There had been no running club in Woodbridge since 1945 and the idea for a club to fill the gap in organized running for the catchment area of Woodbridge and Felixstowe was first conceived by JJ Johnson and Roy Beckett (who was a first claim runner for the Vale of Aylesbury – also a 2:30 marathon man). JJ and Roy met in 1979 when they were both doing long Sunday runs to Ipswich, Roy from Felixstowe to Ipswich and JJ from Woodbridge to Ipswich. Both used the Woodbridge and old Felixstowe roads, and over the year, developed a habit of running together from the Ipswich meeting point back to where their routes split at Bucklesham.
It was on their Christmas Morning run of 1979 that they decided to pursue the idea of starting a running club. JJ was a qualified coach with the UK AAA and USA AAF, and had been coaching the Bentwaters base team from 1976 and in so doing had developed contacts with the Ipswich Harriers, in particular Joe Mower (for many years Suffolk County Secretary and also an Ipswich Harrier) in organising the RAF Bawdsey to RAF Woodbridge Run. JJ had also occasionally helped Terry Gould organise fun runs for Gym and Trim later JAFFA Joggers (now Ipswich JAFFA). JJ made the necessary applications in February 1980 and succeeded in getting the club registered with the then AAA of Suffolk, East Anglia and the UK. The registered name was The Woodbridge Shufflers Road Runner Club. The club was officially formed and paid its AAA subs in 1980 with the first AGM in 1981.
In making the application, JJ had to convince the AAAF at all levels that the club was unique and in no way would interfere with the purposes that Ipswich Harriers already served. It was also agreed the club would not try and recruit anyone under the age of 15 who was still outside higher level education.
Starting the club involved a series of compromises, one of which was choice of name which was designed to please both the American and British membership. The club had 4 British members, and there were 6 or 7 Americans, not including JJ and his wife. SHUFFLER, as a running style characterised by economical low backlift, pleased the British Members and ROAD RUNNER pleased the Americans. Examples of famous British Shufflers are Jim Peters, Steve Jones, John Wild, Joyce Smith and Carol Gould, all of whom have held world or national records at some time or have represented their country in distance running. In fact, Carol Gould was first female across the line in the Woodbridge 10k races in 1986 and 1987.
Famous American SHUFFLERS are Frank Shorter, Alberto Salazar and Bill Rogers, all of whom have either won Olympic gold, the Boston Marathon, The New York Marathon etc. Note there is only one other club in the country with a similar name, Shrophire Shufflers.
Finally, the club colours started out with a white strip with blue trim but before final registration, the red, white and blue was settled on because it is both British and American colours. Later the name was shortened to Woodbridge Shufflers Running Club. JJ still lives in Woodbridge and usually attends the AGM.
The club started out with very few members and even in 1995 had less than 30. Since then, numbers have steadily increased. In 2000, there were 49 members; by 2005 this number had risen to 70 and by 2017 it was just over 115. As indicated above, the club started out without a junior section and that is still the case. At present, we do not have sufficient coaches, nor premises, to make a junior section viable. Instead, we try to encourage juniors through our annual Junior Run at the Woodbridge Round-the-Town races and through our winter cross country event.
Round the Town Races
The first 10k was run in 1982. In the early days, the fields were relatively small but attracted some quite high profile runners, notably Carol Gould and the marathon runner Joyce Smith, who in 1985 set the ladies record on the old course with a time of 36:32. The male course record on the old course was set by A. Maddocks in 1986 with a time of 31:09.
The start was originally up by the junction of Hasketon Road and Grundisburgh Road but after a couple of years, it was found that the course had been measured long, and the start was moved further down Burkitt Road. In 2002, the course was reversed so that it went clockwise and avoided any unpleasant right turns. Previously, the course had wound its way up Sandy Lane and California on the first lap and up Ipswich Road on the second lap with an awkward right turn up near what is now the Duke of York pub. Reversing the course and getting traffic diverted down California and Sandy Lane was a big improvement safety-wise. However, the downside was a u-turn on Market Hill about 600 metres after the start. But nothing is perfect! For the past 6 years, we have used chip timing as manual timing has proved difficult as numbers have been increased.
Remarkably, the 10k was won by our own David Miller 8 times in 9 years during the period 2000-2008 (he also has an astonishing career record number of over 200 wins). Another Shuffler, Gordon Irvine, won in 2009 during the years 2009-2013, it has been won by Aaron Scott (a cousin of David Miller’s). Aaron has recently run a marathon in 2:20:49. First females across the line in 2006 (Lottie Baldrey) and 2008 (Penny Rooney) were also Shufflers.
A Junior Run was introduced some years ago and this, too, has proved very successful. The juniors start on (or just outside) St Mary’s School Field and finish on Market Hill as does the 10k. Market Hill is an attractive place to finish but does mean we have to restrict race numbers to avoid overcrowding.
Currently, we limit the 10k to 770 entries and the Junior Run to 170. For some years, both races have been oversubscribed. In recent years, we have had an all on-line booking system and, astonishingly, the race fills up usually within 30 minutes. Previously with paper entry forms, it had taken a few weeks.
Increased traffic down Ipswich Road has also meant we have to take extra precautions for runner safety and a number of roads are closed during the event including half of the road between the Duke of York pub and the Red Lion. We are grateful to the residents of Woodbridge for their forbearance as it does cause some disruption to traffic flow. Nevertheless, the race raises large amounts of money for charities, averaging £6000 for the past few years. We also require approval via the Suffolk Safety Advisory Group and have had to develop a more detailed Traffic Management Plan.