Running through a (2020) storm with heads up high

With the cross country season wiped out amid the pandemic and the race bikes nestled away in the garages, the sole focus for St Helens Tri members has been the time trial style RunThrough series of events at Tatton Park and Aintree. Designed to give everyone a clear road on which to run they are staggered starts with pairs setting off two seconds apart according to estimated finish times. Tatton was actually the first venue the club appeared at earlier in the year for the Manchester Cross Country League race, but Brian Diggle returned to the famous park to take on the 10k. On a cold but otherwise decent day of racing he enjoyed his run around scenic Cheshire and recorded a 48:02 which gave him a top 200 place overall and 13th in his age group.

If conditions were decent on December 5th they were positively awful the following Sunday for the final Grand Aintree run of the year. Held at the course more famous for hosting the Grand National, the options on offer were multi lap routes of 5k, 10k and half marathon. St Helens Tri had three running the half marathon and six entries in the 10k, and in the half Michael Forber made up for not being able to enjoy his happy hunting ground of Manchester XC by placing sixth in his age group with a time of 1:27:06 while Christine Forber clocked a time of just over two hours, before giving her compliments to the Baker who came uo with the post race flapjacks! Who says you can’t get value for money in mass participation runs nowadays? Chris Murphy also ran the four laps of Aintree and his 1:39:58 was his first half marathon in under 100 minutes.

The dirty (half) dozen in the 10k were home by one of the club’s most improved runners Chris Hayes, who was simply hoping for a sub 42 but ended up with a 41:29, a good time on any day but a brilliant one in such awful weather. Rob Preston was just 21 seconds in arrears, and placed second in his category less than 90 seconds behind the group winner while Kevin Dunbar joined Chris and Rob in the sub 42 club, the trio putting on a fine show of strength which in a normal year would have been a force to be reckoned with in the cross country league. Meanwhile Helen Broderick split Azzam and Diane Taktak as her return to racing saw her home in exactly 55 minutes. For his part Azzam was very close to a season’s best as he recorded a time of 51:43, while Diane’s 1:03:02 was good enough for a top six in her age group to round off the RunThrough season in style. Their first planned event up north for 2021 is back at Tatton Park on Saturday January 9th, with another Aintree edition pencilled in for the following week.

Why you should enter………the Leeds Triathlon

With the 2020 “season that wasn’t” essentially in the rear view mirror and thoughts already turning to 2021, now is the time to begin a series of articles about a range of events, from sprint to Ironman, which have become members’ favourites over the last few years as the sport has evolved from a provincial small town only endeavour to a commercial powerhouse encouraging mass participation in much the same way the running “boom” did in the 1980s. This article is all about the Leeds ITU weekend, one of the most popular sprint/standard races in the UK and part of the world triathlon series since 2016.

Opened in 1872 and set in 700 acres of land, Roundhay Park is situated to the north of Leeds City Centre and over the years it has played host to U2, the Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams plus, more amusingly, the first Red Bull Soap Box race. Therefore it is a perfect venue for a mass participation triathlon, with plenty of parking from the time you arrive on the Saturday afternoon. From here, you collect your race pack, rack your bike in the secure transition area overnight (so probably not the best event to bring latex inner tubes for) and enjoy the variety of shops selling tri suits, package holidays and much more. Hotels and hostels are plentiful in the city centre including the Easy Hotel, Premier Inn and the Russell Scott Backpacker’s Hostel which includes facilities for those bringing their own race day breakfast, plus a Brewdog pub 400 metres away set in a fine old building. Shut eye, up at 5am and then it’s on with the show……..

The swim is one or two laps around the lake in Roundhay Park. As the event has grown in size and stature, the organisers have increasingly separated the participants into age and gender waves, which reduces the size of the “wake” generated as the swimmers set off for the long opening straight to the first buoy. It’s worth noting that the lake is prone to early morning fog, particularly for those starting at the crack of dawn for the standard distance event, indeed the swim has had to be shortened on more than one occasion due to the lack of visibility (although luckily the sound system always has thumping club “choonz” playing as you exit the water for that extra post swim energy shot). Fortunately, the event is in June which means that anyone considering this race will have plenty of time to swim the Eccleston Delph or Carr Mill Dam prior to the race weekend, and the organisers also offer an acclimatisation swim on the Saturday afternoon for a small fee.

