BENDIGO middle-distance athlete Ingrid Woodward's decision to devote more time to her athletics is reaping rewards.
The 51-year-old is enjoying a career-best season in the Victorian Athletic League (VAL) with a pair of wins and a string of placings.
Her latest triumph came at last Saturday's St Albans Gift meeting, where she notched a career-high in producing a convincing victory in the open 1600m.
It followed her win in the women's and masters 1600m final at the Waverley Gift in December - her first-ever victory in the VAL.
Despite first competing in VAL events 27 years ago, this is just Woodward's third crack at a full season.
"I first ran in VAL in 1994-95 and did that as a full season, but since then I've only really dabbled with it since mid-2000s just so I could get a handicap to run at the madison in Bendigo," she said.
"The only real full season I've done was 94-95, but then I've run a few races here and there in the years since just to get to the madison.
"But because I ran only a few races to get in it, I was never a chance of success."
With a view to competing at the biggest event of them all at the Stawell Gift in 2020, Woodward made the decision to contest more events in the 2019-20 season.
"We all know how that turned out," she said in response to the cancellation of nearly half of the season, including Stawell, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"So my comeback was delayed until 2020, when I did the full season and I ran at Stawell for the first time since 1995.
"It was pretty much a 25-year journey.
"I didn't really care how I went, I was just stoked to be there."
Woodward is quietly thrilled to not only have knocked over her maiden VAL win, but repeat the dose about a month later at St Albans.
It was an all Bendigo quinella, with the similarly in-form Michael Preece continuing his stellar form to grab second a week after winning the John Coleman Mile at the Hastings Gift.
Woodward had to settle for third at Hastings and was also second behind Preece when the 27-year-old claimed victory in the open 1600m at the Terang Gift last month.
Although she prefers not to think of it this way, perhaps Woodward's success at St Albans was karma at play.
Despite being beaten at Hastings, Woodward was quick to offer Preece a lift back to Bendigo after he had earlier spent more than five hours travelling to the event on public transport.
"I don't think it was (karma), but we are doing alright the Bendigo crew," Woodward said
"We drove Michael home from Hastings last week - maybe he felt like he owed us," she added with a laugh.
"We had no idea he was catching the train down for a five-minute run.
"But full credit to Michael though, he has to run his backside off. He's pretty much the backmarker and I'm practically the frontmarker, so it's a lot tougher for him.
"To be honest, I had no real idea or inkling I would win on the weekend.
"I thought Anna Kasapis (who was second in between Preece and Woodward at Hastings) would win - I really wasn't expecting to be a winner."
Woodward's winning time was 4:18.280, giving her a relatively comfortable margin over Preece, who came home in 4:24.497, not far off his winning time of 4:22.158 from the previous week.
"I could hear the commentator saying I was gaining a bit of a gap, but they say that and all of a sudden the other runners are rolling over the top of you," she said.
"I was keen not let my guard down and go on with it.
"It was probably the biggest field I've run in (26 athletes) since Stawell last year.
"It was good having a few in the mix - there were a few newbies who had returned after a few years and months out."
A teacher by trade, Woodward will start the new school year in new surrounds at Bendigo Senior Secondary College, after previously teaching at Girton Grammar and more recently Crusoe College.
On the athletics track, the VAL season makes its next stop in Wangaratta this weekend, where Woodward will be striving to maintain her consistency.
"It's always pretty hot up there and we're camping which is always an interesting mix - but I don't have worry to much, I've already had a win or two," Woodward said.
"Getting to Stawell is a goal, but honestly, I am just happy to be running and participating and to enjoy the social stuff.
"If something happens at Stawell it does, but I don't expect any wins. I'm just stoked to have had two this year and happy to be running and running well.
"It (running) is a bit of an addiction, once you start, you can't stop doing it."
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