The greatest St Helens Tri story ever told – “The Architect’s” edition

For some, it is the winning or the completion of the challenge that counts, nothing else, and it doesn’t seem to matter how they do it. To an extent this is understandable, as there are many ways to finish an Ironman or qualify for team GB (the roll of honour having been extended in the last 24 hours with the news that Eddie Hirst had qualified for the Kona Ironman World Championships). But there is a special place in people’s hearts, as well as in the history books, for those who win with style, win while overcoming impossible odds, win with an epic story to tell. The column written earlier today held the title of “best St Helens Tri report ever” for slightly less than the time it took Eddie to finish the race yesterday, as this year’s youngest competitor Sarah Taktak submitted this almost indescribable account of how she slayed the biggest challenge of all. Sit back with a snack/drink/tipple of choice and let it sink in……….

THUNDER!

I honestly can’t find the words to say how happy I am and this will be one of the only times I make a long post (very very long) but it’s more for myself than anything, anyhow strap in……..

I don’t think anything I’ve done before has ever measured up to this moment, and if I needed anything to prove to myself that I’m a capable athlete (which I did), this is it. The swim exceeded my expectations, I felt really comfortable and finished with a time of 69 minutes, much faster than I expected.

The bike was a tough journey, as 112 miles with over 9000ft of climbing is bound to be. I started off strong, averaging 16mph for the first 20-30ish miles according to my Garmin, then that dropped when I hit the hills (which wasn’t unexpected). I was chuffed with the first lap, about 14 mph average which was well enough to make the cut off, but it continued to slow throughout the second lap where I started to seriously doubt myself. I had problems eating on the bike, as I started to get hungry but couldn’t force myself to swallow any energy bars, and anyone who saw me at the bottom of Belmont the second time around would have known I was in a bad place at that time. The support was incredible though, everyone was really encouraging and two people actually came to give me a little push, which was much appreciated. It was almost impossible for me not to get going again when everyone was ringing cowbells and blowing horns screaming “COME ON YOU’VE GOT THIS!” As soon as I found my legs again I decided to just power up as I knew it was the last hill, and that I was nearly done, but right until the last mile I was doubting myself. I ended up with about 20 minutes to spare, so I was really happy going onto the run.

The run was as hard as I would have expected running a marathon after 10 hours of exercise would be, but running through the town centre and everyone roaring with applause was one of the best feelings ever. Pretty much from the start I was run-walking; I attempted to run up the hill in the park on the first lap but decided it was best to walk the uphills like everyone else was doing. I ate a lot of oranges and had a lot of nice chats with people on that horrible long stretch out and back, I think it went better than expected though and I didn’t have any major bad points on the run, but did find it extremely difficult to actually start running at times.

The best part? Either the Sheephouse Lane Fancy Dress Party, the final run through the town centre and down the red carpet to the finish, or the pizza at the end.

I want to say a massive well done to all my club mates who absolutely smashed it yesterday,  thank you all for looking after me and congratulations, you’re all incredible. Also to everyone who came along to support, even the big groups of people who didn’t know me but still cheered for me. Especially though Chris and Bethany Forber for sneakily keeping me company for a few miles on the run, and for helping me out with my training and treating me like part of your family.

Thank you Mum and Dad for supporting me since I even started to show an interest, training with me, keeping me motivated and inspiring me to start doing triathlons in the first place, two years ago;

Katherine Cheshire and Molli Forber, thank you for staying by me and listening to me talk about nothing but ironman for months, you’re both wonderful;

Mark Derbyshire and Helen Broderick, thank you for self allocating yourselves as my joint coach, you both helped me out more than you probably realised and you’re like family to me, not to be too mushy;

Robert Chesters, Jeanette and Andy Fisher, thank you for your constant support for the past year and for hyping me up so much that not finishing was never an option;

And my super loud supporters on the course, I can’t mention you all just because there were so many people and I don’t have all of you on social media but I’m genuinely so thankful for everyone who came down to watch.

From Belmont to the Bright Lights of Bolton – A Bastille Day Like No Other

It may well transpire at the end of 2019 that we look back on July 14 and anoint it as the most extraordinary sporting day of the year. While the greatest Wimbledon Final ever played out on Centre Court and England’s cricket team won a stunning World Cup Final in extra overs, the roads of Lancashire and particularly the streets of Bolton were pure theatre as thousands of athletes from all over the country and beyond descended on the hometown of Peter Kay for Ironman UK, this year’s race featuring a tougher than ever bike course through Ramsbottom and up Winter Hill (interesting how as running race courses get flatter, Ironman courses get tougher). St Helens Tri had 11 entrants in the annual 140.6 challenge and with all having a story to tell, we have decided to defer the Ullswater and Deva Divas results until next week’s report with a far lighter schedule on tap, while also dividing this week’s column into segments for each individual participant.

Eddie Hirst, 11:14:21, 61st overall, 7th M40-44: Eddie Hirst is no stranger to the ultimate distance, all the more remarkable when you consider he only did his first half marathon in 2015 and his first multisport at the St Helens Triathlon in 2015 (for which this year’s date is now set for September 7th, entries are now open). Eddie was seeded in the sub-65 area at the start and he lived up to his role as the club’s leader for the day, as he was out of the water near the head of the field and came within a whisker of a sub-6 hour bike time averaging nearly 30kmh on a course not necessarily suited to time trial bikes. His run form at the Friday night track sessions, both in terms of speed and technique, is second to none and so it proved as he continued to move up the field during the run to take a phenomenal seventh in his age group, leaving him two deferrals away from a slot in next year’s World Championships in Kona. He even had enough energy to join the club support for the next six hours as well – an all round club legend!

