Junior Joy, Super Swimmers and Middle Distance Masters – Pre-World Cup Weekend Part 2

St Helens Tri juniors have enjoyed back-to-back racing weekends in the North Lancashire area during the first half of June and come away with some encouraging results. On the weekend when most club members were in Chester at the Deva Triathlon, Holly Hirst and Harriet King made the trip to the north west’s own Varsity City for the City of Lancaster Junior Triathlon. Holly raced in the T2 event and made stead progress through the field to place 11th in a time of 28:42. However, Harriet stole the show with an emphatic victory in the youth race; it was a close run thing with her rivals out of the water but she put the race away on the bike course and could afford to relax a little on the run, even then she won by 90 seconds, a truly dominant performance.

The following weekend saw several of the club’s young stars make the trip to the Fylde for the Blackpool Trawlerman Triathlon held at Palatine Leisure Centre. This is a unique event as it aims to simulate the open water experience by having the competitors swim round buoys in a pool, followed by a cycle track for the bike stage and a fast flat run to finish. Harriet King, fresh from her heroics in Lancaster the previous week, was in a fierce battle for much of the race with a rival from Rochdale and the pair traded positions throughout the early going. In the end her rival pulled away on the run but a second successive podium finish was still a great return on a fortnight’s work. Grace and Holly Hirst enjoyed a family day out and both showed good signs of progress, Grace finishing with a flourish to narrowly miss out on a place in the top 20 at T1 level while Holly edged a battle to the line in the T2 race to claim 20th position. It was also a welcome return for Reuben Wilson who showed consistent pace across all three disciplines and demonstrated the importance of working on previous weaknesses to match Grace’s 21st position in the T2 Boys event.

While the Leeds ITU weekend was the focal point for St Helens Tri senior members last week, many more took on a variety of challenges starting with the great Swim in Lake Windermere. The venue hit the local news over the weekend on the topic of leisure and tourism but there were plenty of “tourists” taking part in perhaps the biggest mass participation swim in the country. Among the entrants were seven St Helens Tri members divided neatly into three “families”. The interesting life and times of Kevin Dunbar continued here as his armbands to Ironman journey took a giant step forward finishing the 1 mile swim in 44:44, and remember until last year’s Kendal Triathlon he had never even competed in a pool swim let alone a lake. The Forbers also had a day out to remember, with Christine putting in an outstanding performance to break the 32 minute mark while Bethany not only beat 40 minute but knocked a staggering 25 minutes off her time from last year. Perhaps the most heartening story was that of Molli Forber who has only just taken up competition and has already completed various running races for the Isabella Rose Foundation. Here, with St Helens Tri, she was joined by her dad Michael and completed the mile in a time of 46:58, an amazing achievement. In addition we had Steve and Wendy Webb taking on the 2 mile race and finishing in 1 hour 23 minutes and they were joined in the longer event by Meg Cowley who opened her 2018 racing account by finishing the tough course in 1:48:21 displaying true grit by hanging on in there when so many lacked the mental strength to get over the line.

There was plenty more happening up north over the weekend including the Keswick Mountain Festival where Neil Hunter, who has recently joined the club from Liverpool Phoenix, took part in the 25km trail race and cracked the top 200 in a strong field of 550 runners, a good result any day but a great one coming off the back of the St Begas Ultra. At the same festival we had Chris Wynne and Philip Hughes competing in the half Ironman distance, one of the most scenic in the country. They actually finished remarkably close on position and must have seen quite a bit of each other out on the course as they traded places in the early going but eventually Chris pulled well clear on the run stage to go top 20 in the super-vets race. Meanwhile, south of the Cumbria-Lancashire border, the EpicMan middle distance was the latest instalment in the Epic Events calendar which now boasts over 50 races. A very competitive field assembled for this increasingly popular race and the participants were treated to a scenic cycle ride over the Trough of Bowland plus a fair few “characters” on the run course who wouldn’t look out of place on the climbs of the Tour de France but Neil Jackson led the way for St Helens Tri finishing in the top 100 as he completed one of the toughest half Ironman distances in the country with a time of 6:31:47 and Ryan Hume was not too far behind either finishing in 6:50:19.

