Perhaps it was the unseasonable sun and relative warmth. Perhaps it was the cheering sight of a statue commemorating the first pineapple grown in the British Isles. Perhaps, for two members of our squad, it was the cheers of “come on Barnet” emanating from the host club that made them feel at home, though in the wrong sport. More likely though, it was the presence of our largest Met League-day squad since Claybury in October that meant optimism was in the air as the senior men’s team warmed up for the final fixture of the series at Trent Park on Saturday. Two very welcome second-claimers and two very welcome U20s swelling our ranks of home-grown and longstanding senior team members who delivered 12-in-102 and 18 runners in total to give Woodford 3rd place on the day and 4th overall in the league. And 4th is a strong improvement on last season's 7th!
Angus Holford: 1st man home for only the 2nd time in his lengthy WGEL career
Highgate won the day to extend their table-topping lead over Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets to 380 points. They must be saluted for extending their compelling run of championships to 8 seasons, but this was the closest finish in recent years amounting to only just over 6 places per scoring runner over the whole season, and with two head-to-head defeats at Claybury (pushed down into 3rd by Woodford) and Alexandra Palace, there may be a (small) chink in their armour.
With the narrow start well ploughed by several earlier races, most people’s spikes had receded well into the gloopy mud before the gun went off. Yet renewed second-claimer Ramadan Osman sprung out of the trap from the gun and was well to the fore at the first corner, 400m into the race, closely followed by stalwart Bertie Powell and Ware’s finest, Michael Waddington. All settled into their rhythm and contributed to our strongest team performance since October, but it was Angus Holford who was first man in for Woodford for only the second time in his senior Met League career, in 20th. Running past the finish with a lap to go Angus feared the race would be over too quickly if he didn’t push on, and was very pleased to gain around 6 places over the ensuing kilometres, including first Tom Beedell, who had similarly taken a more conservative approach at the start, and then Bertie Powell. Although the gap behind Angus looked “at least a minute” to Tom, in fact he was only 21 seconds behind in 26th. This underlines the small margins between positions in this competitive league, as did the further 3 places in only 5 seconds separating him from Bertie Powell in 29th. Bertie, now on 83 consecutive Met League finishes, had started aggressively, intending to see how long he could last, and survived well, only being reeled in by Tom late on the final lap. Shifting the course to the south side of the park appears sufficient to have lifted Bertie’s famous ‘Curse of Trent Park’.
James Stockings was 34th, completing an impressive sequence of improving his position from each fixture to the next over the entire season. “It’s amazing what happens when you train”, was the deadpan reflection of his Dad, Paul. James was 11 seconds ahead of Tom Phillips in 38th.This was a strong performance from Tom, balancing a bout of plantar fasciitis that didn’t go away even with three weeks rest earlier in the winter, with the imperatives of marathon training, leaving this correspondent in no doubt that he will deliver on the streets of London in April. Ramadan Osman, with his target race – The Big Half - looming somewhat sooner, welcomed the firmer and shorter course than the quagmire of Parliament Hill two weeks ago. He was pleased to get a race in ahead of the heralded Storm Ciara, which led to the cancellation of his scheduled Sunday fixture for Colchester Harriers, and was 6th man in 44th, two seconds and one place ahead of fellow second-claimer Michael Waddington in 45th.
Videsh Weerakkoddy: closely followed by Thomas Adolphus
Our brace of U20s were 5th and 6th in that age group across the line. Videsh Weerakkoddy in 62nd and Thomas Adolphus in 67th, are already looking forward to the track season, with English Schools qualifying standards on their lips, tempered with thoughts of exams. Their fine contribution this season means the team managers will hope to persuade them home from university – prospectively Loughborough and Cambridge – as frequently as possible.
Harold Wyber, terminating his experiment with handicap racing after his valiant effort to close our team after disruption to transport at Parliament Hill two weeks previously, was back on the start line at the same time as everybody else, and finished 71st. Not far behind was his former schoolmate Dan Steel in 92nd. Dan has been managing a hip injury and took a week off leading up to this race, so understandably also started conservatively, yet pushed on well once he knew he would hold together. Closing our team in 102nd was Simon Beedell, who had also been managing a niggle that had flared up after cross-Atlantic flights the previous weeks.