The bike and run courses are still to be confirmed for 2021 with early indications being that the race will double back to Roundhay Park. However, the former is likely to be similar to previous editions and as such you leave the park on a slight incline and a mini roundabout, cheered on by a crowd so deep and raucous you could easily be riding down the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Tour de France final day. From here the course swoops downhill to a left hander then into a residential area until you reach the hairpin turnaround point. It is usually quite chilly on the outward leg as the morning sun struggles to poke through the Yorkshire clouds, but the action heats up after the halfway point as the temperature rises and the course trends uphill on the run back to the transition area. Be aware that some over excitable people often try late passes prior to the dismount line and this has caused accidents – in 2018 and 2019 an ambulance was stopped half a mile from the end of the course. Much better to change down a gear or two to keep the leg cadence high for the run into transition, the changeover and the best part of the race, the run through the maddening crowds!

The city centre finish in Millennium Square (shown below) is not expected to feature on the 2021 race route. However, with the event finishing in Roundhay Park, parts of the old course are still expected to be incorporated into the new route, which in itself is novelty as the initial steep climb out of the park is followed by a run around the perimeter then a downhill blast onto a circuit around the local roads where the local kids have been known to hand out jelly babies! It remains to be seen how the event will feel different with an out and back route or even a circular as opposed to the “point-to-point” of previous years, but with the range of food and drink stalls on offer you won’t be short of post race refreshment/hydration (interpret as you wish – the chips and donuts always seem to sell out as does the 54 Degrees North lager beer, from the Black Sheep brewery in Yorkshire).

For 2021 there will be a range of Tri Star events for junior athletes as well as an aquathlon comprising a 1000m swim and 5k run around the grounds of Roundhay Park which will hopefully be of interest to runners wanting to experimen with open water swimming, and a Go Tri which will be popular with first time triathletes.

It is to be hoped that June 6 (the provisional 2021 date) is not a season opener and that a shorter event such as the Splashworld or West Lancashire triathlon will be available as an early season tune up prior to the grand trip along the M62. No-one really knows what to expect from the 2021 season after a 2020 which was impossible to plan from one week to the next. But if you are short of motivation, looking for a great value event with carnival atmosphere and want to race the same courses as Vicky Holland and the Brownlee brothers, there is no better short distance option than the Leeds ITU weekend. See you on the start ramp in Yorkshire!

Fast facts:

Venue: Roundhay Park, Mansion Lane, Leeds, LS8 2HH
Distances: 750m/20k/7.5k sprint, 1500m/40k/10k standard, with Go Tri, Tristar and aquathlon options new for 2021
Entry fee: £90-100 depending on distance and date of entry
Expected participants: 3000
Challenge rating: 3/5
Atmosphere/experience rating: 5/5

2021 link to enter:

Awesome double at Arley Hall – the “Third Time Lucky” Cheshire 10k

The mass participation running events may be on hold, but there have still been a handful of races on offer at Covid-19 secure venues in time trial format and one such race was the twice postponed Cheshire 10k. A flat, fast course, it staged a dramatic race where the winner clocked a staggering 29:24, but several St Helens Tri members still had a story to tell. Chris Hayes has often credited his half Ironman in Marrakech nearly 12 months ago as the race which truly gave him the confidence to attack shorter distances, and he was in his element here, recording a new best time of 42:46, but arguably a bigger story was developing a few (metaphorical) metres behind him. David Mellor has a long history of sprint performance from his years playing rugby union, and in the true spirit of the Exeter Chiefs he delivered a champions’ performance; having never broken the 45 minute mark prior to today, he clocked a brilliant 42:53, a fitting reward for a member who has bought into the all round development methods encouraged by the club coaching team. Alan Mckeegan and Rob Preston were next up, the pair separated by just 18 seconds at the line, while Azzam Taktak has enjoyed a late season surge and it continued at Arley Hall, setting a 51:21. Diane Taktak rounded off the weekend as she had an enjoyable run to a time of 1:00:39 placing in the top 25 of her category.