For those who wants the official “half Ironman” experience, however, there is little to rival the atmosphere of Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and it has only increased in stature and popularity since the organisers re-routed the run course to finish at Market Square in Stafford town centre. Three athletes from St Helens Tri made the short trip south to the Potteries County with Nick Hall, veteran of pretty much every triathlon distance, leading the trio home and feeling “a little bit chuffed” as he put it, finishing in 7:30:50 while recent newbie Steve Martin was joined by the inspirational Robert Saile; here, there was little to split the pair and they overcame the hot and humid conditions to cross the line in under eight and a half hours. Meanwhile George Houghton, fresh from his second place in Nottinghamshire, took on a second OCR race in as many days at the Hero Assault Course in Preston where he placed third, while his mum Lynette won the ladies race to round off another weekend for the senior members where the star turns came from Team Forber at the Great Swim, Neil Jackson at the Epicman and Nick Hall at Ironman 70.3. Later this week a junior triathlon round-up will follow covering the City of Lancaster and Trawlerman triathlons held over the first two weekends of June.

 

Knights of the Round(Hay) Table – ITU Leeds Special Report 2018

It was a world stage special for St Helens Tri at the weekend as several club members made the trip to Leeds for the biggest short distance triathlon festival of the year at the ITU world championships. Held over two days, the event includes a wide variety of races for all ages and experience levels, including junior races, elite youth competitions, a Go Tri and then regular sprint and standard distance races on the Sunday morning prior to the elite triathletes racing draft legal through the city centre in the afternoon. Some of the pro athletes appearing on the Sunday afternoon had been participating in an ITU relay event in Nottinghamshire on the Thursday night, where in an interesting parallel, George Houghton would kickstart the St Helens Tri weekend on the Saturday morning by placing second in his age group at the Warrior Assault obstacle course race to provisionally qualify for the world championships. Up north we had Emma Austin competing in the elite junior and youth race on the Saturday while Oscar Heard experienced his first open water triathlon in the Go Tri competition. Rarely do more than two weeks pass without Emma featuring on a club report and here she was hoping to carry her form from the Southport Triathlon over to elite level. She delivered in style, as she managed consistent splits which had her on the fringes of the first results page including a top-20 run segment, eventually lifting her to 21st female over the line in just over 45 minutes. Oscar Heard has long been a loyal supporter of the inspirational achievements of Myka and Che Heard and they would get their opportunity the following morning, but Saturday was Oscar’s turn to shine as he recorded a swim time of 4:13 for the 200 metres which had him within touching distance of the top 10. The bike was somewhat more difficult but he recovered brilliantly on the run to lift himself to 23rd place while beating the 50 minute mark with a great sprint finish.

That was it for the Saturday but for those who had been spectating or driving over to Yorkshire during the afternoon it was a bit of a scramble to get everything set up in transition where you were allowed to leave your bikes and any other equipment of your choice overnight in a secure location; after all the entry fee of £79 might seem fairly steep (though BTF members can save £10 in the 14 days after entries open with priority booking)  but for the standard of organisation and atmosphere it is hard to imagine a short distance race providing the same value for money. As such the club was in good spirits despite the 4:30am alarm call to get to the start line for the standard distance swim waves which began for some as early as 7am. Among the early starters were Che Heard and Mark Turner. Che needed to borrow Oscar’s bike after a last-minute fault was found on the rear wheel of his Giant Propel but he coped with the challenge admirably and with a bit more luck might well have been the first club member home. As it was, the honour fell to Mark who placed in the top 100 overall, however Che was still very happy with his result particularly his 37:12 10k run split which was over five minutes quicker than he managed on a flatter course last month in Southport, and would surely translate to a time of 36 minutes or less at the fast and flat Leeds Abbey Dash which is scheduled for 4 November. Myka Heard and Steve Williams were also racing the standard distance and both featured well up the order in their respective age groups, Myka placing fifth in her division thanks to a huge improvement on her time trial bike while Steve recorded his first sub-50 minute 10k split en route to fourth in his age group. The club’s sole representative in the sprint distance was Robert Chesters, who after failing to push off properly from the pontoon got rather disorientated in the water trying to swim with basic pool goggles and somehow mistook a yellow canoe for the first turning point while trying to stay afloat against faster swimmers (insert yellow submarine joke here) but the fifth-fastest bike time lifted him back into contention and eighth overall on the run including some decisive passes on the long straight past the retail parks into the city centre secured 18th overall and 4th in the M30-34 division at the finish line, where as one of the sprint distance entrants he was one of the first to appear on the BBC finish line camera set up prior to a thrilling afternoon of elite level racing in the park and the city centre which saw local athletes Vicky Holland and Georgia Taylor-Brown take first and second in the elite ladies’ race and give Emma Austin, and indeed all the St Helens Tri juniors, a fine example to aspire to for the future. In part 2 of the weekend round-up we will cover all the remaining results, including the junior Trawlerman Triathlon, Ironman 70.3, the Lakesman, the Great Swim and the EpicMan Middle Distance.

