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.

A Race against the Dying of the Light – Knowsley, Parbold and Bedford

In what could well have been the last weekend of racing for 2020, two local events and one a little further afield brought the winter (and possibly summer) season to a close. At the Knowsley 10k Diane Taktak and friends took on one of the “emerging classics” as the Knowsley area becomes increasingly popular as a place to race, although whether this trend will survive the coming months and years is anyone’s guess. In the event Diane finished with a smile on her face and a time of 1:04:44 which was easily good enough to finish in the top 600.

The Parbold Duathlon just about managed to survive the incoming lock down and as has so often been the case in the past, Gez Roberts led the way for the club on his green Giant Propel bought from Thatto Cycles. His time of 1:37:54 put him 13th overall and fourth in his category. Making a welcome return to the fold was Mark Livingston who not only made the top 20, but won a thrilling battle with his closest rival to pull away on the final run stage and win the V50 category. Indeed, he also overtook Kevin Dudley whose skill set was more suited to the bike course, but Kevin’s top 25 overall placing was still an excellent result. Will Bardin was involved in one of the more amusing episodes of the race when he drafted a Citroën while running (out of T2) but in any case he still went home happy as he finished in a time of 2:02:09. Meanwhile Peter Leadbeater was the club’s sole representative at the Bedford Autodrome Spring Duathlon. Held under metaphorically black clouds it was hardly a race day to stir the soul, or so it seemed. However Peter still put on an outstanding performance in what effectively amounted to a national standard race as he finished the 5k/19k/2.5k draft legal event in a little over 70 minutes, with a particularly impressive bike split, to place fourth in his age group.

Club membership for the 2020/21 season is now open. As per the outcome of the recent committee meeting it is not priced at £15 for seniors and £5 for juniors. Please note that the club training sessions have been suspended until further notice. The committee and coaching team at St Helens Tri wish to encourage everyone to continue with their exercise as long as it is conducted solo and within safe parameters; with the likely wipe out of the remaining 2020 races now is not the time to push the limits for upcoming major events but rather to enjoy the great outdoors and appreciate the joys and benefits sport brings to all of us.

From the Wilderness to the Amphitheatre – 2-up Duathlon and Chester 10k Review

It was a remarkable day of sport on Sunday both at Murrayfield and Old Trafford, but St Helens Tri had their own compelling stories to tell at the Firefighters 2-up Duathlon and the Aldi Chester 10k. On the West Pennine Moors four teams of two joined many more in racing over a hilly course featuring two 6km runs either side of a 37km bike course where drafting and teamwork are just as important as strength. Leading the way for the club was the dynamic duo of Chris Hayes and Paul Howard, who have been regular attendees at the Friday night track sessions and put their newly found faster feet to perfect use on the slopes of Belmont, as they powered round to finish in the top 100 in a time of 2:42:27. Chris Murphy and Azzam Taktak have made legends of themselves in their own rights over the last few years, the former with his photography skills at club events, the latter with his spellbinding performance at Ironman Barcelona 2019. What better pairing to put together then, as two of the club’s top endurance athletes? Well, they were more than equal to the task and completed the course in under three hours and placed inside the top 150. It was also a good day out for Mike Gregory and Kevin Dudley who distinguished themselves at the winter cross country races. Here, they dug in deep and finished in a time of 3:01:20 to round off proceedings up north.

Meanwhile, newly appointed club kit officer Robert Saile was taking on the Aldi Chester 10k, a course set through the city centre in much the same way as the annual half marathon and Round the Walls races. In a dramatic race befitting of the amphitheatre itself, which saw the winner break 30 minutes, Robert improved immeasurably on his last significant run performance at the 2019 Manley Mere Triathlon and put on a big finish to get his chip time under the hour to the tune of five seconds! A fine way to round off another breezy day of racing. Hopefully it will be a bit calmer next week at the ever popular Parbold Duathlon, while the spring triathlon season is just around the corner, starting on April 5th in Ulverston, the same day as the Manchester Marathon.