So another dramatic weekend of sport in which two rugby finals and the Merseyside Derby were followed by another fruitful day of racing on the Sunday morning. The upcoming weeks are fairly sparse apart from the Halloween spooky run on October 31st at Gale Brook in Northwich, but November is an interesting month with the Ulverston and Castle Combe duathlons a fortnight apart, and the Oulton Park Running Grand Prix is still scheduled for December 6th to kick the festive season off with a bang.

A Coaches’ Double, and a Tribute to Key Workers – Oulton Park Delivers Again

There may come a day in the future when we look back on October 4th 2020 as the day St Helens Tri firmly reasserted itself as a major force in the wake of the lockdown which wiped out most of the summer racing season. Oulton Park has long been a favourite venue for either an early season sharpener or an end of season blowout at one of the fastest race tracks in the country. This year’s sole event was effectively two races worth of entries rolled into one, and as such the organisers put on a middle distance to go with the usual sprint and standard races. No St Helens Tri members were in the 8:30am race so it was all hands to the pump on the standard and sprint distances. In the longer race Rob Preston and Kevin Dunbar had a cracking duel, as they were closely matched early doors but Rob pulled away on the bike, his TT position paying dividends. Kevin put in a last ditch effort to catch his teammate but Rob stayed ahead to the tune of just 68 seconds, the pair both cracking the top 50. Azzam Taktak’a regular attendance on the Pimbo oval at the Tuesday night bike sessions proved invaluable as his time of 2:33:52, powered by some particularly impressive laps on the bike, propelled him to third in his age group.

The sprint distance was a similarly thrilling race with over 80 people facing the timekeepers at 20 second intervals. Robert Chesters was off to the races as he reached the end of the first run in under 15 minutes. His new St Helens Tri liveried Merida Warp proved a handy weapon on the bike course as he averaged laps well under seven minutes, and a final time of 1:08:16 gave him an age group title for the first time since June 2018. David Mellor has long been a bolt of lightning over short distances as one might expect from an ex rugby player, but here he proved that previous sporting experience is no obstacle to strength and speed in more endurance related activities, as he powered around on his Giant TCR and not only finished in well under 80 minutes, but also in the top six in his age group, while it was a welcome return for Robert Saile whose power and strength on the bike proved pivotal in allowing him to make up places en route to 83rd position. However, the best story of the day was that of Christine and Bethany Forber. Christine has been working throughout the lockdown as an essential teacher for those children who were unable to miss school, and she has long been a key source of inspiration for other club members as well as raising money for local charities. Here, she was closely matched with Bethany on the first run before pulling out a gap on the bike and eventually recording a time of 1:35:08, good enough for third in her age group just 36 seconds ahead of recent new club member David Wright. Meanwhile Bethany, who like Robert has been a long term contributor to the club coaching team, showed the sort of strength normally reserved for much older athletes especially on the tough climb after Knickerbrook Corner, not only finishing within three minutes of her mum but joining Robert in the champions’ circle as she won the F20-24 age group!

A terrific way to end the best reunion race of the autumn (post lockdown?) season, which no-one could possibly have predicted a few short months ago. Further duathlons are on the horizon at Milton Keynes and Clumber Park before the end of the month, and the trail running season is well underway giving race-starved athletes plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.



