As our club series continues, we take a look at the history and current training set-up at Woodford Green with Essex Ladies

Woodford Green with Essex Ladies (WGEL) is a club which strives to honour the proudest moments of the two venerable institutions which merged in 1998 – Woodford Green AC and Essex Ladies AC. Both clubs were, and are, best known for their track and field strength. Essex Ladies represented Great Britain in the European clubs championship eight times with a highest placing of third in Como in 1987.

On the men’s side the club is one of only five that have unbroken membership of the British Athletics League, winning the old division one title in 2005. They were also victorious in the European clubs cup ‘B’ division in 2006 when representing Great Britain.

Over the years there have been some outstanding athletes. Harry Payne held the world marathon best from 1930-1951. Sally Gunnell won 400m hurdles gold in the 1992 Olympics, broke the world record to take gold at the world championships in 1993 and won two individual and three relay golds at the Commonwealth Games. At the London Olympic Games in 2012 the club had six members competing and in last year’s Commonwealth Games five medals were won by Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athletes.


The club’s A and B men’s teams recently took gold and silver at the Essex cross-country championships on home turf at Claybury. In the days that followed, a stream of older members approached the team manager, Ed Messer, to congratulate him on achieving a highly prestigious club first, one of which he was unaware. In 1959, a fine men’s squad attempted the feat but were foiled when several athletes were misdirected and lost ground. Messer now appreciates that he has become one of the guardians of a very proud history.

In 2008, Tony Maxwell’s publication, From Tiny Acorns, sought to condense 100 years of club history into 760 pages. A museum has since been incorporated into the clubhouse at Ashton Playing Fields in West Essex.

The 2015 track season will see both the men and the women compete in the top tier of UK club competition, both teams being driven by many athletes who have graduated through the club’s ranks and from a variety of training groups. The groups of Olympian Gladys Bird and veteran coach Ron Bowden are particularly fruitful in developing a stream of national-standard athletes. Eight of the twelve men involved in Messer’s cross-country triumph came to the club as young teenagers, mostly passing under coach Richard Thurston’s tutelage. One of the club’s biggest challenges is athletes leaving the Ashton environment to attend university, but they succeed in retaining many, so the roots the club has planted – the “tiny acorns” – must be strong and healthy.

The club makes every effort to promote athletics, hosting many track and cross-country meetings, and organising a schools cross-country league each autumn. The annual Roding Valley Half Marathon around the club’s catchment area of Woodford, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill is a huge logistical effort involving around 80 volunteers and 800 participants.

Bowden is the most senior coach at WGEL with over 65 years of coaching experience and having trained many international-standard athletes. The current Bowden group comprises athletes ranging in age from under-15 to masters, competing in all throws, long and triple jump, and hurdles.

Club sessions

Tuesday evening training sessions during the winter commence with the group progressing around the home track at Ashton Playing Fields completing a series of drills and circuit training-type exercises. These include: skips, high-knees, walking-on-toes, low-walks, star-jumps and arm swings. The group then undertake fast strides, skips, hops, bounds or step-ups followed by the throwers working on their technical elements and the jumpers and hurdlers performing a track running session.

The evening finishes with the group reconvening for a weights session. Thursday evening training sessions follow the same pattern, except that the initial group activity consists of hurdle drills, plyometrics and circuit training.

In the winter on Saturday mornings, the group does a hill running session in Epping Forest or Claybury Park. Typically, the content of the hill session for the first six to eight weeks is drills followed by sustained running. This then makes way for repetition running concentrating on driving strides, knee-lift and good cadence. The session closes with some downhill running.

During the winter weekend track sessions, the athletes will perform their disciplines with more time afforded to focus on the technicalities of execution. They will also complete further weights sessions and a “leg-circuit” formed from a set of leg exercises that includes bench jumps, singleleg squats and lunges.

» Want your club featured? Contact: [email protected] with some history and details of a typical winter session at your club and we’ll do the rest!