Sue and Grace’s Grand Day Out – ‘Cross the Mersey Style

The 10th running of the GPW Recruitment St Helens 10k was a sunny but windy affair which nonetheless celebrated the best of St Helens sport over the past decade, and St Helens Tri was right in the thick of the action from the word go. Eleven members raced for St Helens Tri with several more raising money for sister club the Isabella Rose Foundation. Lee Brownbill made much of the early running and was still leading the way at the halfway mark, but the cross country season always seems to bring out the best in those who have participated over the winter months and sure enough, Kevin Dudley and Chris Hayes came to the fire in the latter stages. Kevin was the sole St Helens Tri member to duck under the 45 minute mark and finish in the top 150 overall while Chris used his trademark fast finish to record a 46:10 chip time and just edge Lee out by six seconds. Indeed the pair had their hands full with Chris Dyson who really came on strong on the final run in to the line inside the stadium and was justifiably delighted with his 47:32. Sixth club member home was David Mellor who would certainly have appreciated the sprint round the rugby field at the end; a time of 48:50 was a just reward for a winter of consistent attendance and effort at the Friday night track sessions. Perhaps the hard luck story of the day was that of Kevin Richardson, who opened his 2020 account just outside the top 400 on chip times recording a 50:07. He didn’t have much in the way of company during the race, as there was a gap of around three and a half minutes to Melanie Sayed, who in turn was 1:35 clear of Lisa Hirst, taking time off from supporting Eddie and her two daughters to put in her annual spirited effort up North Road. Nick Hall got his nose in front of Lisa at various stages of the race, but eventually finished just over a minute behind, while it was a case of second time lucky for Sue King who, after just missing out on a sub hour at last October’s Rainford 10k, would end up beating her target by nearly a minute, while also edging out teammate Lewis Shepherd by seven seconds. A special mention must go to the club’s recently appointed head coach Stuart Dillingham, who has only recently joined the club after many years of success in the West Country. He took part in his first St Helens 10k and enjoyed a good day out, finishing the tough course in a couple of little over 70 minutes.

All attentions now turned to the Bebington Oval for the first round of the junior season as Mersey Tri Club hosted the Wirral Aquathlon. Fresh from the St Helens 10k, Sue was off to the other side of the water to watch her daughter Grace take part in her first race for the club. Grace enjoyed her day out as she placed third in the Novice A Girls event. In the T2 event, Grace Hirst was out of the water in 15th place and, true to her form on the most recent track session, edged forward on the run. She just ran out of time to catch the runner ahead of her but a top 15 finish in 15:02 was a good first outing on the season. It was a similar story for her sister Holly who was in a very competitive division but again managed to save her best for the end as 18th on the run elevated her into the top 20 overall to round off a fine weekend of racing both at St Helens Stadium and the Oval. Next week’s main event is the Firefighters 2-up duathlon on the slopes of West Pennine Moors in Belmont where teams of two run and ride bikes together – here’s hoping the never ending windy weather finally calms down in time for race day!

A Taktak Tornado Three-Step – Veni, Vidi, Victory

The arrival of Storm Dennis decimated another weekend of racing with both the Wrexham Half Marathon and the Bolton 5k called off. As such it was a relief to hear that the ever popular and always full to capacity Parbold Hill Race hosted by Skelmersdale Boundary Harriers was going ahead despite concerns that another amber warning might just kick in at the last minute. Leading the way for St Helens Tri was the ever reliable and always strong Mark Livingston, whose time of 48:29 landed him 9th overall, less than three minutes away from the podium, and a resounding winner in his age category by over a minute. Fresh from his excellent outing at Heaton Park last week, Kevin Dunbar cracked the top 40 overall in under 54 minutes and he placed third in the M40 group. After a while David Isaac held off Azzam Taktak to be next club member across the line, the pair separated by around 90 seconds and both beating the 80 minute mark. Rounding out the club’s entrants were Nick Hall, looking forward to the long distance triathlon season, Sarah Taktak returning to the wilds of West Lancashire on university recess with a time of 1:33:22, and Diane Taktak who can always be counted on to perform well at the classic multi terrain races.

Indeed Diane scored the best under the radar result the following week at the Winter Hill 10k hosted by Time2Run Events. On yet another wet and windy Sunday which was more like an early season open water event, she took on the newly reversed course in one of the most inhospitable settings for a winter race and won her age group in under 85 minutes to round off a month full of unexpected feelgood stories. This weekend’s big event is the 10th anniversary St Helens 10k while the juniors get their season underway at the Mersey Tri aquathlon staged at the Bebington Oval.

