On Saturday, the men's winter team competed in the first major championship of the cross-country season, the Essex County Cross Country Championships. Hopes were high as a strong team toed the start line in a bid to make it a hat trick of county championship team titles. The course had remained reasonably firm throughout the winter but a long spell of rain on Friday night meant that surface water and some slippery, muddy patches were present.
L to R: Steel, Southcott, Plibersek, Stockings, Holford, Beedell
After one lap of running around the three lap, 7-mile course, a group of 6 men had broken away, containing three green and white hooped men. Despite putting up a good challenge, we reluctantly let the individual title slip to Southend's Tom Frith, a very worthy winner of a closely fought race. Following Tom home and first Woodford man was James Stockings. James is enjoying one of his best winters to date. Having had some good runs for his Durham university team and a breakthrough performance in the last Met League, James entered this race full of confidence. He went with Tom when he made a break after 7km, but could not quite hang on, finishing 22 seconds adrift of gold spot. James had to pull out a sprint finish we would expect of a 3.50 1500m man to hold of the fast finishing Rob Warner of Havering, beating him by a single second. Next Woodford man home was Tom Beedell. By his own admission Tom came here looking for the win and was competitive at the front of the race throughout the first half, making his intentions known. He did not quite achieve the result he was after, describing his performance as a 'par' run, but a strong run none-the-less, finishing just one place further back than his bronze medal position of last year.
(Photo above: Stockings and Beedell set the pace) 9 seconds further back in 6th spot was Darren Southcott. Darren entered the race in good shape with his own high expectations in mind and set off with the lead group. His progress toward the end of the first lap was hindered as he stumbled twice in the space of half a mile. He got up and recovered well to hold on to the leaders until about 7km when he settled into 5th place and would remain there until the last 100m of the race when he was caught by Chelmsford's Grant Twist. Darren was content with his performance, having come a long way since his 26th place finish last year.
The next three places in our scoring 6 team came in quick succession with Dan Steel, Angus Holford and Tomaz Plibersek finishing in ninth, tenth and eleventh respectively. Dan Steel is enjoying his best cross-country season yet. He once again started conservatively and worked his way through the race. The recent addition of surface mud did not suit Dan's cause, as it is no secret that the roads are his favoured surface, but he stuck at the task well to be our fourth man home. 7 seconds behind Dan was a resurgent Angus Holford. Angus's season took an illness setback in November and he has not quite reached his heights of last year's cross season. However, he has lots of miles in his legs from his marathon build up from 2016 and always gives 110 per cent. This was a pleasing, improved and strong performance from Angus who will grow as the season grows with the Southern and National Championships round the corner. Closing the team was Tomaz Plibersek. Tomaz has reduced his mileage of late and has turned his hand to coaching with good success. This change of focus has not hindered Tomaz's ability to turn out in Woodford colours and put in a very solid performance. Tomaz's run rounded off what can only be described as a dominant performance for Woodford, taking the team title with a grand total of 42 points. The second place club Colchester amassed 188 points.
Our next man home and kicking off the B team was Harold Wyber. This marathon and ultra-marathon man had been struggling of late with a hamstring niggle yet was determined to get out for the county champs. Despite missing some training, Harold put in a solid run to finish 19th, chipping into the high mileage strength stored deep within his pegs! The second B teamer home was Tommy Bower in his first outing for us this winter, finishing in 40th spot. Tommy has been looking to get back into shape with the East London half marathon round the corner, and is doing so with good success. A very quick track runner in his day, he knows what his body requires to gain shape and will be a useful asset should he don his spikes again this winter. Two places further back was Julian Russell, another Woodford man having one of his best cross-country seasons. Julian is mixing his running with some road cycling this year and it is paying dividends, keeping his heart strong and injuries at bay. It will be interesting to see how he will keep progressing throughout 2017, building on successive good results. Our 10th man home and 4th B team scorer was Jolyon Everitt in 49th place. Jo has had some serious injury troubles of late and is taking a cautious build up back to full fitness. Jo paced his race very well and as his sessions and miles gradually increase, it will not be long until we see Jo back to fine form again. Our 5th Scoring B team runner was super-vet David Cox. Finishing in 68th place and what I believe to be first V60 of the day, Dave is still able to prove to be a very valuable member of our winter squad. Dave will have some other targets in the form of national vets championships and various road races, so this performance will give him a platform from which to propel himself. Closing our B team was Pete Caton, two places behind Dave in 70th. This was a solid run from Pete who was a touch out of his comfort zone over the longer distance. This will prove to be great endurance work for the 800m man who will continue to chase times on the track this summer. The B team finished off with a score of 288 points, which was good enough for 5th team on the day and by far the first B team. This is a very valiant effort, which shows the depth of our squad.
Our 13th man home was marathon maestro James Perry in 85th. With aspirations on the road, James uses the cross country to help build on his strength, and his performances are continuing to improve. Tempos on the soft stuff will help his marathon targets and all appears to be moving in the right direction.
It was a very successful County Championships for the Men's winter team. We would all like to say a huge thank you to the committee and volunteers who helped mark out and marshal the course.
Never a massive event for our women, our hosting once again this year meant that we were always expected to field a team. On paper we looked competitive, but two key losses to illness going into the weekend meant that we were down to a bare four.
144 women finished the three-lap course. Newcomer Heather Wilson (15) was first home for Woodford with a fine run for her first time on the home course, a solid course of Bertie Tuesdays and a Christmas training partner keeping her sharp over the holiday. Only three places but 1’12” behind Heather in this strung out top end was ‘last seen on TV’ economy pundit Rachel Lund (18) with a characteristically powerful run. V45 Jenny Thomas (38) was third scorer, delighted to have broken the top 40. Closing for the team V45 Alex Wardle (64) pleased to have the first five miler of the season out of the way.
WGEL closed eighth. The winning team was Basildon AC followed by Chelmsford AC and in third Orion Harriers.
Meanwhile in the U20 race over the shorter 5k distance Alicia McArdell, sole WGEL representative, finished 2nd.