Andrew Gaskell, 298th overall, 12:47:45: Andrew was always going to be one of the club’s quickest swimmers on the day and he didn’t disappoint, as he was out of the water in under 70 minutes. His bike stage was remarkably consistent given how so many fell apart on the toughest part of the course, and despite having to take on fluids at nearly every feed station on the run course he finished with some spectacular kicks of pace in the final few miles and crossed the line in well under 13 hours to take the accolade of second club member home.

Kevin Dunbar, 328th overall, 13:07:14: Going back to the Ashurst Bike Club days (which some of the longer-serving members can still remember, surely) there was a time when the running joke doing the rounds was that Kevin was on a mission to set a new world record for most races run in a calendar year. It was not unusual for him to do two midweek races plus a Parkrun on a Saturday, if not a longer race on the Sunday as well. He will no doubt look back on September 24 2017 when he joined his teammates in the South Lakes for the Kendal Sprint Triathlon as the day when he began his “armbands to Ironman” journey (his own words there). As such it was always going to be fascinating to see if his superior strength from years of marathon running would pay off in the water and on the bike. He would certainly have appreciated the superherous on the top of Belmont given his previous “experience” in such a regard at the Snowdonia Marathon and in one of the most popular results of the day, he finished in the top quarter in his age group in a little over thirteen hours looking just as strong on the final lap of the run as he did at the crack of dawn.

Matthew Range, 568th overall, 13:41:27: Having only joined the club at the beginning of the season Matthew was always going to be one of the more unknown quantities going into the race, but despite giving away time to his fellow club members in the water he made up considerable ground throughout the bike stage, gaining places where others struggled to even keep the pedals turning. What really impressed, though, was his speed and consistency on the run as he was undeterred by the scale of the challenge and the presence of more seasoned competitors around him, and as such he was suitably delighted to finish in the top 600 and in the top half of his age group.

Mark Eccleston, 605th overall, 13:48:52: It’s not often that someone makes great strides forward to the point where they can knock whole hours off their Ironman times after several years in the sport, but Mark has had, in many ways, the most remarkable season of any of the St Helens Tri participants in this year’s race. As well as taking his BTF level 1 coaching course at Edge Hill University and completing both the Fred Whitton Challenge and Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire, he has been an excellent example of how covering off all the small details with regards to lifestyle and cultural conditioning can add up to a huge difference. These differences began with a strong swim where he got out of the water in just under 75 minutes, before a sub-7:30 bike split put him in position to zone in on a final time of under 14 hours. The warm conditions caught out many seasoned marathon runners but despite a small dip just after the halfway point, he picked up the pace well on the final lap and crossed the line well under the 14 hour mark to a standing ovation.

Will Bardin, 645th overall, 13:57:05: Will is in his second season with the club and has improved immeasurably in all three disciplines particularly in long-distance open water swimming, as a regular at structured training sessions. The swim round the Flash didn’t seem to have taken too much out of him on the bike course either, as he stuck to his plan knowing that he had a very strong run to come, and so it proved as he ran negative splits for the marathon finishing with a flourish to beat the 14-hour mark by just three minutes.

Paul Booth, 740th overall, 14:14:19: Like Matthew and Will, Paul is one of the club’s more recent new members and as such is yet to rack up the experience in club trainig sessions. However, he had trained consistently and with plenty of energy for the challenge and was straight into the thick of things in the water as he recorded a pace of under two minutes per 100m for the first lap. A small drop-off on lap 2 was put right with a battling display on the slopes of Lancashire and a very good run where he somehow saved some of his fastest miles for the final lap lifted him into the top 750 overall, just missing out on the top 100 in his age group.

Neil Wallace, 937th overall, 14:56:19: Neil’s pace on the bike was already well-known before the race began, but here it was his swim that caught the eye, as he was one of the quicker club members around the Flash and was in the top 15 in his age group upon exiting the water. His bike speed set him him for a good crack at the run where he stuck to a pace of around 7:50 per kilometre, edging his pace up a little bit towards the end, just to make sure he got home under the 15 hour mark, which he duly did to the tune of nearly four minutes.

Steve Gavin, 1065th overall, 15:29:35: Stephen is no stranger to the Ironman distance having competed in many long haul challenges during his career and his steady diet of endurance training sessions paid off on race day as he was comfortably out of the water in just over 80 minutes. The bike leg was slayed in just over eight hours and his ability to hold form over a full day’s racing proved pivotal on the run as while others struggled to find a rhythm he managed to record a sub-5:45 time for the 26.2 miles which lifted him into a position where all he needed was a sprint finish to duck under the 15:30 mark which he managed to the tune of 25 seconds.

Paul McGregor, 1315th overall, 16:34:44: Paul entered the race so late his name didn’t even show up as St Helens Tri on the IMUK tracker, but he was still well up for the challenge and perhaps embodied the spirit of competition more than anyone else as he acknowledged the Saints support at the foot of Belmont on his drive to make up places from the swim, having completed the 3.8k around the Flash in just under 1hr45. He had more left in the tank than most for the marathon though, and was able to pass some tiring runners in the closing stages to easily beat the cut-off time finishing in just over sixteen and a half hours.