Fab Four serve up some Midlands Magic

The Outlaw Half was one of the very few long distance events to survive the CV19 pandemic and four St Helens Tri members set about making the best of the late season opportunity at this iconic venue in the East Midlands. The race was well attended and of high standard, not surprising given the lack of opportunities for the UK triathlon community to race in 2020, and the course was a tough one; individual start times in 12c water which led to the swim being cut short. The character building wasn’t over yet either, as the athletes faced 30mph gusts of wind on the bike and a mostly off road run which was more akin to cross country than multi terrain. Leading the way was Eddie Hirst, who parlayed his traditional rapid bike split into a remarkably quick 13.1 mile run of a little over 95 minutes to finish in 4:46:22 giving him 154th overall and 13th in his age group. Next up was Ian Wright who enjoyed a close battle with Peter Rawlinson for much of the day, but pulled away on the run; his final time of 5:25:48 put him just outside the top 500 and around 20 minutes clear of his teammate. Gary Davies was remarkably close to Eddie in the water and stayed ahead of the dynamic duo behind him for part of the bike stage before Ian and Peter found a way past. In the event Gary’s time of 6:10:29 was good enough for 887th place.

Next weekend sees the return of the autumn duathlons as several club members will be taking on the Oulton Park Autumn special, which is closely followed by similar events in Milton Keynes and Clumber Park on 18 and 24th October, both of which are sure to be popular.

A tale of two Lakes and a Capesthorne Classic

The North West Classic Triathlon and the Windermere Festival of racing provided a scenic backdrop to another fruitful round of racing for St Helens Tri over the past weekend. At Alderford Lake it was a tale of the first opus joining one of the greatest stories of all as Chris Murphy, whose photography skills have been much valued at club events, joined forces with Steve Williams, perhaps the greatest example to those who think they will never make it to the big stage. Chris actually set a faster run time in his first open water triathlon as he posted a final time of 1:18:57 with a 22:39 run split, but Steve possibly set the club record for biggest ever winning margin in his age group. Exiting the water in under 11 min, he set a staggering sub 37 bike split aboard his Cervelo P2 and rounded off with a 25:07 run to win his age group by over 14 minutes! An incredible effort on a day when Eddie Hirst’s two daughters Holly and Grace took part in the untimed junior duathlon at the same venue, a fine example of an event held under Covid-19 secure guidelines and allowing future generations to thrive in a pressure free environment.


The following morning was equally action packed with club members eager to make the best of a truncated race season. Chris Hayes was in action at the mile swim and recorded a useful sub-40 minute time, then the attentions turned to the Epicman Windermere Triathlon, one of the most scenic in the UK. A spirited battle developed between Charlie Stirrup and Peter Fairclough, with Charlie eventually pulling out a gap on the bike. Despite Peter making up more than ten minutes on the 20km run Charlie ultimately prevailed by just a couple of minutes, taking a top 40 spot overall as well as top 5 in his age group. Anthony Bearon has regularly attended club sessions for the last few years, and with the family cheering him on he got his just reward as his unique training method of cycling to club sessions paid off with an excellent effort resulting in a final time well under the 6:30 mark, while Will Bardin actually ran ahead of Anthony in the early going but eventually finished around half an hour in arrears. Chris Hayes and Kevin Dunbar were evenly matched during the swim in the standard distance but Chris and his new found speed aboard the bike proved to be the difference, and despite a terrific effort by Kevin to reel his teammate in on the run Chris took the honour of first club member home, finishing in 2:43:52 with both making the top 40. A similarly close battle developed between Azzam Taktak and Paul McGregor where Paul set the quicker time on two wheels and Azzam had it all to do on the run. This time, the faster runner got the edge as Azzam finished ahead by around eight minutes. Diane Taktak rounded off the weekend of racing at the Capesthorne Hall half marathon, one of the most stunning locations in the country to run a 13.1. Her small group of six runs during the lockdown proved invaluable as she took on the surprisingly warm conditions and finished in just over two hours 20 minutes. Next week’s flagship event is the City of Birmingham Triathlon, while duathlons at Oulton Park, Milton Keynes and Castle Combe promise an exciting autumn of racing to look forward to.