Claire and Robert Storm to the Summit – Manchester XC Season Finale 2020

It was a quiet lead in to the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Heaton Park, but Diane Taktak has been a pretty safe bet when it comes to touring new and interesting race venues. At the Warrington 5 Miler on January 25th she took on a challenging course and finished in just over an hour and on Super Bowl Sunday she joined friends at the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k. On a cold, windy morning she finished just outside the top 600 in a time of 1:07:40.

While some attentions turned to Murrayfield for the Scotland-England Six Nations game and Storm Ciara forced the cancellation of the upcoming Mad Dog 10k, St Helens Tri travelled to the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League at historic Heaton Park in Prestwich. Perhaps the most scenic event of the season, Heaton Park is set in over 600 acres of land including an 18th century Grade 1 listed building, Heaton Hall. The course itself is a fast, flowing route with little in the way of technical sections found at Wythenshawe or Bagley and the rapid downhill start is a real point of attack for those gunning for a PB, with an impromptu fairground and circus near the football fields this year offering a backdrop similar to the one found at the Suzuka Formula 1 circuit. For once the club had several juniors racing in the morning, with Grace and Holly Hirst joined by Oliver Murphy. Both Grace and Holly made the top 50 in their respective races while Oliver recorded a sub 30 time in the U17 Boys event. After lunch Claire Murphy was joined by Christine Forber for the senior ladies race at 1:30. Claire capped off a remarkable season as she ended up undefeated across all five events in the St Helens Tri club championship, her time of 45:57 placing her in the top 130 overall while Christine recovered from last minute shoe troubles to place 209th, coming back from last down the hill at the start to probably set the league record for most overtakes in a single race!

While Claire had already wrapped up the ladies club XC championship at Tatton Park, the men’s title was still up for grabs between three of the club’s longest standing members, with Robert Chesters leading Kevin Dunbar and Michael Forber and John Wilson odds-on for the Rookie of the Year award. Joining the ranks for the first time was Eddie Hirst who hasn’t done an XC since the 2017/18 curtain closer at Wythenshawe Park. He was prominent in the early stages and championship leader Robert was happy to have him run off and hide, but the second lap saw the script flipped on its head as Robert tentatively passed his teammate prior to the first woodland section. From there the dynamic duo continued to metronomically tap out a consistent rhythm but Robert’s recent experience of the hills and mud proved decisive and a final surge up the hill to a time of 40:33 in front of the club tifosi sealed his first ever club prize, joining Claire on a perfect 100 points. Eddie was less than a minute behind him but had to fend off a late challenge from Michael Forber who has been his usual consistent self all season; here his best performance of the winter secured him second in the club standings and in a time of 42:10. Such was the closeness of the field on the fast course that Kevin Dunbar was 14 placed behind his teammate despite being within 15 seconds, as he wound up third in the club competition one place higher than last year. The real breakthrough, however, and arguably the surprise of the day, was Chris Hayes, who has been a speed demon on the short distance efforts at Friday night run sessions and here he outlasted Chris Murphy to finish 26 seconds ahead in a time of 48:11. The top 6 counters placed the club in the top 30 in the overall scheme of things, and they were ably backed up by John Wilson who finished in 50:49, Paul Booth who certainly chose the best course to make his sole 2019/20 outing, and Azzam Taktak likewise who demonstrated real grit and determination on his efforts up the endless hill. Indeed “endless hill” is something of a metaphor for the whole season, or so it sometimes seems, but it is a climb which always serves club members well at the start of the summer triathlon campaign.

Special thanks must go to those who contributed to the effort in setting up the club gazebo, taking photographs and providing refreshments to the tired runners at the end of each race. Also thanks to Run North West who once again did a fantastic job organising the competition, the league has gone from strength to strength since they first provided their input and services. And finally well done to everyone who took part over the course of the winter, the numbers have held up well and to have 14 at the curtain closer is something to be proud of. Roll on the spring duathlon season starting at Oulton Park next Sunday!