Sarah Taktak, 1268th overall, 5th F18, 16:13:18: As they say, save the best until last. While Eddie Hirst led the way with a gap of over 90 minutes to his nearest teammate, no St Helens Tri member had a more epic story to tell. Sarah’s journey began on her 18th birthday when her card contained an IMUK entry and she celebrated by going for an 18 mile run with Isabella Rose teammate Bethany Forber. Quite a unique way to mark your 18th, and it served notice of her intent to go where few teenagers go, and complete the ultimate challenge. She was always one of the club’s quickest swimmers even as a junior and, incredibly, was the third St Helens Tri entrant out of the water recording a sub-70 minute time. Surrounded by more experienced cyclists, she made good use of her newly-tweaked setup on the bike course and kept her average speed up to the level to make the cut-off with room to spare. From here it was onto the marathon, and a chance for everyone including those club mmebers who had alreay finished to share in the pure theatre of drama unfolding as daylight gave way to dusk, darkness and floodlights. The question was whether she could keep her head up as the laps ticked down, and it’s not stretching things to say that everyone had now switched over from the cricket and tennis to follow her progress on the app and count down the minutes to her estimated finish time, which would come just after the Belmont Lunatics Club had arrived, complete with masks, in front of the town hall. As the clock ticked past 10:15pm, with this year’s best new song from Lewis Capaldi blazing out of the soundsystem, she came round the final right-hander and headed down the finishing straight through a near-defeaning wall of sound to finish the 2019 Ironman UK in a time of 16:13:18 and write her name into the history books, even getting a mention on the Bolton Town Council social media pages as the youngest athlete in the race. The “coronation” of her walk-off out of the finisher’s area (pictured below) was akin to a miniature version of the Liverpool FC Champions League parade, or so it seemed, played out as already mentioned under the bright lights of Bolton. An undisputed winner of the people’s champion award and a sure fire winner for the St Helens Tri story of the year, if not the century.

And so ended a day so cinematic that it would never have actually passed for a script, or if it had bene written, it would never had bene believed. Indeed, it was so inspiring to actually be there and watch the thousands of athletes take on the ultimate challenge that the date for the 2020 edition has already been set for July 12, once again in Bolton. As well as recognising the achievements of those who participated, a huge amount of credit must go to those who spent the entire day travelling around the area in cars or on bikes (and in some cases, on trains as well) to support, as well as the event management team who once again proved to be a shining example of how to stage a spectacular event. Thanks for the memories – and onto next year when we do it all over again!

Charlie Conquers “The Challenge” and more Houghton Heroics

The first weekend in July is normally characterised by the opening of the Tour de France and that time when Ironman UK entrants are nervously tapering in preparation for the big day the following Sunday, but there was still plenty for St Helens Tri to be happy about as the busiest month of the multisport year got underway. James Nairn and Robert Courtley got the ball rolling at the midweek Capernwray Sprint triathlon hosted by T2 Events, who also stage the Semer Water Swim in Hawes on August 17th, a perfect warm-up race for the St Helens Triathlon three weeks later. Held on the first Wednesday of every summer month, the course comprises 500m of swimming at Capernwray Diving Centre followed by a 20k bike and 5k run around the local lanes. Robert had a lead of nearly three minutes over his teammate upon exiting the water, but James would reel him in on the bike course, and his 5k run, sharpened as it was over the winter at the BeUrBest duathlons, was good enough to lift him to 38th overall and a top-6 place in his age group, while Robert’s time, easily under the 1:20 mark, still put him 4th in the M25-29 division. As a regular attendee at the Wednesday and Friday morning sessions, where she regularly swims while helping with the direction of the development lane, Ann Gregory is one of those unsung heroes who has steadily worked her way up the long distance swim ranks over the past few months. At the USwim Salford she had her most impressive outing to date, as she was aiming for a sub-2 hour time in the 5k, yet would beat that mark by three minutes, cementing her position as the club’s most prolific contributor to long course open water racing. While Ann was gliding around the Salford Quays, Lynette and George Houghton were participating in their latest obstacle race, the Hero 8k in Preston hosted by Born Survivor. In perhaps the result of their careers so far, George not only won his age group, but won the race outright, while Lynette was 7th overall and first female over the line! A spectacular double for two of the club’s most diversely talented athletes, and they would pitch up the following morning at the Derwent Epic Lakes Swim, as Lynette was racing the 3.8k and George entered the mile where he was joined by Tony Waine. Lynette recorded a time of just over 1hr20 for the Iron distance, but George and Tony both managed astounding PB’s, George clocking a 26:49 knocking 2:20 off his Ullswater time while Tony found the warmer conditions much more to his liking and beat his previous best by four minutes recording a 37:25.

Charlie Stirrup decided to boldly go where Richard Seville had gone the week before to do an Ironman in Germany. Except that this wasn’t the European Championship; rather, this was the iconic Challenge Roth, which took a little bit of a back seat this year, Frankfurt having hosted the European Championship the week before. Charlie was out of the water in a little over 65 minutes, before averaging over 20mph on the bike course to set himself up perfectly for a great finish. Despite not quite cracking the four-hour mark for the marathon he still completed the course in a fantastic time of 10:42:06, as he entered the 10,000 seater stadium at the finish to rapturous applause.

It wasn’t all long-haul trips this week as Mark Turner was up early doors with his new Scott Plasma to tackle the Liverpool Phoenix 25 mile TT hosted on the D25/3 course. The field was packed with class time triallists but Mark more than held his own, recording an encouraging 1:00:46 as he continues to develop as a cyclist. Meanwhile seven club members took part in one of the annual charity specials, the Griffin Grind. This event is organised by the Isabella Rose Foundation, who several St Helens Tri members also run for, and this year’s event was much better attended given that it did not clash with a certain 140.6 mile race in Bolton which you might have heard of………..On the day Ian Orford led the way with a time of 32:44 putting him just outside the top 10 overall but Louise Johnson stole the show, not only taking fourth lady overall but first in her age group! Her time of 36:03 put her just over three minutes clear of Brian Diggle, a regular attendee at the Friday night track sessions, while Helen Broderick got her pre-birthday celebrations off to a fine start by being next club member home with a 41:46. Melanie Sayed had a rare outing at a shorter-than-marathon race and came home less than 45 seconds behind Helen, while Violet Costello and Nick Hall rounded out the club’s participation as Violet finished in 43:36 just over 90 seconds ahead of her teammate. Meanwhile Dave Gaskell returned from injury to have a crack at the Boundary Breeze Triathlon. In spite of not having raced as much as he would have liked he was in the fight for age group honours all the way, until a faster runner made the difference on the final leg. Nonetheless, Dave still managed to hang on for a meritorious second place to round out the club activity on a weekend where team Houghton and Charlie Stirrup grabbed most of the headlines for their adventures further afield and Louise Johnson put in the star turn closer to home. Next week’s main event needs no introduction, as club members young and old take on the biggest race of the year, Ironman UK. 6 days and counting!

