After a 1976-beating summer, it was only to be expected that the 2018-9 season opener would be a balmy one - it usually is. Nobody anticipated it would be scorchio; but it was a stunning autumn day to kick off the season.
As has also become customary in this mighty league, the field was a big’un. 233 women finished, a record I think for Claybury, if not the League. With new flags denoting new clubs and a great vibe all round as Woodies gathered in their usual spot beside the beautiful ancient oak, there was bound to be excitement.
Relegated to Division 2 after (yet) another disappointing season last year, where we struggled to get a scoring six to any fixture after the first, things already looked like a challenge; losing the talented V40 Kat Gundersen to her old club VPTH added to the pain.
Photos (by Mark Easton - available to purchase)
Alicia McArdle (872) and Becky Wilby race it out in the woods (photo: Sally Chapman)
But there’s nothing like a challenge to spur Woodies into action, so it was a joy to see eight women line up on Saturday in the sunshine. This was also the first fixture since the League decided in March not to follow form elsewhere and equalise the distance for men and women to 8K. With the hindsight of what was to follow, I daresay some were relieved not to have to go the extra 2k in the heat; others were clearly taking the opposite stand and several vests determinedly bore the call to action #runequal
First home in green and white was newly wed Suzanne Turvey (23), clearly still on cloud nine after tying the knot with middle distance man Tom Phillips, and if tired from post nuptial excitement and the big shifts that are the junior doctor’s lot, she certainly wasn’t showing it. Next was ultra junkie V35 Zoe Watson (51) her endurance fitness showing through in her best league performance, if not ever, then certainly for some seasons. Third was new signing Rebecca ‘Becs’ Wilby (73) admittedly in need of sharpening after a long summer holiday, but with a very promising debut nonetheless. On her heels an equally strong Alicia McArdell (75) made it four. If there could possibly be an advantage in relegation it is that only five runners are needed to score, but ideally in fewer than forty places. Fifth and final scorer an insufficiently hill-ready V50 Jenny Thomas (115) feeling very rusty indeed after a summer of ticking over, closed to take the team into fourth place.
Zoe Watson: 2nd scorer for the team
Its quite some time since the heading B Team has appeared in any Women’s race report so I’m going to mark it down, even if it was incomplete. Sixth finisher and first home for WGEL B was lady of leisure Alex Wardle (139) looking fresh after a summer of freedom, albeit still sniffling from a recent cold, Second for the Bs was welcome returner Sara Beedell (145) “so unfit” by her own admission, after a maternity break, but looking strong, and keen to get back up the finishing order. Closing for Woodies was stalwart Susan Edwards (211) “jogging” round the course to test out her dodgy knee, pleased to be running, even if tentatively.
We finished a fair fourth overall. Not great - and a disappointment when compared to the enviable depth of our men’s and young athletes’ teams - but not bad, given that a decent chunk of our strength was not available this time. With solid performances over the rest of the season we could - I hope we will - be able to do enough to progress toward promotion by the end of the season. It's in our hands. Lets hope it's in our legs.