 

They Came, They Saw, They Conquered – Saints Chester Triathlon Special 2018

The first post-Southport Super Sunday arrived on the first weekend of June with the flagship race being the Deva Triathlon hosted by Chester Triathlon Club. Set in one of England’s most historic cities famous for its Roman architecture and horse racing, the 2018 event offered both an Olympic and half ironman distance to choose from while also being the second round of the St Helens Tri club championship. With so many having excelled a fortnight earlier in Southport, would they repeat the dose in the Deva City?

In the standard distance 19 club members took part including many who qualified for Team GB last month and some taking part in their first Olympic race. Che Heard and Peter Fairclough were kept apart on Marine Drive two weeks ago in separate races but here they were locked in a battle for supremacy and what a duel it was as Che was out of the water nearly two minutes ahead and set about clocking an amazingly fast bike split. Peter made a thrilling late comeback bid to catch him but Che held on to be first club member home by just 15 seconds. After that it was a wait of around twelve minutes for Terry Bates, whose battle with David Gaskell was almost a carbon copy of the Che-Peter duel as Terry got away on the bike and held off his rival over the 10k to not only place third in the interclub standings, but also finish second overall in the M60-64 group. Two quick swimmers Mal Balmer and Steve Elliot also showed their diverse strengths as they finished less than two minutes apart while also being split by Mark Ashton, who recovered from being a few minutes behind the dynamic duo out of the water to clock an excellent sub-47 10k run and split the pair at the finish. Other highlights further down the field included the continuing improvement of Myka Heard, Helen Broderick and relative newcomer Christine Forber on the bike and Shirley Fox placing in the top ten for her age group thanks to a particularly impressive run split under 50 minutes, while Wendy Webb and Robert Wilson were delighted to complete their first Olympic distance race in under four hours and with such a relatively short history of competition compared to her teammates, so they deserved it, as they immediately pondered afterwards where her next such race might be!

For such inspiration, Wendy and Robert might have wanted to look no further than the half ironman distance. In last weekend’s Southport Team GB round-up, Emma Austin was mentioned as the most exciting athlete the club has at the present moment. And that statement certainly rings true – for short distances. For longer distances, look no further than Sarah Taktak, who has quietly gone about building up an outstanding record of age group successes as she looks to emulate Che Heard as someone who reached Ironman level at a young age. On the strength of Sunday’s performance on the shores of the River Dee you certainly wouldn’t bet against her, as she matched and even beat the swim times of many club members with years of experience, and she added a much-improved bike performance and some very gritty running to win her age group in just over 6 hours 10 minutes, a fine reward for a 2018 already filled with more highlights than most athletes can pack into ten years. Meanwhile it was a case of “2017 here we go again” as Charlie Stirrup, perhaps the club’s most improved long-distance athlete last year, continued his upward trajectory into the new season in his first major race in quite a while. Here, he was out of the water over two minutes ahead of anyone else in the club and a sub-2:30 bike split, averaging well over 20mph, simply confirmed his status as the club’s leading long distance athlete with his final time not only being well under five hours) but also place him sixth in his age category However, he was nearly caught in the final stages by Michael Forber, who has hit the headlines many times already this year for his amazing performances at the Manchester and London Marathons, and here he was on top form as he recorded a stunning half marathon time of 1:31:28 (on a day when no-one else from the club broke the 1:40 mark) to finish eighth in his division and less than five minutes behind his much more experienced teammate. Patrick Neill also made up a little time on Charlie on the run course but not quite enough to dip under the 5-hour mark, however his solid run plus two very quick transitions ensured he was next club member home while also in the top 80 overall. Behind Patrick a fascinating battle was developing between Andrew Gaskell and Dean Golba. Andrew matched Sarah’s swim time and looked to be well ahead but Dean put in an inspired performance on the bike to really put the cat amongst the pigeons. However, Andrew would make up enough time on the run course to re-pass Dean for position and finish ahead by just 52 seconds. Other standout performances included a rapid bike time from 10k specialist Dave O’Connell to dip under the 5:30 mark overall, an encouraging run from Mike Gregory as he overcame a couple of sticky transitions and a much-improved run from Azzam Taktak as he shrewdly saved his energy for when it mattered most. All in all a terrific day out and a perfect advert for the club on yet another scorching Sunday (full results including details of all members who took part are here: https://chestertri.niftyentries.com/Results/Deva-Triathlon-2018) and not just for those who made the trip to Chester either, as Lee Stinch took on yet another marathon, this one being in Huddersfield. It was so hot in West Yorkshire that even the local press alluded to it being “the ultimate challenge” but Lee was more than up to the task, finishing in well under four and a half hours, a good performance in any situation but an excellent one on a hilly course in very un-British conditions. Also “going long” were Richard Seville and John Baden who took on the UK Ultimate Half Ironman in Shropshire hosted by UK Triathlon Events. Richard put in a stunning performance particularly on the run where was whole minutes quicker than many of the top 10, indeed he almost caught the second man in his age group but just fell short by les than a minute while John Baden’s power on the bike enabled him to beat the eight hour mark before driving for almost as long down to Cornwall for a well-deserved holiday after two half Ironman distance races in the space of a fortnight.