 

European Excellence against the Elements and Making a Mark in the Park

It was very much one of those weekends when it was as if the club was on a mission to send as many people as possible to as many different events as possible for global takeover, as St Helens Tri were represented throughout the UK and Europe. Bala was the central focus for a couple of juniors as George Doyle and Holly Hirst took part in a national standard triathlon at TS3 level. George was out of the water in 7:15 then posted a top-10 bike split, and his run was good enough to land him in the top 25 boys in his age group. Meanwhile Holly gained ground throughout the race, finishing with a particularly encouraging run split lifting her to a 27th place finish in the girls’ event. The following day Jennifer Pybis was the club’s sole representative in the sprint distance race and clearly benefitted from her confidence boost at the SWYD ITU qualifier as she used her trademark run speed to lift herself to seventh in her age group, finishing in just over 1 hour 10 minutes and mere seconds away from a top-six finish. Holly’s dad Eddie made the dash from mid-Wales to Kent to race on the Sunday at the Leeds Castle Triathlon where once again ITU championship places were on offer. Similar to the Cholmondeley Triathlon weekend, the picturesque setting offered a lake swim, a fast bike course and a mainly off-road run, and Eddie was more than up to the task despite facing a non-wetsuit swim (the water temperatures being no less than 25c). His cross country experience was particularly useful on the 10k run on freshly cut grass (pass the hayfever tablets!) as he eventually placed sixth in his category which leaves him in prime position to take one of the GB slots for the world championships.

The remaining multisport focus was very much on a tale of two Ironmans, Richard Seville in Frankfurt and Stephen Webb in Norway. Richard faced conditions even hotter than Eddie in Kent as temperatures hit 38c, more inhospitable than what he faced last year in Austria. This year’s Frankfurt event also incorporated the European Championships and as such Richard was mighty relieved not to face too much pressure knowing that there would be high attrition. IN the event he raced superbly, as he was out of the water well up the field before averaging a stonking 31kmh on the bike course, all those early morning solo rides paying dividends. The run was tough for all but Richard handled it brilliantly and he finished in an astounding 12:13:24, good enough for 141st out of 453 in his age group and easily in the top 1000 overall, a good result at any Ironman but excellent in a championship race. If Richard was being baked alive, Stephen was contemplating a post-race trip to the treatment centre for frostbite as driving hailstones and lightning plagued the Haugesund course. However, Stephen completed the swim in a little over 90 minutes and somehow held it together on the bike to reach T2 in one piece. From there he ran at a steady six minutes per kilometre for the 42.2k and as such was delighted to beat the 13:30 mark by just 35 seconds, an outstanding achievement.

While Richard and Stephen were facing the elements in Europe, three club members stayed closer to home and ran the Southport Half Marathon and 10k hosted by Epic Events. This race is now a firm favourite for many local running clubs, not least because it is a flat and fast course down Lord Street, although the 2019 edition would also feature a nasty headwind in the second half of the race (and the type of headwind that doesn’t actually cool you down). While club reporter Robert Chesters took pictures at the Bold Hotel and enjoyed an easy like Sunday morning breakfast, Caroline Bones and Jennifer Reeve tackled the 13.1 miler and Mark Derbyshire came up with perhaps the under-the-radar result of the weekend. Caroline and Jennifer started and finished together in the half marathon as they rolled into Victoria Park after just over two and a half hours of gritty effort, but Mark (pictured below) was something of a revelation. He has plenty of recent history in half and full Ironman races, but here he was in his element from the off, even getting the opportunity to wave at Robert taking his picture! At the halfway point, before the headwind cut in, he was looking good for a sub-46 minute time and a top-50 finish. Despite not keeping the same pace in the second half (on a day when negative splits would have proved near impossible anyway) he still managed to make up a few places towards the end, and his final time of 45:45 and a 42nd place finish (seventh in his age group) was a fitting reward for one of the club’s most valued contributors. He wasn’t the only one taking on a 10k either as Diane Taktak joined friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation to compete in the Preesall 10k on the Fylde Coast, raising money for the Lancashire Fire and Rescue service. Quite how the marshals in firefighter’s uniforms didn’t catch heatstroke in the warm temperatures and breezy conditions is anyone’s guess, but in any case Diane showed no signs of any fatigue from her busy 2019 race schedule as she finished in 51st recording a 1:02:25, to round off a weekend of racing pretty much everywhere with star turns coming from both of our European travellers plus Eddie in Kent and Mark for his out-of-nowhere performance in Southport. The month of July begins next Sunday with the Derwent Epic Lakes Swim as a precursor to Ironman UK, the biggest event of the year, on 14 July.

 

Cardiff Today, Canada Tomorrow – Green and Blacks Strike Again

The clock is now ticking down to Ironman UK but sprint distance races are still on offer and there was plenty for the club to celebrate over the weekend in Cheshire and Cardiff. At Cholmondeley Castle the focus was on the latest round of the Castle Triathlon Series where no less than 34 race options were on offer. The focus of such weekends is always on the triathlons but the club also had entries in the 10k and half marathon. Helen Broderick enjoyed her best ever overall placing in a race in the 10k competing with her daughter as she finished the multi-terrain course in a time of 56:58 placing 14th overall and sixth lady home. The values of attending the Friday night track sessions have never been more on show than they were in the half marathon as Thomas and Alan Ralfs took to the start line. Thomas is a top track sprinter with a proud history of competition and has contributed to the club on many occasions with his energy and knowledge at club sessions, and here he got his time to shine, finishing an astounding fifth on debut in a time of 1:38:19, while Alan edged a close battle to take the last slot in the top 10 just under four minutes further back. In the multisport arena it was the turn of Cheryl Pace, Colin Dobbs and Patrick Neill to take centre stage with Cheryl racing the sprint, Colin doing the sprint plus and Patrick Neill in the standard race. Cheryl has been a runner for many years with particular experience of off-road racing at Penny Lane Striders and here she was in her element taking 5th in her category and a top-50 place overall thanks to a sub-18 minute swim and a much-improved performance on the bike and run. Colin Dobbs found the sprint plus, particularly the mixed terrain of the run course, very much to his liking and his excellent sub-40 minute run was key to him working his way up to 37th overall in a time of 2:37:44. That was it for Saturday but on the Sunday Patrick was flying in the standard distance race, as he was out of the water in well under half an hour, recorded a sub-1:20 time for the 44km cycle and had enough in his legs on the run to take fourth in his age group, his final time of 2:39:16 being arguably his best performance so far in 2019.

