Six from the Top – Countdown to #BeatShaleyBrow Part 1

The past week has been one of those classic “in between” ones with relatively little in the way of actual racing but with several notable results coming in, just enough to fire everyone up for the packed Bank Holiday weekend and the final stretch run in September, including the #BeatShaleyBrow St Helens Triathlon. Two late results came in from the latest round of the North West Junior Series, where Grace and Holly Hirst were taking part in the Tameside Duathlon. Grace and Holly have improved in leaps and bounds thanks mainly to their regular participation at the Friday night track sessions, which are currently focusing on short, sharp efforts to prime everyone for the Rainford 10k and Fun Run. The sisters must figure to finish at the sharp end of the latter given how well they performed in East Manchester as while Holly placed ninth in the TS3 Girls race, Grace took a top 5 at TS1 level finishing very close to the podium.

The seniors starred at three diverse events stretching back as far as the Tuesday night time trial season finale, where Azzam Taktak was our sole entrant, and he brought down the curtain on the 2019 midweek schedule with a fine ride to a time of 28:27. His performance set the tone for two events on Sunday, one fairly local classic in the Lake District, the other a hitherto unknown race on the East Coast. At Coniston it was once again the George and Lynette show as team Houghton took part in the 1 mile and 3.8km swims organised by Epic Events. George was mere seconds away from breaking the 30 minute mark on a day when surprisingly few people set a particularly quick time but his efforts were enough to get him into the top 50, while Lynette is never one to shy away from the longest possible distance and her efforts in the Iron distance race were rewarded as she finished in a time of 1:30:57.

Hartlepool is probably best known in this day and age for being the hometown of Jeff Stelling, anchor of Sky Sports News and one-time Countdown host, but over the weekend Mark Glynn (pictured below) was over on the North Sea Coast taking part in the Big Lime Triathlon, featuring a 750m swim in Jacksons Dock, 20km cycling on flat, closed roads and a 5k run along the promenade. For all Mark’s achievements at standard and longer distance events over the years, this was amazingly his first foray into sprint distance racing, but he was right at home here and came through when it mattered most to brilliantly take fourth overall just 34 seconds away from the podium and a resounding win in his age group, thereby rounding off a short but sweet report and, in that modern rarity, a week where everyone on the club website round-up also featured in the St Helens Star. Next week offers a far busier schedule, with the national club relays at Holme Pierrepont on Saturday followed by the Epic Events double-header of West Lancs Summer and Wirral triathlons on Sunday. In addition entries are still available for both the St Helens Triathlon on September 8th and the Rainford 10k on October 6th.

 

 

Super Cup Win for Carole in Chilly Cheshire

Quarry Bank Mill is a popular tourist destination for families as well as school trips and last Wednesday it provided the backdrop for the first St Helens Tri outing of the week. Diane Taktak, who had enjoyed a packed season of running on and off road joined friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation to take on the Run North West trail race. Such has been the variety of events on Diane’s schedule, here on a particularly testing course she ran strong where others faltered and completed the course, just over five miles long, in a time of 51:52. Three days later it was the turn of Violet Costello to star at the Dee Mile swim hosted by Chester Tri Club. This event now offers a half mile option for juniors to participate in and Violet, a regular attendee at Friday morning swimming and the Friday night track run session, performed brilliantly to take third in her category. Where Emma Austin and Sarah Taktak have progressed from junior to adult racing, Violet is set to follow!

In keeping with the triathlon club “community” feel of the weekend, and as a reminder to the masses of our own event in four weeks’ time, eight club members made the trip to a chilly, drizzly Manley Mere on Sunday morning for the annual open water sprint triathlon hosted by Stockport Tri Club, who also stage an autumn duathlon on October 20th. As detailed in the news flash on Sunday night, Dave Gaskell, who had been near the head of the field out of the lake, was involved in a very distressing crash on first corner of the bike leg and is now recovering in hospital from surgery to a fractured thigh bone. In one of the most chaotic races in St Helens Tri history it was somewhat miraculous that the same fate did not befall Robert Chesters, who dragged his worn wetsuit to 45th place out of the water before picking off the fast starters during the early stages of the bike leg, only to end up going the wrong way and, in turning round, locking up his rear wheel and end up flying over the handlebars into the road! Luckily Robert landed straight and got back on the road quickly, setting the seventh quickest bike split despite not breaking the 38 minute mark and following it up with a run split bettered only by the overall race winner. His final place of 8th tied his best in a Cheshire based event and he was joined in the top 20 by Mark Derbyshire. Mark and Robert left T1 almost joined at the hip, and in one of Mark’s strongest showings in a long time, he parlayed his Southport 10k running form into a top 20 finish overall. However, the feelgood story of the day, and probably the best since Sarah Taktak’s Ironman journey, was that of Carole James. Carole’s story goes back to well before she joined the club, having spent many years running at Southport Waterloo AC. She has improved immeasurably thanks to regular attendance at the Friday morning swim sessions, frequent trips to open water venues to improve long distance conditioning, and a recent bike fit at Thatto Cycles to install aero bars on her bike. It all came together on the slippery streets of Helsby as she powered round the course in a little over 90 minutes and overcame a deficit of more than two minutes to charge into the division lead on the run course and won her age group by 41 seconds! An outstanding performance from quite possibly the club’s most impressive newcomer of 2019.

