, the ambition is now to win the remaining fixtures and bring Highgate’s winning run to an end!
As is now customary for the Stevenage fixture, a typical November day it was - driving rain, gloom, murk. Despite 12 hours of soaking beforehand, the ground was surprisingly firm on this flattest of Met League fixtures. Having lost the short but pleasant wooded section of the course after the 2014 season, it was good to see an attempt had been made to put the ‘country' back into the fixture by the annexing of a shortish section of rough grassland.
Slightly smaller fields than recently for both Men’s and women’s races, 440 and 182 respectively - buoyed by Cambridge University’s regular guest runners.
Eight was the size of our squad this time, with Season newcomers Heather Wilson, Sara Beedell and Susan Edwards making their League debut in green and white.
V40 Kat Gundersen (18) was first home in a typically strong run, this talented athlete also taking the day’s fourth Vet slot. Next, making her debut in an excellent 24th place was new signing Heather Wilson, back from Uni and training regularly at Bertie Powell’s sessions. New to cross country, she enjoyed a gutsy race and this fast course suited her undeniable talent. More to come from her as the season progresses. Third scorer was Zoe Watson (48), pleased with her top 50 placing after a strong summer’s training. Newcomer Sara Beedell (Mrs Tom) was just three places behind Zoe in fourth, in what was another of the day’s performances with future promise. Glad to be back to cross country after several seasons away, Sara was pleased with her run and positively looking forward to the winter. Fifth home was V45 Jenny Thomas (81) then came V50 Susan Edwards (87) closing for the A team on her League debut.
Our incomplete B Team was V45 Alex Wardle (92) with renewed vim for racing as she gets back to fitness. Closing for the squad Kate Stockings (103) used to being further up the order admitted to not having the legs on the day, despite training very strongly.
Closing the day down in 7th place looks disappointing, though it's still all to play for. A strong squad at Scrubs is what we need.