While the day trippers headed back along the M56 to put their feet up, Paul McGregor was in the last stages of a very notable performance in the Yorkshireman Half where he placed sixth in his age group finishing in just under six hours. Meanwhile Emma and Paul Austin were down south in Cardiff for the ITU qualification race. After the Leeds Triathlon earlier in the month, club reporter Robert Chesters (the third member of “Team Green and Blacks” owing to the colours of their bikes) mentioned how much triathlon has evolved in the last few years, noting that where we used to race in remote locations, now we more frequently compete in cities turned into miniature stadiums for the day. Cardiff, like Leeds, definitely fell into the latter category as the swim in the bay was followed by a multi-lap dogfight of a bike course round the city centre, with the run being more like a Tour de France style experience as the competitors soaked up the atmosphere in the Welsh capital. On offer were places in the 2020 world championships in Canada and as such Emma was always going to have her eye on the prize. She was out of the water in 12:50, this time ahead of her dad, before his superior bike speed put him ahead to stay, at least on overall time. For his part Paul would finish in 1:11:34 giving him a top-20 finish in his age group but Emma was about to spring a major surprise. Her running has been superb in between a succession of frustrating injuries but here she recorded a blistering sub-22 5k, and her final time of 1:12:29 gave her the result of the weekend; third in her category, automatically putting her through to Canada 2020! After a season disrupted by every possible setback, this result, while not her highest divisional placing on record, was surely her most satisfying, and it capped off a weekend full of surprises where several new stars emerged. Next week’s signature race is the Epic Events Southport Half Marathon and 10k, while the second round of the Epic Lakes Swim Series follows on July 7th and the biggest date of the year, Ironman UK, takes place seven days later.

 

Four Swimmers Enjoy Four Seasons on Father’s Day

It was a case of “all up north” over the Father’s Day weekend as the juniors took part in the Salt Ayre Junior Triathlon while a select few seniors made their way to Ullswater for the first of the 2019 Epic Lakes Swim Series and we had an entry in the Lakesman Half. On the Fylde coast four juniors took part in the regional championships hosted by the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club and all emerged with credit. Unfortunately the results are incomplete at the time of writing due to a serious incident at the end of the bike stage when one of the competitors collapsed at the dismount line. As such only Oliver Murphy currently has a result, however the wellbeing of the young aathlete involved is the most pressing concern at this moment in time; we hope for good news and a full recovery.

KellyAnne Towns is no stranger to the half Ironman format having participated in many such events across Europe but the Lakesman must rank as one of her toughest and most rewarding to date. Out of the water in just over 37 minutes, she put in a fine performance on the bike and an even better one on the run to finish in a time of 5:53:43, putting her in the top 5 of her age group. Meanwhile four club members took on either the mile or 2.5km swim at Ullswater hosted by Epic Events. Lynette Houghton, fresh from her heroics at Ironman 70.3, was our sole entrant in the 2.5km race and cracked the top 150 as she finished in a time of 52:11. In the mile race Tony Waine described it as a “swim of all weathers” as the swimmers faced torrential rain and bright sunshine in the space of an hour. For his part he picked up speed as he got warmer in the sub-12c water and eventually finished in a little over 40 minutes. It was a good outing for Laura Banks, as she came good on her predominantly pool swim experience to finish in the top 75 with a time of 33:21 but the real star was George Houghton, who figures to be one of the club’s leading up and coming athletes for many years to come. In his first Epic Lakes swim he recorded an astounding 29:09 which must have him in the mix for age group honours in years to come, thus rounding out a fairly quiet but still fruitful weekend for the club. The remainder of the month is equally sparse in terms of major events but the Southport Half Marathon and 10k offers an interesting fixture close to home on June 30th, and at the time of writing, it’s only four weeks to Ironman UK!

Steve goes sub-6, Chris captures everyone’s hearts, and Green and Black’s Grand Day Out

It is somewhat unfortunate that Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and the Leeds ITU weekend seemingly clash year in, year out but that is the fact of life as the racing schedule gets ever more overcrowded. However, that is the current state of play and as such it was a tough decision for many St Helens Tri members as to which race to choose. First of all, however Megan Cowley and Ann Gregory got the ball rolling with the 2 mile swim in Windermere on Friday. Against a backdrop of torrential rain and high winds which thankfully proved less troublesome than first anticipated, Megan finished in the top 1000 in a time of 1:56:12, while Ann, who has been a valued contributor to the club at Wednesday night swim sessions as well as improving week by week on Friday mornings, was delighted with her 1:16:04 leaving her mere seconds away fro the top 400.