Epic Swim Season goes to extra time – Coniston/Ullswater Edition

Amidst a backdrop of cancelled races and traditional formats which have little hope of recommencing soon (the Manchester Cross Country League being the latest to cancel at least part of the season) the open water swim series has been remarkably popular and resistant to the developments of the outside world. The Chillswim 7 mile in Coniston is a classic example, and indeed Melanie Sayed was more than up for the challenge as she arrived at the hallowed shores on Saturday morning. Starting at 10:20am, she faced the longest swimming race she has ever taken on, but with a pace of under 33 minutes per mile she mastered the conditions brilliantly and finished in under three hours 50 minutes.

The following day saw the latest instalment of the Epic Events Lakes swims at Ullswater. Perhaps the most iconic location on the calendar, it is overlooked by Pooley Bridge and often attracts a large crowd. Naturally it was more of a spaced out atmosphere than in previous years, and the water was freezing, but five club members opted for the longest distance of 3.8km and in a remarkably close race, all were separated by less than seven minutes. Coming out on top was David Wright who recorded a 1:32:54, and Chris Hayes, sporting a “speckled” colour scheme wetsuit, joined him in the top 50 coming home less than half a minute behind. He in turn was just over a minute ahead of Kevin Dunbar who probably should have a Lake District tourist pass by now (or at least after next week’s Windermere Triathlon) and Azzam Taktak was not too far behind either with a time of 1:36:52, while Rob Preston rounded out the weekend of racing with a great effort to beat the 1hr 40 mark. Next weekend’s offerings include the aforementioned festival of racing in the South Lakes, while the North West Classic Triathlon has been moved to Alderford Lake (now on Saturday 19 September NOT Sunday 20th as previously advertised) and the Darley Moor Duathlon is still going ahead in time trial format the following morning.

A Duel in the Deva City and an Epic at Ellesmere

Myka Heard has long been one of the most inspirational members of St Helens Tri and added to her roll of honour on Bank Holiday Monday at the Chester Tri Club Aquathlon. Having starred in a pilot event the week before she was third in her age group upon exiting the water, made a quick pit stop to get her shoes on and overtook the local celebrity and television presenter Louise Minchin to record a sub-25 minute 5k and take second in her age group. Her remarkable result set the tone for a brilliant performance by Eddie Hirst the following Sunday. It’s not often you have a “champions league” of triathlon at a public event especially on the treacherous slopes of Helvellyn, but this iconic venue had long been a favourite for those who like their courses tricky and technical, and Eddie was right into the swing of things in the North Lakes. In a race which featured international standard racers such as Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Gossage Eddie was out of the water in a little over half an hour and, after just over two hours on the bike (which he rode with no hydration after both bottles fell off!) he was up and down the mountain in a time good enough to place him just outside the top 50 as well as a handy 13th in his category.

However, the greatest sporting story of the day was elsewhere – and with due respect, it wasn’t Pierre Gasly’s shock win in the Italian Grand Prix. Rachael Fairclough has been a perfect sporting ambassador not only for St Helens Tri but also the wider community for the last 10 years including being an Olympic torch bearer in the run up to London 2012. Over the last couple of years she has predominantly remained a runner, but when she gets an opportunity to race triathlon, there are few better at taking their chances than her. At the Shropshire Triathlon in Ellesmere she was racing in the sprint distance (750m/25km/5k) and was embroiled in a thrilling battle for age group honours throughout. With a small lead exiting the water, she edged further ahead as the bike leg began and then her closest rival tried to snatch the initiative back heading onto the run course. Rachael promptly took control back with an epic final run to not only win her age group by 81 seconds, but also make the overall podium! A remarkable result for someone who stands alongside Myka as a perfect leader for the St Helens Tri ladies and an example to those who are looking to join the club in preparation for next season.

