Early in the race: Frith, followed by Harrell and Domville (photo: Sally Chapman)
Senior Men Victorious
As the nights draw in, the rain begins to fall it can only mean one thing, the start of the cross country season. In usual fashion the Senior Men’s team opened up with our home fixture at Claybury and we hit the ground running with victory. The muddy surface proved to be a happy hunting ground for us as Ahmed Abdulle led us home with a fine second place behind Hillingdon’s Abdishaker Abdulle. Ahmed improved enormously this track season, breaking 15 minutes for the first time over 5k, and a performance like this shows there is far more to come. We had little time to wait before our next two runners crossed the line in 3rd and 4th. Ash Harrell, second claimer from the City of Norwich, had what he described as ‘a solid run’ after a long week at work. If he feels third is a solid run, it will be interesting to see what he can do on a good day! Tom Frith, also a second claimer, had another good outing in a green and white vest after becoming a key asset for us at Claybury over the previous three years. He has promised to try and be available for more Met Leagues this season, which will only aid our charge to maintain top spot in the league table. 4th scorer, and making his debut for us, was Rory Domville. Unsure if he was going to race right up until Saturday morning, we were pleased he did as he snuck inside the top 20 for 19th spot.
This was a good run for a man plagued by a hamstring problem, and suggests there is more to come. Our 5th scorer home and first first-claim athlete of the day was Tom Beedell. As always, Tom looks strong and composed over the mud as he ran a well-paced race to hold his 22nd place for much of the 8km course. Another who has had a good summer was our 6th man home Angus Holford, who was three spots off Tom in 25th. This was another good run from this clubman who always delivers! Our next scorer was a resurgent Tom Phillips in 34th. His new job and discipline instilled by his wife has resulted in Tom getting in more miles as he has one eye on London come April. If Tom can finish this high off of steady running, we will be excited to see what he can achieve once he has a few sessions in his legs! Five spots further back in 39th was Bertie Powell, the marathon man with a plan to race as much as he can! Not only is Bertie keeping his consecutive Met Leagues going, he is doing it in some style and he was pleased to place inside the top 40.
Team manager Darren Southcott was next home in 50th position. This was a reasonable run from Darren and reflective of training of late, but unfortunately it will be his only outing over the mud as he relocates to Singapore next month - cross country courses may differ somewhat on the equator! 10th man home was James Stockings in 62nd, making his first Met League appearance since his sojourn in the United States. It was good to see James back on the country and he will no doubt go from strength to strength as he has his eye on a race every weekend from now until January! James was closely followed by Michael Waddington in 63rd - another debutant second claimer and a product of Bertie’s famous Tuesday night sessions. Unfortunately Michael missed the start but managed to make up as much ground as the 29 minutes of running would allow. He will almost certainly finish higher in subsequent fixtures once he toes the start line on time! Closing out our scoring 12 was Thomas Adolphus in 65th. Thomas (photo left) joins us from John Stow’s crop of runners and it’s great to see the juniors breaking into the senior ranks. This closed our A team out in top spot. A fine effort by all which leaves us in a strong position heading into fixture two.
Opening the scoring for our B team was Thomas' training partner Videsh Weerakkody in 71st, another making a step up into the senior ranks. This was another good run from a man who specialises over 800m and 1500m. A few more tough runs over the longer cross country distance and he’ll go from strength to strength. Simon Beedell was our 14th man home in 75th, a solid run after taking a hard tumble on an unforgiving course half way round. Simon was followed by Alex Cornwell 8” back in 81st. Alex makes his token cross country appearance for us at Claybury every year. With a run like that, here’s to hoping we can coax a few more out of him! Former Essex Champion Kevin Murphy was our next man home, just missing out on the top 100 in 101st. The smile on Kevin’s face can never hide how pleased he is to be back running over the mud again.