Onto Sunday it was then, and the first athletes were out and about at the crack of dawn for the Staffordshire 70.3 with seven club members facing the massed start in the water, a technical bike course and a varied run with flat sections and very tough hills thrown into the mix. Star of the show was undoubtedly Steve Williams, who had only just returned from his top-5 in the ETU championships in the Netherlands, but here he easily beat the 40 minute mark for the swim and kept up a 20mph pace on the bike. The run proved tougher going for him but he still finished in an overall time of 5:53:31, good enough for second in the M65 division. There wasn’t much in it between Steve and Mark Eccleston in the water but a succession of chain snaps early on during the bike course left Mark with a lot to make up in the later stages. To his credit, he made up some time on Steve on the run to finish within 20 minute of his teammate and hold off Lynette Houghton, who has been a revelation in recent weeks particularly at the Nottingham Sprint. Here, she finished in a time of 6:26:31 which placed her in the top 30 F45’s, a fitting reward for months of hard training and regular attendance at club sessions, not to mention her attention to detail on bike position, in collaboration with the fit team at Thatto Cycles. Peter Rawlinson was next over the line in just over six and a half hours having made up a fair bit of time from exiting the water thanks to a dogged effort on the bike and some much improved pace over the half marathon.

If there was a people’s champion award at the club prizegiving (currently scheduled for late November) Chris Forber would surely be a contender; not only has she enjoyed her best season to date, she has never been one to miss a race where her friends and family have been competing and has always been that person for a club member to turn to in times of self-doubt. As such it was only fitting that she should have her day and 9 June proved to be exactly that, as she was out of the water very close to the Steve/Lynette/Mark trio and her previous experience of the bike course helped her no end with her pacing strategy for the run. The video of her coming down the finish chute was one of the most uplifting clips in years and her final result of 7:06:50 put her just outside the top 40 in her age group. Indeed, her route recce “partner in crime” Diane Taktak, who had enjoyed a good warm-up race four days earlier at the Birkenhead Park 5 Miler, also enjoyed a day out to remember as although she was unable to hang with the St Helens Tri leaders in the water, she made up for it with a particularly good run to beat the 7:45 mark with room to spare. Rounding out the participants in Staffordshire was Sean Dalby, setting a similar pace to Diane on both the swim and bike and being desperately unlucky not to beat the eight-hour mark, surely it is only a matter of time.

Memo to the Staffordshire organisers: please choose a date other than June 7th for 2020. That’s an unusual choice of sentence to open the second half of a weekly report, but it’s because the Leeds ITU festival/stadium race/ampitheatre (choose as you wish) race has already been scheduled for that date, and there are some excellent early bird special prices available at the time of writing. This is one event no-one wants to miss, with the swim in Roundham Park often being set to classic party tunes, a bike course which despite the increased competitor traffic is still thrilling to ride, and a run course into the city centre akin to participating in the London Marathon. Up at the crack of dawn were three club members eager to get in with a chance of qualifying for the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Mark Turner and Eddie Hirst were the two main contenders for the Saints and both would place 12th in their age group, with both recording excellent swim times mere seconds apart, Eddie having the edge on the bike and Mark setting a blistering 36:21 10k time to actually edge his teammate at the line to the tune of a couple of minutes. Both await the email to confirm a place on the world stage. If Chris Forber deserved the spirit of competition award for the 70.3, Chris Hayes had to get it in Yorkshire, as here he was taking part in his first standard distance event with friends from work and a couple of others who have taken part in Friday track sessions but at the time of writing have not yet joined the club. Coming from a rugby background, Chris has always had power and strength to burn, but the question was, could he maintain it over a three hour race? The answer was yes, as he set a promising time over the 1500m swim and beat the 75 minute mark on the bike. The run proved more taxing as the energy sapping heat started to kick in (or maybe the kids with the water and jelly babies didn’t appear until the sprint distance racers took to the run course) but his final time of just over two hours 50 minutes was one of the off-the-radar results of the year so far.

In keeping with the “spirit of competition” Chris even managed to get back to a good spectating point for the sprint distance race featuring Emma Austin, Paul Austin and Robert Chesters AKA Team Green and Black’s (the colour of their bikes, no reference to the chocolate company!) Emma was always going to be the favourite for grabbing the headlines and so it proved, as another terrific swim despite having to tread water initially had her into T1 in a commanding lead and an excellent bike split gave her every chance of an age group podium. Eventually a faster runner made their way past but Emma was still delighted with second in her division and ninth female overall, as she continues to work her way back from a running injury that took her out of much of the winter training block. Indeed, Robert would match Emma’s “9/2” result despite the running joke doing the rounds prior to the start that Paul, starting five minutes later, would be out of the lake before him, but luckily his coaching experience plus the memories of last year’s “yellow buoy……..oh no that’s a canoe” incident had him gunning for a much quicker swim time. 16:42 was certainly not anywhere near Team Austin territory but was 90 seconds quicker than his 2018 time, and while the bike course proved frustrating as he repeatedly caught packs of riders at the tight corners, he didn’t get mad, he got more than even on the run as a 7.5km time of just over 27 minute saw him make two critical passes on the way into the city centre to match Emma’s result, finishing in 1:24:38. It was also a cracking performance by Emma’s dad Paul, who quite incredibly went quicker than Emma in the lake, and was close to Robert’s time on the bike course. In the end he was just edged out of second in his division by a flying finisher, but his run of just over 35 minutes still cemented third in the M50 category to round off an exceptional week of racing where the star turns came from Ann at the Windermere Great Swim, Steve and Chris in Staffordshire and all six who raced in Leeds. Next week’s schedule is rather more quiet, with the only races of note being the Birmingham Triathlon, the Port Sunlight 10k and 5k and the Flash in the Park 10k at Leigh Sports Village, but there are only five more weeks until the date of destiny, Bastille Day and Ironman UK Day all in one. The date of 14th July is one not to be missed!