Other events over the weekend included Robert and Adam O’Shea taking part in the Montrose Sprint Triathlon. It’s nothing new for our two intrepid travellers to find a race that few would know exists in sunny St Helens but unusually it was a pool based triathlon including 30 lengths indoors instead of the usual 16. Robert managed a quicker swim and bike time on this occasion and while Adam’s trademark speed on the run gave his brother a real hurry-up to the line, Robert held on to finish ahead by just 33 seconds. Epic Events took over most of the northwest once again and those club members who were not at the Roman Road cycle sportive in Ormskirk were making the long trip north to Ullswater for the first of the Epic Lakes Swims in 2018. Cory Sandys has been in fine form ever since his breakout performance at last year’s Ironman UK and was prolific here as well as he took on the 1 mile swim and beat the 30 minute mark by 12 seconds. while Cheryl Pace, another member who has recently joined from a long running history at Penny Lane Striders, was not too far behind as she finished her first Epic Lakes event well inside the top 200, rounding off a weekend full of star performances. Next weekend’s flagship special is in Leeds City Centre as several club members make the trip to the latest round of the ITU World Championships where the public race in either a super-sprint, sprint or standard distance race on the Saturday or Sunday morning before the best in the world take to the streets in the afternoon to effectively turn the proud Yorkshire city into the world’s biggest stadium for the weekend.

 

Saints Qualify for the Euros and the World Cup (Team GB success round-up)

One of the great modern mysteries of multisport racing is how so many race organisers can set a schedule together as though one was waiting for a bus. You wait weeks for a signature race, then around 20 take place on the same weekend. And then on the second Bank Holiday weekend in May, the schedule is almost empty. As such, with only the St Helens GO TRI taking place at the Selwyn Jones centre over the past weekend, this week’s column is a review of all the St Helens Tri athletes who qualified for Team GB over the past few weeks with particular focus on the Southport Triathlon hosted by Epic Events.

We could start anywhere with such an illustrious list of names, but for simplicity purposes we will go in age group order and start with Emma Austin (Winner Fjunior), arguably the most exciting racer in the club at the moment. If you watch the BBC Sportsnight clip from November 1993 where Jimmy Hill describes the then-England national football team as a squad full of players who did not assimilate the required skills from an early age (the team which failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup under Graham Taylor), then perhaps you begin to understand why Emma is poised for a long career at the top level because of how early she began learning the technical aspects of multisport. Emma only started triathlon a couple of years ago having been a keen swimmer from a very early age. She took up running to help with her GCSE PE course and bought her first road bike 18 months ago, winning her division in the West Lancs Spring Triathlon on debut. In addition to repeating the victory last month and being first female home numerous times at the St Helens Parkrun she has also made valuable contributions to the club and was recently voted in as the female junior triathlon captain at the AGM. An overall “first lady home” title at a sprint distance triathlon is surely only a matter of time.

