It was honours even as the five day window closed on the Woodford Green versus Colchester Harriers 10k virtual Mob Match on 20th December. Woodford emerged victorious in the 12-to-score and ‘Mob’ overall team competitions, with Phil Norman (31:40) and Suzanne Phillips (40:28) recording the fastest men’s and women performances of the match. Age-and-sex graded rankings were also calculated. Colchester took the team competitions based on these recalculated standings. M60 Dave Cox’s 40:28, converted to a notional ‘senior men’s time’ of 31:39.9 for 2nd place, was the top Woodford performance in this competition.
With most of the Colchester team waiting until the closing day to complete their runs in groups of 6 over a course starting at Stanway Rovers football club, the competition unfolded unusually like a cricket match: Woodford built a competitive set of performances over the preceding four days before waiting for the opposition’s response.
First out on Wednesday was Angus Holford (33:10), as a test pilot over the Harriers’ Stanway course. After an over-excited first km, the presence of his coach (and Harriers team manager) on a bike behind applied just the right amount of pressure to ‘not screw it up now’. Soon after, on his lunch break, Tom Beedell showed grit over the rolling hills of Ingatestone to deliver a run of 34:51.
Early on Thursday, Simon Beedell ran 35:06 in Amersham. As an M35, his run provided the first indication of the shake-up to come in the age-graded rankings, leapfrogging his brother by a few seconds in that competition. Bertie Powell later delivered 34:43, despite several stops for road crossings and in tunnels on the canals around Victoria Park. A self-confessed out-of-shape Dan Steel ran 38:43 on the streets of Beckenham. Unbeknown to him for another three days, this performance would close our 12-to-score team and seal the victory. Friday was quieter, with only Robbie Cox venturing out, recording 36:16 in Woking and ruing the delayed arrival of the squad’s new streamlined vests.
Tony Pamphilon, historically ‘Hammer of the Harriers’ on the Essex road circuit in the 1980s, opened our account on Saturday with 40:29 on a course round Wanstead Flats. This was enough for M60 Tony to take the lead in the age-graded competition, but he was dealt two hammer blows in return: news soon filtered through first that UK steeplechase champion Phil Norman had recorded a 31:40 split as part of a 7.5 mile tempo training run, and Colchester’s UK V60 marathon record holder Paul Mingay had run sub-37 minutes, performances that would eventually win the overall and age-graded competitions. Elsewhere on Saturday morning, Jack Gooch (32:53) and James Stockings (33:27) matched each other stride for stride over the first four miles in Gunpowder Park, before Jack pulled away to record what would eventually be the 3rd fastest time of the match. Meanwhile, the only U20 participating, Thomas Adolphus, ran very even splits to record 36:45 on Hackney Marshes, an impressive performance after extensive periods of self-isolation at university in recent weeks due to his own and housemates’ coronavirus cases. Tom Phillips recorded a stunning final 3k back into south Oxford to remind himself of his track ability, though was mainly relieved that his 35:50 edged ahead of Suzanne Phillips. Her run of 40:28 would win the women’s competition, and virtual tie with Pamphilon would close our 15-person ‘Mob’ and seal that victory. Sleep-deprived new father Rob Wilbraham soon recorded 41:27 on a challenging course in Chingford.
As Colchester’s performances flooded in on Sunday morning, Woodford’s rearguard sprang into action. Harold Wyber ran 39:52 on an undulating course round Chingford and Buckhurst Hill. His Strava map crossing out key parts of a letter on the map, leading to much speculation about what a certain World Cup final hat-trick scorer had done to offend this Hill. Alistair Holford’s heel survived his run of 50:39 round Wanstead Flats. This doubled Alistair’s weekly training mileage in one go, and earned the gratitude of his son, joint organizer Angus, for ensuring the ‘Mob’ would be substantially, rather than marginally, bigger than the 12-to-score competition. The final two aces up Woodford’s sleeve were former Essex cross country champions Kevin Murphy and Dave Cox, both of whom were running seriously for the first time in many weeks. Kevin’s 38:28 in West Stow, Suffolk, was the northernmost effort of the match, and made the scoring 12. Dave took a chance on a recovering foot injury to run 40:48 in a very crowded Victoria Park, just hours after Tier 4 restrictions came into effect. He was rewarded with second place in the age-graded competition.
An injury-cautious Matt Shone had been standing ready all of Sunday to lace up and deliver a decisive run if need be, but could safely be stood down: Woodford’s lead proved no green-and-white mirage, as the Harriers’ last submissions late on Sunday night could only narrow Woodford’s margin of the team victory, by 123 points to 186 in the 12-to-score, and 195 to 279 in the Mob Match. Colchester took the age-graded competitions by 141 to 160, and 221 to 244 respectively. Defeat by a narrow margin is always disappointing, but highly credible against a club stacked with several of the UK’s top veteran athletes, and with age-and-sex graded factors that category winner Mingay magnanimously described as“generous”.