The senior winter squad finished 28th in the National Round of the England Athletics Virtual Relay that closed on 21st February, in a time 3:57:34 for the 40 mile race distance. This was an improvement of 15 places and was 7 minutes faster than the performance in the January Qualifying Round that secured our place at the top table in this new mixed team event, based on the times of each club's fastest four men and four women over 5 miles each. The undoubted highlight for Woodford was Phil Norman's run of 23:02, which was the fastest leg of the whole event. Phil had helped secure qualification, without prejudicing his Olympic ambitions, by submitting a training tempo run in the earlier round. This time he committed to racing and produced an imperious 4:36 per mile along the Tarka Trail from Barnstaple on the opening weekend of the competition, while much of the rest of England was blanketed in snow. The team's overall improvement was also built from significantly faster runs by Alicia McArdell, Rachel Lund, Ed Shepherd and Tom Beedell, and greater competition for scoring places as James Stockings entered the fray.
Phil Norman racing on the road 13 months ago
Well ahead on the virtual road, champions Wirral AC (3:32:39) edged out long-time leaders City of Norwich by just 21 seconds, and will now progress to represent England in the International Round against the other home nations' champions. Met League rivals Shaftesbury Barnet were 7th, and Essex challengers Colchester Harriers 22nd. The latter dropped 3 places despite their 3 minute improvement as standards were raised throughout the competition.
Our 2nd fastest man was Ed Shepherd (24:46). Ed wisely aborted his plan to race on the opening weekend in the face of freezing winds, and was rewarded with the 20th fastest individual performance of the whole competition. James Stockings (25:05), a new entrant in this competition, and Tom Beedell (26:00), with a 28 second improvement, were our 3rd and 4th men’s scorers. James and Tom starting out just a social distance apart as they attacked an an 8 lap course in Buckhurst Hill. They intended to lead on alternate kilometres, but James was off to such a flyer that Tom never took over.
Our fastest woman was Suzanne Phillips (32:07), who almost exactly matched her qualifying round run, at a windswept and cold Farmoor reservoir. Suzanne has been struggling with a shin niggle and coaxed out an important performance for the team. Rachel Lund took 40 seconds off with her 33:51,despite a hillier course than the previous round. Alicia McArdell (35:50), in a deceptively hilly Harlow, gained another 2 minutes on her qualifying round performance, despite struggling from the 5k mark onwards, after just 6 weeks training from an injury layoff. Zoë Watson snatched 3 places for the team on the final afternoon with her run of 36:53. In the final reckoning, Zoë ran Rebecca Wilby (37:38), another new entrant, out of the scoring places, but Rebecca's run gave us the complete scoring team that rode as high as 11th place on Saturday lunchtime. Alex Wardle (41:26) also provided team backup, taking to the same course round Leyton Flats as last time and gaining 39 seconds on her qualifying round effort.
Disappointed not to score for the team were Angus Holford (26:17) and Tom Phillips (26:34). Angus took advantage of a still and mild morning at Abbey Fields in Colchester to deliver an unofficial personal best, while Tom, racing at Farmoor Reservoir with Suzanne, improved 40 seconds. Tom Beedell was kind enough to say that these performances took the pressure off his own effort, giving the option to go out hard in the hope of hanging on. Close behind was Thomas Adolphus (27:53), who hit his pre-race target of 28 minutes, to achieve another unofficial PB with a series of consistent splits on his run round a windy Hackney Marshes. His was the 20th fastest leg by an U20 male. Paul Manson ran 32:15 round Galleywood in Chelmsford. Like many in the squad he proudly sported his Woodford vest on potentially hostile territory.
While we all remain hostages to fortune, the squad can at least look forward to a realistic prospect of physical races from Easter onwards, whether road, track or trail, and hope the winter fixtures will return in a familiar format next season. The team managers also look forward to greeting the squad and planning next season’s targets and strategy in a more familiar format: over a drink in the Woodford clubhouse or convenient public house.