Diane, Sean and Chris at Ironman 70.3

 

Duels and Delights in the Deva City

The month of June began with the city of Liverpool celebrating and most of Merseyside nursing some pretty sore heads but for St Helens Tri members making the trip down the M56 to Chester there was no such lie-in as 12 of them faced either the standard or middle distance Deva Triathlons hosted by Chester Tri Club. In the standard distance the stars of the show were Michael Forber and Patrick Neill. We are fairly used to seeing positions set in stone between club members nowadays, but it is a long time since such a back-and-forth duel in an open water race (as in decided on the finish line) has eventuated, yet here Michael and Patrick put on a thrilling show with Michael’s much improved swim pace seeing him out of the water nearly two minutes ahead only for Patrick to use his TT bike to ease away on two wheels, not easy given the strong winds and changeable conditions. However, you can never write Michael off and a searing 43:25 for the 10k run saw him edge it at the line by just 17 seconds after nearly two and a half hours of racing. This result also left him second in his age group, in which he overtook many tiring runners over the final few kilometres. Ian Wright and James Nairn were similarly well matched on overall time, however in this case it was more that James’ late rally fell short as despite making up over 90 seconds on the run and having superior transition times, Ian held on to be third club member home by only 28 seconds, with the pair having enough in hand to hold off Patrick Lee, racing for the first time in open water since the Birmingham Triathlon last June. He managed to hang onto his two teammates for much of the race before dropping back on the run to finish around five minutes in arrears. However, Bethany Forber once again stole the show and scored a podium as her much improved speed on the bike lifted her to third in the F20-24 category and 280th overall in a time of 3:10:13, huge encouragement for one of the club’s top young talents.

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Five Go Down to the Dock, Three Take the Road Less Travelled

St Helens Tri members have been competing in various Team GB qualifier events with distinction recently and two more races over the Bank Holiday weekend relatively at new multisport venues offered yet another chance to represent their country on the European and World stages. Mal Balmer and Jennifer Pybis made the trip to Barry Island (which is actually a peninsula in Glamorgan) for an ITU draft legal sprint triathlon with a sea swim, a multi-lap draft legal bike course and a 5k run with sea views. Mal had a bit of a fight of it in the water but quick transitions helped him overcome some tough competitors on the bike and run stages and he eventually finished in 1:30:56, good enough for 23rd super veteran. However, Jennifer positively starred; for someone not used to sea swimming she was into the thick of things like she had been doing it for years, and her much improved bike performance and traditional rapid finish on the run gave her a time of 1:22:20 and lifted her into the top 15 senior ladies on the day before breakdown into 5-year age groups; it is to be seen whether this translates into team GB qualification for next year’s championships in Edmonton, Canada.

If conditions weren’t exactly ideal for sea swimming in South Wales, up north (or at least in the East Midlands) they were positively inhopsitable for club reporter Robert Chesters and the hordes who came from all over the UK to take part in what could have been viewed as an unofficial national championship race; with Oulton Park rarely featuring as a local qualifier nowadays and Bedford Autodrome hosting the other two 2020 ETU qualification races, Darley Moor near Ashbourne, Derbyshire is perhaps the best-kept secret for those whose swimming is not up to the same level as their other two disciplines. Darley Moor Circuit is best known for hosting motorcycle races and in essence is a straight triangle shape with a couple of chicanes, and this made for tricky going on both the run course, held around the gravel paths at the circuit perimeter, and the 8-lap bike segment which was Robert’s first opportunity to test a new position on his bike. The first run was hard going for many, especially those relying on compression gear toaid bloodflow, and as such Robert reached the pit lane outside the top 30, but an imcreasingly quick bike stage on what was fast becoming a river more than a racetrack saw him move up the order as others faded and a top-10 final run split enabled him to pull off some critical overtakes landing him sixth in the M35-39 category, which will hopefully put him into position for a wildcard slot next year’s ETU duathlon championships, for which the date and venue are yet to be confirmed.

Five more members stayed closer to home and tackled the Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon. A favourite among many local running clubs, the Run Rock n Roll series has grown in popularity since its inception in America and now boasts multiple events in countries all over the world. For St Helens Tri Chris Dyson was making his half marathon debut alongside Neil Wallace, Diane and Azzam Taktak and Karen Kelly and the quintet shone through conditions every bit as difficult as those at Darley Moor. While Neil led the club home in a time of 1:50:37, the resurgence of Azzam continued after his spectacular return to form at the Spring 10k earlier this month. Here, he was in his element and having only been hoping for a sub-2 hour time he went and smashed the target by over three minutes, clocking an excellent 1:56:44 in possibly the performance of the weekend. Chris got in some valuable training miles ahead of his half Ironman distance debut next week in Chester as he got round in 2:16:29, and it was actually a close run thing to the line as he found himself sandwiched between Diane, who came in 27 seconds ahead and Karen, with the trio finishing just over two and a half minutes apart. All in all, an exciting Bank Holiday weekend had by all who competed with star turns coming at all three race venues. Next weekend the month of June begins with the Deva middle distance and the Epicman Windermere while the Leeds ITU Triathlon takes place a week later at Roundhay Park as the final build stretch towards Ironman UK begins in earnest.

 

Brilliant Bethany and Super Sarah Steal the Show in Southport – FA Cup Final Weekend Part 2

