A small band of Woodford athletes ventured out in the harsh cold of a locked-down January to record times for the qualifying round of the inaugural England Athletics Virtual Road Relay. Team scores comprise the cumulative times of the fastest four men and four women from each club over 5 miles each, with the top 50 clubs to qualify for the national round in February. As the window closed, provisional results put Woodford in 43rd place and through to the national round in February, with a time of 4:04:36 for the 40-mile race distance.
The mixed-team format shows the importance of strength in depth in both the men’s and women’s squads. While the 23 minute deficit to qualifying round leaders Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow is unbridgeable, the 9 minutes necessary to target the top 20 would be achievable through a combination of wider participation, competition for scoring team places, and marginal gains by the same individuals. This would give a shot at overhauling rivals such as Colchester Harriers, who we defeated in a 10k Mob Match before Christmas, and here were first Essex club in 18th.
Separated by a hairs-breadth of two seconds, our fastest men were Phil Norman (25:34), with his tempo training run out and back along the River Taw from Barnstaple the 36th fastest time of the round, and Ed Shepherd (25:36). Fastest woman was Suzanne Phillips (32:05) on a circuit round South Oxford on Friday morning, fitting in her leg around her commitments administering COVID-19 vaccinations.
Suzanne’s husband Tom Phillips also scored for the team, delivering 27:15 on the same course later that day, starting out at 25:50 pace and making a conscious effort to rein it in. He set the bar for Tom Beedell who ran 26:30 in Brentwood, reprising his performances from the summer Mob Matches and Essex 12-stage. Both performances represent a welcome return to form after comparatively low-key runs in the December 10k Mob Match against Colchester.
Rachel Lund braved small dogs, weed-smoking pedestrians, and an unexpected uphill finish after having to deviate from her planned course due to snow in sight of the Zurichsee, Switzerland, recording a valuable 34:32. She was closely backed up by Zoë Watson, recorded 35:40, on the same River Taw path as Phil Norman had done, earlier in the week, but the opposite configuration of the out-and-back course. If nothing else, Woodies can clearly be relied upon independently to find the best running routes in North Devon.
The women’s side of the team was closed by Alicia McArdell, with only a week’s training under her belt after time out for a sprained ankle. Taking advantage of an extension to the race window due to icy conditions across England, she had to stop twice on her tour of Harlow on the final Monday of the race window due to a sore hip. She pressed on and recorded 37:26, taking four and a half minutes off our team time. These, it would turn out, would be crucial for our qualification.
Eventual non-scorers, were Alex Wardle (42:07) over two laps of Leyton Flats, with “nothing injured” marking a success, and Angus Holford (28:07), who had an off-day on his flat 5-lap course on Boadicea Way in Colchester, after a month coasting through virtual races with no proper sessions. Both hope to be back, fitter and gunning to make the scoring team in the next round.