Four more club members finished behind Carole, with Debra Rayment being next home. She matched Robert’s top 5 in age group result thanks to an improved bike split that saw her get within a minute of Carole’s time. Six minutes later came Sean Dalby, in his first major outing since Ironman 70.3, placing 71st and getting quite a gap on his teammates thanks to some very rapid transition times. Robert Saile came flying out of the blocks setting a swim time mere seconds behind that of Mark, before reaping the rewards of some consistent pacing on the bike and run course to keep his head while others around him lost theirs, and with a bit more luck he would have finished in under 1:50. He was chased to the line by Christopher Sullivan, who only recently joined the club and put in a good shift especially on the final stage to finish in well under two hours, rounding out a fraught but eventually rewarding day for the club where Carole undoubtedly stole the show with her first ever age group win. Next week’s signature events are the Bassenthwaite Lake triathlon and the Epic Events Coniston swims, while the club continues to promote the St Helens Triathlon and Rainford 10k, scheduled for 8 September and 6 October respectively.

Serious accident at Manley Mere Triathlon

The Manley Mere Triathlon on Sunday 11 August was overshadowed by a very distressing accident at the start of the bike course involving longtime club member Dave Gaskell. Dave had entered the race hosted by Stockport Tri Club as preparation for the World Championships and was looking forward to the trip to Lausanne. However, he fell on the first corner of the cycle stage in Cheshire and suffered a fracture of his femur bone. The Stockport marshals were on the scene immediately and were a credit to themselves, their club and the triathlon community as they were there to help Dave in his state of shock while they awaited the arrival of the ambulance. Further to this, a helicopter airlifted him to Aintree Hospital where he underwent surgery on Sunday evening.

As such we will hold back from publishing any race reports from the past week until the time is appropriate. In the meantime, we all at St Helens Tri wish Dave a full and speedy recovery.

Stars of Salford, Snowdonia and the Soyembika – Double Gold Medal Edition

It is easy to forget sometimes, but as recently as the end of 2014 St Helens Tri did not even exist as a club. Within the first two years of existence the club had already racked up many wins on a local and national level as well as organised the first ever St Helens Triathlon, for which entries for the 2019 edition are still available at the time of writing. However, even as the starters’ orders were given on 13 September 2015, some club members were already taking their first steps towards representing their country on the European and World stages. There have been many such episodes of Saints greatness in the last two years in particular but none quite like what the club experienced at the home of the fabled Soyembika Tower in Kazan, Russia on Sunday morning.

Emma Austin has enough such experiences and stories to write a book all of her own, and took on two pre-race favourites from the host country in the F20 division. Her swim in just over 13 minutes is pretty much par for (her) course nowadays but it was her sub-35 minute bike split that put distance not only between herself and the other two females, but the entire class of 2019. The only question was could she hold the field off on the run, having found progress on top-end speed somewhat stymied over the last few years by a succession of calf injuries. One of the local entrants did indeed set a very fast run split in a late bid to challenge for the win, but the minute gained on Emma was far too little too late to make any difference to the final outcome, and Emma crossed the line to win the F20 division, by an astonishing four minutes and 22 seconds! She wasn’t the only one heading home with a gold medal either, as Steve Williams was out to try and add a sprint title to the standard one he won 12 months ago in Estonia. Steve did have a bit more of a challenge as he exited the water in second place, but never doubt his ability to destroy an entire field on a bike course, and this he duly did, recording a 34:20 over three minutes faster than anyone else. Amazingly, he ran up an even bigger winning margin than Emma, as he pulled further away on the run stage to win his age group by over six minutes. The post-race photos (sent into the St Helens Star for inclusion in this week’s edition) told everything an outsider might want to know about the star quality at two different ends of the age spectrum, and how St Helens Tri has cemented its position at the forefront of North West triathlon in just five years.

Emma and Steve were joined in Russia by Michael Forber, David Gaskell and Helens Broderick as they looked to join the ranks of club elites who have thrived on the international stage. Michael was in a tough division once again made up mainly of GB athletes and Russians but despite facing far choppier waters than he regularly swims in at Eccleston Mere, he was still nicely up the field upon reaching T1. The bike leg was another strong effort despite being surrounded by many quick athletes, and one should never discount his ability to finish with a flourish, as his 19:02 run split was even quicker than the man who won the race. In the event Michael’s final time of 1:12:11 placed him sixth overall and third GB athlete home, securing automatic qualification for next year’s championship. Dave Gaskell enjoyed his first foray into European competition as he was out of the water in under 17 minutes and followed it up with a bike stage that put him in contention for a top-10 finish. Other runners ultimately got away during the final leg, but 13th overall, only around a minute shy of the top 10, and fourth GB competitor home was a great way to warm up for next month’s world championships. For overcoming pre-race nerves that lasted well into the swim, Helen Broderick deserved a medal just as much as those who stepped onto the podium, as she fought her way back from the rear of the field to record some excellent bike and run times en route to a sub-90 minute time with a particularly impressive sub-38 split on two wheels. All five club members were an absolute credit to team GB, St Helens Tri and also to the Violet-Grace charity raising awareness for road safety in Violet’s memory.