In 110th spot was Robbie Cox, the mileage man with his next marathon in his mind. This was a good run from Robbie whose focus will turn back to the roads in due course, but the strength from thrashing out a few good cross country races will only help him. Revelling in the success of his U11s, coach Jolyon Everitt was our next man home in 201st. Joe was thrilled with his day’s work as he had much success as both coach, running himself and ensuring a tent was in place to keep everyone’s stuff dry. This was a great effort from Joe! We welcomed home Ray Dzikowski in 232nd, a good run from Ray, placing him 10th in his V55 age group. Another junior, Joe Geller, was next man home in 257th. After taking a break from athletics, he is getting himself fit again and we will eagerly watch his position improve throughout the season. Joe was followed home by Paul Major in 266th, 8th in his V50 age category.
Paul Stockings finished in 296th, keeping his Met League streak going as he knows Bertie will be hot on his heels in future years! Next home was Jon Williams, another from Bertie’s training group who missed the start, and another whose finishing position will improve throughout the season. Alun Evans was next home in 332nd, somewhat disgruntled at having his first defeat to Paul Stockings in a while, but this was a reasonable run from Alun who finished 11th in his age category. Closing the team out was Trevor Powell in 418th, finishing a good 4th in his age category. We now turn our attention to the second fixture at Welwyn Garden City on 9th November.
The run of Indian summer conditions for the Claybury fixture had to end sometime. Steady rain cooled the air to a nippy 12 degrees on Saturday; and that wasn’t the only change. After a debate that’s divided the League nearly as much as a certain national question, the 2019/20 season has been deemed a test year for equalisation of senior women’s and men’s race distances at the longer length of “seven to eight" kilometres. Gone was the small starter loop this time. Three large laps of the course it was, including three times up "that hill".
“Whose idea was this?” somebody asked as over 200 women toed the soggy line and 400 Achilles heels twitched in trepidation as un-spike conditioned legs geared up to deliver the kind of performance not usually demanded of them until at least December. The reply came less than thirty seconds later in an almighty “Whoop!" as starter David Hollingworth gave the course briefing.
After an upbeat end to last season with promotion back to the First Division, it was a thrill to have a squad of ten turn out in the rain to make sure an indelible marker went down at this historic fixture. With six needed to score in the top division, strength in depth is the essential factor, so it was excellent to see six of our best and all ten Woodford athletes among the 209 finishers. But how would the new distance affect the finishing order?
There was no change at the top of the order as Suzanne Phillips (18), on the heels of former club mate, now VPTH rival, Kat ‘Gundo’ Gundersen, had a great run; her strong performance all the sweeter after a two month off-spell over the summer recovering from a nasty fall off her bike. Welcome returnee and recent graduate Anna Clark (20, photo left) was 4” behind Phillips with a gutsy show of endurance running and hopefully only the first of many cross country deposits in the 800m specialist’s winter training bank. Next, with another strong performance, possibly her senior Met League best, was Alicia McArdell (39), clearly loving the longer distance which was a relative sprint for Zoe Watson (47), with another great run, possibly boosted by the administrative if not actual rejuvenation bestowed by a levelled-up Vet threshold. Fifth was Rachel Lund (62) who had popped over from temporary residence in Berlin, “unfit” after a half year of Instagram-envy inducing South American travel but nonetheless putting in a decent shift. Closing for the team was Becky Wilby (70) with our sixth great run over the three laps.
There was a long gap before seventh finisher and first home for WGEL B V50 Jenny Thomas (129) made it through the funnel, struggling with a niggle. Next was V50 Alex Wardle (143) and behind her new second claim signings V45 Maud Hodson (150), treating the run as a warm up for a marathon she was running less than 24 hours later; and (V40) Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera (192) on weary legs a week after the Loch Ness marathon, closing for the Woodies.
We finished a very impressive fourth place overall - our opening position in the SECOND division last year. We will need to get six strong scorers out across the next four fixtures to be competitive, and without Rachel Lund until January, that won’t be a certainty, but nor is it an impossibility. We have spare legs in the squad. We’ll need them on the line.