As the war against the global pandemic Covid-19 rages on, runners around the world continue to wonder when they will next be able to lace up their racing flats. Whilst we all train in hope of a swift return to normality, the men’s winter management team at Woodford hatched a brilliant plan to build on the success of the Virtual National 12 stage road relays – A Virtual Mob Match against Victoria Park Tower Hamlets AC. A total of 22 men from the squad took on the challenge of a 5 mile time trial around a route of their choice, whilst remembering the controversies around ‘generous courses’ which plagued the virtual road relays. For a 5 day period from the 7th to the 11th May, whatsapp notifications were a plenty, providing some competitive escapism from the lockdown conditions we find ourselves in.
First off the mark for the Woodford contingent was Simon Beedell, kicking us off with a marker of 27.38 at 7.30 in the morning! With a good target for everyone to shoot at, discussions about when, where and the prediction table run by Bertie Powell were in full flow. Victoria Park came out of the gates posting some early markers around the 27 minute mark, choosing the classic VPH 5 mile loop for some of their earlier legs. Taking the influx of early run legs as an additional boost, James Stockings stepped out the door to give us an early lead at the top of the leader board. Selecting a course which he became familiar with for the 5k time trial the previous month, James flew round in 26.29 and what would be our 5th fastest time of the match.
Our fastest leg of the match came from north of the border. Higher Claim athlete James Crowe demonstrated his calibre with a 24.39 effort which would ultimately be the fastest of the match. 16 seconds adrift of James' time, Ed Shepherd posted 25.03 on the final day, tactically delaying his effort and lulling VPH into a false sense of security in the process. Our third fastest man home was Michael Waddington, a product of the Bertie Powell Tuesday academy. A time of 26.23 reminds us of what a fantastic addition he is and will continue to be to the squad when racing resumes.
Tom Beedell nestled himself in between the 6 second gap of James and Michael for our 4th fastest clocking with 26.26. A special mention goes to Tom, without whose initiative, organisational skills and team management this event would not have happened. The amount of runners and conversations surrounding the event demonstrate how much we all enjoyed the 5 day period! Another second claimer, Ramadan Osman, was 6th with 26.43, despite two collisions with the same dog! This was a great contribution from an athlete who took it upon himself to run a marathon in training just two weeks previous with a clocking below 2hours 35 minutes. Woodford Green’s own Mr Motivator ran our 7th fastest time, running for the 60th day in a row, with 26.47. Not only did Bertie Powell post a great time, he was also responsible for keeping us updated with the team's progress and ensuring everybody ran their legs over the 5 day window. In 8th spot, and another who got his leg done, early was Angus Holford in a time of 26.57. New to Strava in the age of virtual racing, tempos like this can be a constant reminder to his followers and friends in Colchester, what those of us at the other end of the county are capable of. Unfortunate to miss out on ducking under the 27 minute barrier, Josh Entwistle was 9th quickest with a 27.03. Josh has been making the most of the extra spare time by increasing his mileage which will no doubt pay dividends when racing resumes.
Sliding into the top 10 was a resurgent Gavin Lewis. Disappointed not to be able to run the virtual 12 stage, Gavin gave his pulling-prone calves the rest they needed, before showing us what he is capable of off of base fitness. There are very few who are capable of a 27.17 5 mile effort at the start of a training cycle, and we’re all familiar with what he can do at the end of one! With Simon Beedell being our 11th man, the honours of last leg were up for grabs, a slot typically saved for the quicker trackmen in a relay race. Who better to battle out that spot than two Woodford 800m legends, Jordan Donnelly and Matt Shone. Separated by two seconds, Jordan sneaked into the team with a 27.46 clocking to Matt’s 27.48. Despite both not being in the shape of their racing days, it still would have been a fascinating finish had this one been a true head to head!
The Honours of second man home for the B team fell to another track man, Tom Phillips. Tom has struggled with some Plantar Fascitis of late, but it takes much more than a niggle to keep him away! With only some tender steps in the bank over the last couple of weeks, Tom wasn’t on top form but ran around for a 28.33 and our last official time to be uploaded, late on the Monday evening. One second further adrift of Tom was Dan Steel. Dan builds in tempos of a similar distance to part of his training plan, and the marathon man posted a solid 28.34 in amongst some heavy mileage weeks. Not wanting to be at a disadvantage to his competitors, Harold Wyber was our 16th runner home with a 28.46 effort, running his leg over Victoria Park! Harold is familiar with the VPH 5 mile loop from previous races and used his experience of this course to good effect. Bury-based Kevin Murphy was the 5th man home for the B team, running 29.24. Building in some of Bertie’s Tuesday training sessions to his regime, Kevin appears to be getting fitter and fitter, and will no doubt have one eye on the cross country already.
Taking a break from his coaching duties, Joe Everitt ran a 31.55 for 18th Woodford man. Joe is on the comeback trail to fitness, which is being aided by his Zoom-based virtual training sessions with his squad of talented U11s. Dave Cox was up next on his first Strava/Garmin experience. Discussions in the whatsapp group as to how a trust worthy 5 mile time could be posted without the technology we all now rely on resulted in the suggestion of ‘take a picture of the clock, run out the door and run 5 miles, take a picture of the clock as soon as you get back’! Fortunately Dave managed to locate a GPS and ran a great 32.18, for unofficially but no doubt the first V60 time! 30 seconds adrift of Dave was Julian Russell. Julian’s 32.48 was a great effort for 20th man home and another who is coming back to fitness and can focus on training whilst his days of opening the batting for Colchester Cricket Club are on hold. Our second Holford of the match, Alistair was next man home. With one lockdown job of cleaning the patio tiles out the way, Alistair turned his attention to the mob match and ran 37.09 for this 5 mile effort. Our 22nd man and closing out the B team was Terry McCarthy. With little running in his legs of late, Terry was spurred on by the whatsapp conversations to get out and put his own effort in, even flirting with the idea of running again! Nevertheless Terry was content with his 39.04.
Despite heroic efforts all around, we unfortunately ended up runners up in the match to the resurgent Victoria Park, who bettered our scoring 12, scoring 129 points to our 172 on an accumulative position basis. Usual conversations around the validity of generous time trial courses ensued as some of Victoria Park’s runners used a smaller lap right next to the West Ham stadium. This lap has resulted in there being more sporting success outside as opposed to inside the stadium of late, as they packed very well under the elusive 26 minute marker. Nonetheless it was a great event to keep us all entertained and motivated as we adjust to temporary lockdown life. A huge shout out goes to Tom Beedell for spearheading this and managing the race on the day, as well as Bertie Powell for the constant team updates and keeping on top of us all. We are now eagerly awaiting the next one!