WOMEN SLIDE INTO THE RELEGATION ZONE AFTER ALLY PALLY QUAGMIRE
Move over Dry January and Veganuary and make some room for Quaganuary; for there was only ever going to be one dominating set of conditions at Ally Pally on Saturday and the mud did not disappoint. However it didn’t stop hundreds of athletes, including over two hundred senior women, fresh from the first week back after the Christmas break, from tying a third knot in their spikes, one for every lap of this legendary course they would be tackling on this equalised route. The course notes may have omitted the H word, but there was no mistaking The Hill’s looming presence on that squelching start line.
Track man Pete Caton negotiates the mud the others left behind (pic: Sam Royle)
But the signs in the Woodford camp were encouraging. In what is possibly a first at this point in the season, certainly in recent times, there were nine athletes in Woodford’s colours.
Eight relentlessly muddy kilometres later, the six scorers were Alicia McArdell (28) whose legs had clearly recovered well from the previous week’s Essex Championships where she had a great run for sixteenth place. Around 90” behind was Rachel Lund (52), fresh off the Paris Eurostar and coming back to fitness with more regular training. Zoe Watson (92), having struggled with her training mojo in recent weeks, found the mud simply getting the better of her on the day, but battled through to give us three in the first hundred finishers. Kate Stockings (131) was next, with a strong performance on the “relentless” mud. She was followed by V50 Jenny Thomas (149) and second claim V45 Maud Hodson (171) who closed the scoring.
V50 Alex Wardle turned out after 3 weeks' illness simply in order to ensure there was a scoring 6, but as we were quorate she opted to be sensible after 2 laps. So the backstop this time was second claim V40 Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera (226).
Delighted to get so many women out, it wasn’t enough to get us more than eleventh spot on the day and leave us eleventh in the League overall; firmly in the relegation zone. With our strongest showing at Trent Park in a month’s time we could hold on, but we need everyone we’ve got for that and for them to be running at their very best. We can do it but whether it will be enough remains to be seen.
Woodford’s men regrouped and put in a stronger performance in the penultimate race of the Met League season. Finishing 4th on the day they consolidated their league position of 4th and have given themselves an opportunity to overhaul London Heathside who sit in 3rd. Conditions on the day were the most challenging of the season so far, and once the hundreds of young athletes and then women had tackled the course then men found a very literal quagmire ahead of them as they lined up on the start line of the three lap course. Returning former manager Darren Southcott showed all his leadership skills in organising the team to be the best position on the start line away from the bottle neck around the finishing pen, leaving much of the Woodford contingent in the top ten for the first half mile, offering a fleeting glimpse of times gone by.
As so often this season, Tom Beedell and Angus Holford were locked in an intense battle with the former again just edging the duel (22nd and 24th) and stretching his lead in the Ken Bray Trophy to 4 points. This battle looks like it will go down to the wire this season with neither athlete willing to give an inch. The co-team managers were even engaged in mind games after the race trying to work out the other’s race plan for the season ahead.
Next in was Tom Phillips (38th) with a performance that appeared to be 2 steps forward 1 step back after breaking back into the top 20 at the last race, but Tom reflected after the race that he had probably done too much Christmas and not enough running in December, and that, coupled with the start of his marathon training programme, just blunted his attack here.
For the 82nd time in a row Bertie Powell crossed the finish line in a Met League, this force of nature was his typical, aggressive, self, attacking hard from the outset and defending his position with counter attacks when anyone tried to overtake him. Ultimately the finish was about half a mile too far on the day as he faded slightly on the third lap but, given recent illness, he was pleasantly surprised with his 42nd and will be building on it as the season reaches its crescendo.
Next in was Dan Steel in 50th, starting to re discover his cross country legs after marathon exertions. Traditionally he has found these types of sink-or-sink cross country courses harder than the faster, firm alternatives, so it was pleasing to see him out there scoring highly for the team and putting a lot of good men behind him in only his second Met League of the season.
Not far behind was a renewed-looking James Stockings (54th), who may have rediscovered the proverbial eye of the tiger after what he saw as a poor performance at the Essex last week. Talks of fresh motivation and the return of hunger pre-race were backed up with a gutsy effort which saw him battle with team mates and opposition alike.
Aforementioned former team manager Darren Southcott should have been on holiday from his new, low-tax, high-humidity life in Singapore, but circumstances instead found him slogging his way to 61st, and the club were delighted to have him a week after a jet-lagged run helped the team secure silver medals at the Essex. This, however, is sure to have been an unwelcome reminder of what his life used to be like, and it probably won’t have him pining for home now he is back in Singapore.
Second-claimer Michael Waddington was next in, in 66th. His second appearance in this year's Met, and placing higher up in the team standings, proving there is plenty of low-hanging fruit to be picked from Bertie’s Tuesday night training group, of which Michael is a part and will develop well because of.
9th Scorer was Harold Wyber, ensuring that Woodford continued to pack well as he came in just 7 seconds behind Michael for 69th. A man who loves the adventure of muddy cross country, the 5 miles of a Met League perhaps doesn’t give him long enough to really get stuck in, so no doubt he will hope the rain keeps falling ahead of a return to Parliament Hill Fields for the South of England Championships over 15km in a few weeks' time.
Simon Beedell was the 10th man home in 81st, leaving teaching and back in the land of London run commutes, preparation has begun for his quasi-annual assault on the London Marathon, so with sudden extra miles in his legs this was a good performance, tracking teammates in to help with the green-and-white packing.
Almost 100 runners crossed the line before our next man, Peter Caton, came home in 173rd. Pete is almost always better-suited to dryer, firmer conditions so it's admirable that this excellent clubman was happy to give the famous old course a crack, let alone score valuable points for the team.
Closing the scoring 12 was Julian Russell (217th), who managed to hold off a resurgent Paul Manson (221st). Paul is more accustomed to counting people across the finish line at these races than crossing it himself (as pointed out by the starter's assistant on the start line) so it's good to see another long-serving club man back out running on the course.
Robbie Cox, another man back in the fold, blighted by injuries over a period of time, is progressing well as demonstrated by his 234th and placing higher in the team rankings than his only other outing in a Met League this season at Claybury.
Cheered on by most of his family, Paul Stockings (365th) was gleefully telling team mates of his London Marathon place before the gun went, and he is sure to be looking forward to the spring and a return to the road after the long slog of a cross country season inspired by the extra notches he is adding the his impressive Met League tally.
Club legend Paul Stockings is a blur (of speed?) as he ticks off another lap (photo: Sam Royle)
After berating himself at Uxbridge for picking the water crossing as his first Cross Country of the season Tom Spanyol (447th) can’t have been much happier that his third (after the Essex CC) was this mud-bath, but he competed well throughout to finish in front of over 50 others.
The 5th scorer for the B team was Roger Green (474) who was just under 2 minutes ahead of the proverbial Trevor Powell (487th) who does his job of closing the Woodford machine with such aplomb that its hard to imagine anyone else filling that role.
The proverbial Trevor Powell swoops past an (Ealing) Eagle (pic: Sam Royle)
With 1 Met League remaining, and attention starting to turn towards upcoming championships, this was a welcome reminder of the health and strength of this squad which, on the day, was probably just two runners shy of posting a very competitive total. A performance that the management committee (over a few beers) agree is something to build on and that can be looked forward from with excitement.