Next up we have Peter Fairclough (4th M30-34). A long-time runner with local club St Helens Striders, Peter really had his breakout season in 2017 when he won his age group at the Kendal Spring Triathlon and later led home team Splash Flash and Dash at the national club relays to eighth place in the country in the mixed 20-39 race. It’s rare that someone continually improves on all three disciplines while having such a strong focus for a sub-17 minute 5k but Peter managed exactly that towards the end of 2017, and translated that form into a carefully structured 2018 programme where he recovered from a difficult start to the year to really hit top form when it mattered most, his Southport Triathlon performance being crowned by a stunning 5k run split; for comparison only one person at the concurrent Nantwich Triathlon best the 18 minute mark (and not the person who won the race by nearly two minutes either). Peter is now looking forward to a summer of success with St Helens Tri as he also looks to further his coaching with his sister club.

In the same age group we had Jennifer Pybis (2nd F30-34). Jennifer has been a very quick runner from a young age and once starred in the Armagh Women’s 3k where she recorded a blistering 10:07. In 2015, having run for over a decade at Liverpool Harriers in Wavertree, she joined St Helens Tri shortly after the name change from Ashurst Bike Club and immediately impressed, winning her age group at the Wilmslow Triathlon on a wet and miserable spring day on the testing course near Manchester Airport. Jennifer’s skill set is similar to that of Peter Fairclough in that both could turn their abilities easily to draft legal triathlon (road bikes only and clip-on bars to go no further than the brakes); indeed another of her early successes was a fourth place in such an event shortly after the victory at Wilmslow. Plenty more opportunities to qualify for both formats of international racing surely await Jennifer in years to come.

Caroline Stalker (4th F35-39) has a rather different background to the three club members already covered, but made quite a name for herself in 2017 with a remarkable run of age group wins in the series of sprint distance events hosted by UK Triathlon, who host races as local as Nantwich and Shropshire and as far away as York, Birmingham and the South Coast. She has always been a very strong swimmer and, aboard a time trial bike, has slashed several minutes off her bike splits which is important in any race, but absolutely critical on the windswept arid lands of the north Merseyside coast. Also a member of the Splash Flash and Dash team from last year’s party in Nottingham, Caroline now deservedly gets her chance to parlay all of her race day experience into a result on the world stage.

Of all the pleasant surprises on Super Sunday May 20, perhaps the biggest feel good factor special came from Helen Broderick (8th F45-49). Helen took part in her first race for the club shortly after the aforementioned name change in the “race of the four seasons” at the Cheshire Triathlon in May 2015 but at the time no-one could have predicted what would transpire over the next three seasons. Come the autumn of 2016 she had posted on social media that she was entering Ironman UK just over a year after that unusually challenging race in Nantwich and immediately her posts turned into a plethora of (mini) panics about how to work her way up to the distances required. She not only managed exactly that, but she soaked up the support from the best supporters club in the world on Hunter’s Hill (to say nothing of the legendary banner a couple of superfans were holding up) and her long-distance strength made all the difference as she was off like a scalded squirrel at the Marine Lake to eventually finish fourth in her age group and earn her Team GB status, all driven along by the memories of that banner last July on the steep slopes of West Lancashire……….

Which brings us to the aforementioned banner-holder Dave Gaskell, the new club kit officer (4th M50-54). Dave has taken part in various sports, playing football as a goalkeeper and rugby until a prolapsed disc forced him out of the game. After a few years away he decided to attempt a marathon and one soon became four, with three in London and one in New York. It’s rare that someone begins their triathlon journey and attempts Ironman so early, but as per his marathon adventure he not only completed one Ironman, he managed seven before turning his attentions to qualifying for Team GB after numerous discussions with those who had qualified on previous occasions. Dave has not only made major improvements particularly in terms of short-distance running speed, but he has also been one of the first to put himself forward to help others in the club and together with Helen came up with one of the most popular results of a weekend that at times amounted to something of a sensory overload.

Also qualifying in the sprint distance race was Myka Heard (2nd F50-54). Few club members have had quite so much fame and fortune in terms of wider (as in non-social) media as Myka, who has many years of swimming at Masters’ level behind her and was one of many who joined St Helens Tri at the perfect moment having also ran for many years at Penny Lane Striders in Garston. Myka has qualified for European and World Championship races on numerous occasions, and Southport 2018 was just the latest example, but after an off-season where she experienced the high of winning the St Helens Tri cross country title and the lows of being unable to run for a long period of time she made good on her goal of improving her speed and strength on the bike and as with Caroline this really proved decisive on the coastal road as she powered past many similarly experienced cyclists as though they were going backwards; the runner-up spot in her age group was a fine reward not only for her own work in training but the way she supports other club members including her son Che, who she famously presented with an Ironman entry on his 18th birthday.