Rachael wasn’t the only one in the West Midlands; David Mellor was also in the sprint distance and was out of the water in just over 15 minutes. His immense power served him well on the bike and despite a stitch on the run he still placed in the top 30 overall and fifth in his category. In the standard distance Chris Hayes, Kevin Dunbar and Azzam Taktak took their long distance strength around the Shropshire lanes and all went home happy, Chris overcoming an early deficit in the water to pass Kevin on the bike course with a noteworthy sub-67 minute time for the 40k stage. Although Kevin set a quicker 10k time on the run course it was not enough to catch Chris who duly held on to be first club member home and inside the top 50 overall to boot. Meanwhile Azzam Taktak put his regular attendance at the Tuesday night bike sessions to good use as he finished the event in under three hours and ten minutes.

So a truly memorable week of results with star performances coming from Myka Heard, Rachael Fairclough and Eddie Hirst; three contrasting yet equally remarkable stories to tell. Next weekend is another relatively sparse schedule but the North West Classic triathlon follows at Alderford Lake in a fortnight’s time while the Oulton Park and Carlisle duathlons are still on and open for entries at the time of writing.

David Mellor and Chris Hayes at the Shropshire Triathlon

Sunshine After the Rain – Squally Showery Shropshire followed by Hurricane Horwich

While some club members opted for the Epic Events open water swims, a few who were keen to get their race bikes out of the garage chose the varied offerings of the UK Ultimate festival held in Whitchurch, Shropshire and the shortened Horwich Triathlon. At the UK Ultimate Ian Wright and Peter Rawlinson took part in the half Ironman distance and both came away very happy with their end result, Ian finishing with a sub 2 hour marathon en route to a 5:32:57, while Peter finally reaped his reward for regular appearances and deep freeze moments at the Friday night track sessions in the winter by finishing in 6:02:45, half an hour faster than at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire last year.

The wet and windy conditions which plagued the UK Ultimate hadn’t let up by the following Sunday as several intrepid souls took on the Epic Events Horwich Triathlon. Known as the Kona of the North, it was changed for 2020 as the leisure centre was not available. Instead, the entrants tackled a longer bike course over Sheephouses and the usual off road run up Rivington Pike. Lee Brownhill and Paul Booth took part for St Helens Tri, the latter commenting on how long it had been since he had woke so early to race (it must go hand in hand with being a local legend on the turntables) but in the event the pair finished less than 90 seconds apart and under the 2:15 mark, Lee getting the edge on his teammate at the line. Races for next month are still up in the air at the moment, but the UK Triathlon series continues in a fortnight’s time at the Shropshire Triathlon while the North West Classic, normally held at Barony Park in Nantwich, has been moved to Alderford Lake, with entries still available at the time of writing.

I’ll Be Ready (No Don’t You Fear) – Return to Racing, Epic Events Style

At long last, racing is back and the first opportunities for competition starved athletes came on the first day of the month at the Epic Events open water swim in the cool confines of Three Sisters near Wigan. Eddie Hirst brought Holly and Grace along for a family trip in the 750m race and all three (pictured below) went home happy having cracked the 15 minute mark and finished in the top 50. Holly led the way in a time of 13:12, her pace being 1:45 per 100m while Grace finished in 14:56 just four seconds clear of Eddie. Mark Glynn cracked the top 25 in the full distance 3.8km, his 1:02:15 also giving him fourth in his age group while Ian Orford and Chris Hayes also enjoyed their first attempts at the 3.8km distance, Ian clocking a 1:13:34 and Chris coming in comfortably under the 80 minute mark.

Chris would also turn out at the Coniston swim two weeks later where he placed 116th in 1:20:18 but Dominic Pike was nothing short of a bolt from the blue. Historically he has starred at the club running sessions and the Ormskirk Parkrun, and yet here he took on the Ironman distance swim like he’d been racing long course for years as he recorded an outstanding 1:00:57, good enough for 32nd on the day. Also racing was Shaun Keenaghan whose time of 1:16:15 was enough to earn a top 100 finish. In next week’s report we will cover the full account of the UK Ultimate Triathlon in Shropshire as well as the shortened Horwich Triathlon, for which entries are still available at the time of writing.