Closer to home, the club was seen out on the roads of Salford and Snowdonia enjoying the changeable conditions that could only come right after the hottest July week on record. At MediaCity UK three raced the sprint distance while a further two doubled the distance for the standard. Jennifer Pybis has proven to be something of an expert at getting results in big races, and so it proved once again as she followed up a remarkable 11:33 swim with a bike time of just over 40 minutes. Having dropped behind Paul Booth (pictured below) in the battle for first club member home she then reeled off two terrific run laps to not only finish in 1:17:52, but also place third in her age group just ten seconds ahead of her teammate enjoying his first post-Ironman outing. Meanwhile Ian Orford continued to grow into his element at open water racing, as he was out of the water in under 15 minutes and followed up a 39:17 bike stage with the fastest run split of the Saints trio, eventually finishing in just under 80 minutes placing him 45th overall. Andrew McGlone has been under the radar for a while now having not raced as much in 2019 as he did last year, but he was back with a bang in the standard race as he flew round the quays in 21:33 for the 1500m swim, before reeling off a sub-75 minute bike and a run of just over 45 minutes to finish in the top 10 of the men’s senior category. Mark Derbyshire was rather more comfortable taking on Salford this year having not done Ironman two weeks prior and so it showed, as he put in a good performance in all three disciplines to make the top 60 in a time of 2:36:09.

If ever there was a race which demanded precision preparation it had to be the Snowman Triathlon, which club reporter Robert Chesters opted for as a return to where he competed in his first open water race two years ago. Back then it was the sprint, this time he opted for the Classic, including a 1000m swim, 70 hilly kilometres through Beddelgert, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed, and finally a 10km run/power walk/wobble (delete as appropriate) to the top of Moel Sionau. It’s fair to say that Robert, and many others, were caught out by the unique nature of what is loosely termed an “adventure” triathlon (imagine the DNF rate if they launched an “expedition” version!) but you can read Robert’s full report at https://robjchesters.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/a-week-and-a-race-of-two-halves/ and get an idea of how tough the course is even for those who kept their composure and didn’t start feeling dizzy on the “run” back down the mountain! In the end a finish in just over 4 hours 45 minutes as a marker for a half Ironman entry next year was a decent result, rounding off a weekend where the star turns came from Emma and Steve in Kazan and Jennifer in Salford. Next weekend’s schedule is rather more sparse, with only the Allerthorpe Classic Triathlon on offer, but the following weekend is not only the Premier League season-opener but also the Manley Mere Triathlon hosted by Stockport Tri Club, for which several club members are already entered with just a fortnight to go.

Silver for Stephen in Salford Scorcher – “Not the Post Ironman Blues”

During the weeks immediately pre and post Ironman, various members have been flying the St Helens Tri flag at a wide range of venues across the UK. First of those was Steve Howe who claimed a top-six age group finish at the Sport in Action Ullswater Triathlon, while on the same day George Houghton was once again climbing ropes and cargo nets aplenty at his latest OCR event, this being a 15k Spartan held at Market Harborough in Leicestershire. Once again George could not be stopped as he eased to yet another age group victory as he continues to improve still further ahead of the World Championships. The following morning saw Helen Broderick and Helen Curran race at the Deva Divas Triathlon in Chester. Both enjoyed a fine day out, with Helen warming up for this weekend’s European Championships in Kazan with a fine run to second in her age group highlighted by a swim of just over 15 minutes and her fastest 5k in a long time. Helen Curran has benefitted enormously from regular attendance at the Monday night open water swim session at Eccleston Mere and here she was right in her element, completing the swim in 19 minutes before a 58:23 20k bike and a run of just under 28 minutes brought her home in 1:48:48.

After a quiet post-Ironman week where the only race of note was Diane Taktak enjoying a good day at the Pendle Trail Races, attentions shifted to the final weekend of the month featuring the Snowman and Salford Triathlons on home soil and the European Triathlon Championships in Russia. MediaCity UK will be buzzing with the sights and sounds of the participating athletes on Sunday but Stephen and Wendy Webb, fresh from Ironman Norway, decided to visit a few days early and Stephen positively starred, his 10k time of 44:56 on the hottest day of the year so far lifting him into the top 20 overall and second in his category. Meanwhile Wendy took on the 5k, finishing in under 34:30 which put her eighth in her age group, to set up an exciting weekend on which several club members will return to the City of the Buzzing Bees, while club reporter Robert Chesters takes on his longest race to date at the Snowman Classic and Helen Broderick will be joined by Steve Williams, Emma Austin, David Gaskell and Michael Forber in pursuit of Euro glory.

 

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.