Which leads us neatly onto the qualifiers from the standard distance race where the prize on offer was a trip to the 2019 ITU Standard Distance world championships on Australia’s Gold Coast, home of the recent Commonwealth Games. Che Heard (7th M20-24 in Southport) did indeed race on Marine Drive as something of a rehearsal for the big stage Down Under as he had already qualified earlier in the season at St Neots but he has improved immeasurably since that now legendary birthday celebration a couple of years ago and from completing the 2016 Chester Marathon in under five hours he crossed the line in Bolton last year just past the 14 hour mark. Since then he has been one of the stars in pretty much every discipline he has turned his hand to, including some increasingly fast times in the local 10 mile time trials, a star turn at the University Playing Fields cross country in Wythenshawe last December and being the recipient of numerous prizes at the club awards night in February. Che’s swimming has always been a major strength, indeed at Ironman 2017 he was easily the first club member out of Pennington Flash and his bike speed was never in doubt but from such a relatively modest beginning at the aforementioned 26.2 miler in Chester he has been recording sub-19 minute 5k splits with regularity in sprint triathlons. Now begins the long build-up process to the world stage in perhaps the perfect setting to complete the perfect story.

Mark Turner (5th M25-29, 3rd eligible qualifier) has a long and storied history of competing in various sports, including boxing and mixed martial arts but turned his attentions to triathlon after serving in the armed forces. He first rose to prominence in July 2016; on a weekend hen much of the focus was on Ironman UK he took part in the “Llandudno Duathlon” after the swim was cancelled and placed a stunning fourth. This confirmed him as something of a natural runner to go along with his fine technique in the water and after buying a very quick aero road bike, suitable for both versions of triathlon, he was all set to fly. And that is exactly what he has done since then, winning the 2017 St Helens Tri club duathlon, recording several sub-19 minute Parkrun times and regularly being at the sharp end of the field at the Manchester Cross Country league races. In Southprot he held off a later comeback from a Chester Tri Club member to place in the top five and after the results were dissected he found out that he was third qualifier allowing him to join Che in Australia.

Terry Bates (2nd M60-64) has been with the club ever since the Ashurst BC days and has coached more club sessions than most people have had post-race beers but in a similar vein to Myka he has a wealth of experience racing for Team GB mainly in Europe. In Southport he fought at the sharp end of his division throughout and after the bike stage looked to be in with a chance of a remarkable victory, before a particularly fast runner in his age group asserted his authority on the 10k run. Still, second place and a trip to Australia is a fine reward for someone who has put himself forward to not only be helpful but also a leader countless times (including his white pearls of wisdom about using toothpaste during the club relays last year, which no-one has quite worked out nine months later). His BeUrBest training programme and his warm weather training camps also become more popular each year and he is a fine example for fellow club members to aspire to.

And then there was Steve Williams (3rd M65-59), who did not race in Southport but was in Nottingham on the same weekend at the Outlaw half Ironman (did we mention the sensory overload earlier)……….Steve Williams only discovered the sport of triathlon a few years but has proven it is never too late to begin and competed very effectively aboard his first road bike against more experienced athletes. More recently he purchased a time trial bike from then-club member Mark Livingston and has been a proverbial rocketship aboard his new aero machine. In one of the more bizarre episodes of such a busy race weekend, he took his road bike to Nottingham not expecting to be able to race with bar-end shifters and then had to overcome a couple of mishaps before beginning the bike course but he still placed third in his age group which means he joins the sprint distance qualifiers from Southport in qualifying for the European Championships held later this year in Glasgow.

And so ends May 2018, probably the most memorable month in the four-year history of St Helens Tri. June has s similarly exciting schedule including the Deva Triathlon to kick things off, where various distances are on offer and Sarah Taktak attempts her first half Ironman distance. The ITU World Championship race in Leeds characterises the second weekend as the public race in the morning before watching the elites race for World Championship points in the afternoon, while the UK Triathlon season continues apace as they host the UK Ultimate Triathlon on Deva Day and they round off the month with the City of Birmingham Triathlon in Sutton Park on the day England face Panama in the World Cup. Entries for the Ultimate are now closed but Birmingham is still open at the time of writing.