Our scoring 12 had what this season feels like a luxury, but is really essential, of being backed up by no less than 6 teammates. Finishing 127th was Robbie Cox, almost halving his position from Alexandra Palace, when no doubt still ‘under the influence’ of his impressive marathon in Valencia at the end of 2019. Finishing 164th, Pete Caton can now look forward to his annual assault on the V40 800m rankings. He was exactly a minute ahead of 205th placed Julian Russell, whose consistency across four Met Leagues this season has played no small part in keeping us in touch with the top three in the league. Pete and Julian’s attendance may have been partly inspired by the promise of post-race refreshments.
Finishing in 377th, Paul Stockings closed out the Stockings team in the ever-popular two-to-score WGEL families race, edging out the Holford team closed by Alistair in 417th, and the Powells closed by Trevor in 447th. Trevor took 3rd place in the overall V65 competition this season. Battle will be recommenced in two weeks’ time at the National Cross Country, described by Alistair as “my London Marathon”. After the National, the next great effort for the squad will be the Southern 12-stage on 22nd March. The performance at Trent Park showed the importance of starting the week, and the day, with a lot more than a single scoring team prepared to run. This will matter even more in the relay setting.
WOMEN COME UNSTUCK AT STICKY TRENT PARK FINAL
Having not bettered ninth since their promising fourth place opener this season, despite good numbers every time, the women knew that a miracle would be needed to avoid relegation. Notwithstanding this gloomy outlook, warnings of the season’s deepest mud and a scarcity of on-course bathroom facilities, there were good signs: storm Ciara kindly held off for 24 hours, our strongest cleared their diaries and six of our doughtiest girded their loins. Rachel Lund downed a last minute doughnut. Would it be enough?
Around two hundred and twenty senior women toed the line, a half dozen in Woodford white and green this time. Alas, not all of them would make the finish.
Suzanne Phillips is in a rich vein of form at the moment
First home for Woodford with an outstanding run was Suzanne Phillips (6) with possibly her highest Met League placing yet. Clearly stronger from her marathon training, if not her excellent 42nd placing at the brutally muddy Southern Champs a fortnight before, Phillips’ initial self-assessment came with characteristic modesty: "I had a pretty good race, to be fair. It was summed up by Paul Stockings saying ‘you did well to hang on’ I went out pretty hard and I did just hang on." Later on, the men’s results scrutinised, the scale of her achievement soaked in and the Stockings back-hander eclipsed, she added wryly "I would have finished one second behind Pete Caton, so hoping to break into the men’s A team next year!”
Having lost the season’s high-scoring mainstay Alicia McArdell to a twisted ankle at some point on the course, another forty nine runners closed before second scorer Rachel Lund (60) crossed the line. After stepping up her training since returning to Europe in the autumn, and feeling good while preparing in the prior week, Lund - never failing to add value, even in disappointment - reflected thus: "The composer Thomas Beecham once said you should try everything once except incest and Morris dancing. I would like to add eating doughnuts before racing to that list. A bit disappointed with not improving on Ally Pally, felt a bit of a slog through the mud trying not to let said doughnut repeat on me."
Zoe Watson (87), having only the previous Saturday completed a fifty mile ultra marathon around the Cornish coast, ran strongly to close third, having valiantly brushed off a head cold to boost the team, making it three in ninety. Knowing we wouldn’t close a full team this time it was left to mud-loving second claimers V45 Maud Hodson (153) and V40 Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera (200) to help the Woody Women save face and finish with five.
In spite of these heroics, it wasn’t enough to get us more than eleventh spot on the day and leave us eleventh in the League overall; certain to be relegated. It’s a cruel irony that in the season which has given us our most consistent showing in years, we’ve punched below our weight; so back to second we will go where we require only a scoring five to close; perhaps in the way of the Lund doughnut, destined for a repeat.