And so it was to Sunday, with no less than 30 club members entered in the sprint and standard distances races at the Epic Events Southport Triathlon, also incorporating the Triathlon England National Championships, while others preferred to travel to either Worcester or Nottingham for alternative racing ventures. On the Irish Sea coast the racing began at 7:30am for the standard distance races including a two-lap, 1500m swim in the Marine Lake, two 20km laps of the coast road and two 5k laps of a 5k run course including some portions of the route used at last month’s Splashworld event (the sprint course being one lap each of the above). Mark Glynn and Eddie Hirst were always likely to be fighting it out for first club member home and so it proved. Mark got an advantage of just over half a minute on the swim but Eddie chipped away and arrived at the end of the bike course slightly ahead. However, on this occasion Mark’s rather more sparse race schedule in the build-up to Southport came up trumps over Eddie’s fixture list which looked more like Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final and his fresher legs enabled him to take 18th overall in a time of 2:08:15, while also taking third in the M50-54 category. Eddie meanwhile was just edged out of a top-30 placing overall but still got in the top ten in his category, his experience with hanging in there paying dividends where others would have faded out of contention. Behind him, one might have expected a close battle between Andrew McGlone, Paul Austin and Michael Forber for the “St Helens Tri Podium” but amazingly Andrew pulled off the swim of his life and created a gap never to be bridged; while Paul enjoyed a superior bike time and Michael came up with his customary fast 10k to finish neither could reel him in and his 2:21:06 placed him 125th overall around three and a half minutes clear of Paul and a further 90 seconds clear of Michael. A gap of a few minutes followed while others rolled in, but there were plenty more interesting stories, including that of Claire Murphy who only eight days removed from ironman 70.3 Mallorca put in yet another memorable performance as her sub-28 swim and much improved pace on the bike and run stages enabled her to take a top-10 finish in her category and a final time of 2:38:17. Ian Wright only joined the club at the beginning of the triathlon year (April 1st) but he has certainly made quite an impression already particularly with his running prowess, and he gave Alan McKeegan a real run for his money as he sought to close the gap on the bike and run before Alan eventually finished 45 seconds to the good. Still the Saints came rolling home, but the next huge story of the day was about to unfold. Sarah Taktak has excelled for a long time at the Wednesday and Friday swim sessions held at Edge Hill Sport, but here she made a huge improvement on the bike, particularly in view of her preparation for Ironman UK, and with the number 1 on her race bib she came good on exactly that as she swept to victory in the F20 division completing the course in 2:52:26, her dad Azzam also continuing his good form after the spring 10k as he finished only a few minutes behind. One person Azzam overtook on the bike was Bethany Forber, who would produce the next great cheer of the day as she followed up her customary speedy swim with a sub-90 minute time on the bike and rounded it off with a 54:09 run to take third in the F20-24 category, behind only two team GB triathletes! The family photos, complete with mum Christine who was less than three minutes behind, were one of the highlights of the day. Behind Christine five more club members would yet finish, with perhaps the biggest cheer in order for Paul Hazlehurst who has a rather unusual background to triathlon having previously excelled in power sports such as boxing. Luckily no punches were thrown in the lake but he did a creditable sub-33 minute swim to exit the water not far behind Bethany and his strong legs propelled him round the bike course in a little over 90 minutes. Although not quite able to hold such a rapid pace on the run he deserved a cheer equal to that of those who won prizes as his diligent approach to his training was rewarded with a finish time of 3:25:19; indeed if a coaches’ award was to presented at midseason for progress during the sessions it would be hard to think of a more deserving recipient.

The sprint distance race saw five club members take on the single-lap versions of each discipline. Richard Seville has long been one of the few “win at everything” club members and is perhaps best remembered for his heroics at last year’s Ironman Austria, but here he not only led the club home, he signed off with a blistering 18:17 run and won his age category! And he wasn’t the only sprint distance racer to mount the podium as Myka Heard returned from a long running injury to post an incredible sub-13 minute swim and still have enough in her on the bike and run to win her division too. Coming up on the rails fast at the end, but not quick enough to overhaul Myka, was Ian Orford whose rise to multisport prominence really began during the winter club duathlon season. Here, he began with a good strong swim and while not able to match Richard or Myka on the bike he would follow Richard’s lead in saving the best until last, a 19:06 5k elevating him to within touching distance of the top 50. Also racing the sprint distance were Tony Waine and Robert Saile. Tony was two minutes behind Robert upon leaving the water but put in a solid shift on the bike to nibble away at the deficit, and eventually his superior running speed lifted him past his teammate as the pair finished 106th and 132nd respectively. All in all a terrific morning of racing on the west coast, and the question now was, could the Outlaw half entrants repeat the dose in Nottingham?

Four club members made the trip to the East Midlands for this well-regarded half Ironman at the home of Robin Hood. All four members have been with the club for many years and as such had plenty of experience going into the race, but here Gary Birch stole the limelight as a sub-45 minute swim had him well up the field early doors and a sub-2:45 time for the 56 miles on the bike gave him a superb platform to build on for the run, which he duly did by completing the 13.1 miles in a little over two hours to eventually finish 626th in a time of 5:46:20. Gary Davies was marginally ahead as they got out of the water and extended his lead in the early goings, but eventually Gary Birch overhauled him during the bike course. Nevertheless, a two and a half hour 13.1 miler to finish meant that Gary Davies still got home in just over six and a half hours, very close to making the top 1000. If ever there was an example of “don’t give up”, Debra Rayment would be it. With her season seemingly over after a mountain bike accident in March, she would have been forgiven for pulling out of the Outlaw Half but instead she proved the doubters wrong with a gritty performance to finish in under 7:15. Caroline Bones rounded out the multisport proceedings for the week as she got home in a time of 7:51:38 but there was one more story on the other side of the Midlands as Lee Stinch tackled the Worcester Half Marathon in the Malvern Hills. On a tough, technical course a PB was never very likely but Lee, seemingly fresh from excelling at the club track session on the Friday night, put in an inspired display to complete the race in 1:38:24, good enough to finish in the top 50 overall and round off a thrilling day of racing where the star turns came from Richard and Myka in the Southport Sprint, Mark Glynn, Sarah Taktak and Bethany Forber in the standard race and Gary Birch in Nottingham. Next week sees the return of Go Tri to St Helens while Crazy Legs Events host an ETU qualification race at the Darley Moor Duathlon, comprising a two-lap run, 8 laps on the bike and a final run lap to finish on a blindingly fast race track near Ashbourne. Closer to home, the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll races, namely the 5k, half marathon and full marathon should provide plenty of cheer for those making the short trip to the home of the Beatles to either participate or offer their support.

(Full results from Southport can be found at https://resultsbase.net/event/4940/results )