Saints Rule the Roost on Royal Wedding Weekend

The third weekend of May has long been the busiest of the year for multisport athletes in the North West and 2018 was no exception as even two signature running races took a back seat to the crowded schedule. First off to race were Charlie Taktak and John Baden in the Pedalcover Slateman Triathlon. Set in picturesque scenery in the Snowdonia National Park, it is the first of three league races available as standalone entries, single day races or Savage double headers. John Baden was attempting the latter and put in a strong effort on the Saturday to finish in just over two hours which he converted to an aggregate time of 6:50:54 after the longer Sunday race placing him just outside the top 100 while Charlie positively starred on her first trip to north Wales since last year’s Sandman in Anglesey as she set one of the quickest times in the lake and finished second junior female in the sprint distance race.

The Sunday itself was a heartening one not only for triathletes but for those attempting the Liverpool Rock n’Roll half and full marathons and also for the runners competing in the most significant Great Manchester Run in the event’s history. On the Mersey waterfront it was a close run thing between Ian Orford and David Isaac. David ran the seasoned veteran to the wire and on another day may have come out on top, but Ian ultimately finished ahead by just over 90 seconds in a time of 3:25:09, and the pair were joined by Jill O’Connor who enjoyed her first crack at this ever popular race finishing around an hour later, about twelve minutes behind Neil Hunter and just ahead of Andrew Bridge who did a fine job taking a friend from outside the club round his first marathon. There were some promising performances in the half marathon as well, as John Wilson completed the course in 1:46:19 and Neil Wallace finished in 1:51:19 while Lisa Hirst competed in her first 13.1 miler and came home in well under two and a half hours not far behind Diane Taktak who has now surely completed every half marathon within 100 miles of St Helens! Jennifer Miller tried something altogether more enterprising and followed up a time of 28:37 in the Saturday 5k with a half marathon in under 2:15. Another terrific story was unfolding at the same time in Manchester as Dean Golba, for so long known as a bike specialist, took on the Great Manchester Half Marathon on a very emotional day for the city as a whole, and in the extreme urban heat exceeded his own expectations by finishing in an outstanding time of 1:33:39 – surely good enough for a sub 90 minute time on a cooler day – which placed him 161st overall. Meanwhile Lee Stinch braved particularly sticky conditions in the West Midlands at the Worcester Marathon and put in an excellent shift to finish in 3:45:40 which placed him in the top 25.

The main focus of the day, however, was undoubtedly the Southport Triathlon where it was as if most of the club had congregated either to race or give their support. In the sprint distance Peter Fairclough, who last year recorded his first sub-17 minute 5k, translated that form to the big stage as he finished in the top 10 overall thanks to his customary blistering final stage, 17:01 being the third fastest run of the day. Next home was David Gaskell who ran Peter close on the bike course, while Michael Forber’s trademark strongman running lifted him into the top 75 just ahead of Mal Balmer who was one of the top 50 swimmers. Jennifer Pybis’ second place in the F30-34 category set off a string of age group successes, the most notable of which was Emma Austin scoring another crushing age group victory as she has grown in confidence since being elected the female junior captain at the recent AGM. Emma’s dad Paul was just up the road as he edged a close battle with Caroline Stalker, the pair separated by just five seconds as Paul’s superb form on the bike made the difference. Continuing the theme of age group glory was Myka Heard, now aboard a time trial bike, and what a difference it made during the middle stanza, indeed with a slightly longer bike course she may well have won her age category but second in her division was still one of the standout performances of the day. It was a close run thing between Kevin Dunbar and Helen Broderick, two athletes with very different strengths, as Helen was more comfortable with the overall format of the race having much more experience, but Kevin put in a final run similar to that of Michael Forber to edge ahead. Next up was a consistent, well rounded performance from Chris Hayes while Christine Forber matched the swim times of many far more experienced entrants; while Sean Dalby got ahead during the second transition Christine powered past once more on the run to come out ahead by just 11 seconds. Meanwhile Christine’s daughter Bethany was following up her first half marathon back in February with her first open water triathlon and actually set a faster run split than Christine, her time of 1:36:23 placing her inside the top 300.

In a packed standard distance race Che Heard and Mark Turner were the stars of the show. Mark ran out of time to catch Che but still managed to secure the third qualifying slot for the world championships in Australia in the M25-29 group. Kevin Dudley overhauled Terry Bates for third club member home, but it was still a day to celebrate for the club’s leading coach as he took the silver medal in his age group and was fastest qualifier for the world title race. Adam O’Shea put in an excellent run to be next man home around six and a half minutes ahead of his brother, the pair separated by a fast running Paul Booth, an excellent bike performance from Mark Eccleston and a well rounded display by Dave O’Connell. Andrew Gaskell put in an excellent swim before dropping back to finish just inside the top 200 while Andy Devaynes and Mike Gregory were very closely matched out of the water before Andy edged away on the road. Cory Sandys may have been a little further back but he certainly captured the spirit of the day with his post race comments about how much he enjoys the sport and being a member of the club while recent new member Alan Mckeegan enjoyed his first outing with the club as he dug deep to beat the 2:50 mark. Just outside the top 350, but with an exceptional swim time, was Melania Sayed who has not had very long to turn her attentions to the multisport scene after her marathon heroics last month, while Azzzam Taktak and Robert Saile rounded out the club’s involvement in proceedings with a nice little duel of two athletes with contrasting strengths.

A few club members eager to test their early season triathlon form journeyed south to Nantwich and Nottingham. Results from the One Step Beyond events in the East Midlands have only just come in but Steve Williams overcame a comedy moment after the swim when he lost his number belt to place third in his age group and qualify for Glasgow later this year while it was an interesting day out for Will Bardin and Kevin Richardson in the Outlaw Half. Will has only recently joined the club but put in a spirited performance particularly on the run course to finish the 70.3 in just over five and a half hours, while Kevin might well have run him close if he hadn’t somehow ended up doing one and a half laps of the run course but he was still happy to finish in a time of 7:51:21 with recent new member Rob Dubelbeis neatly finishing between the seasoned duo in just over six and a half hours. It was a party atmosphere in Nantwich for the 26th Cheshire Triathlon at Barony Park where club reporter Robert Chesters joined over 550 other triathletes for a 500 metre swim in one of the few remaining brine pools in the UK, a 21km cycle route similar to the sporting courses favoured by early season time triallists and a four lap, 5km run around the “stadium” of Barony Park. It seemed improbable that anything special could come out of the day early on as first a loose brake block threatened to derail proceedings and a difficult swim stuck in traffic threw everyone’s rhythm off but Robert’s decision to fit new, grippy racing tyres for the new season paid dividends on a bike course full of road imperfections (not just potholes) and, against the backdrop of a heavy heat haze and an eclectic mix of music from the bandstand, he overturned a deficit of around one and a half minutes after the bike leg to take the M30-34 division title by just 28 seconds while also rounding out the top ten overall, thus completing a thrilling weekend of racing up and down the country where star performances came from so many in Southport plus Charlie Taktak in Llanberis and Lee Stinch in Worcester. Next weekend’s schedule is somewhat quieter but June brings the Deva Triathlon and the Leeds ITU World Championship weekend while UK Triathlon who organised the race in Nantwich host the UK Ultimate and Half Ironman races at the beginning of the month and, on June 24, the City of Birmingham Triathlon in Sutton Park for which entries and an ideal club trip south are still available at the time of writing.

Blazing round Bedfordshire, Born Survivor and the Balearics

It was a somewhat calmer weekend before the storm drives to glory we anticipate next week on Super Sunday but it was still a good weekend of racing for St Helens Tri as the fine weather from the Bank Holiday weekend continued. The main event of the weekend was actually on the Saturday as three club members made the trip to the Balearics for the latest major league event to hit the shores of Mallorca, which last month played host to the 312 sportive. Here, Shirley Fox was racing solo while Craig Abbott and Charlie Stirrup were part of the “Destroyers” team often seen at early season races such as the Belmont 2-up duathlon. The Destroyers were more than equal to the blisteringly hot weather on the island and completed the demanding course in just over five and three quarters of an hour while Shirley’s efforts in the heat were similarly impressive and in cooler conditions she surely figures to go well under 7 hours in the future. Closer to home, Capesthorne Hall was the stage for the latest round of George and Lynette’s UK tour of obstacle races as they took on the Born Survivor course. George has turned out to be one of the revelations of 2018 for his strength in completing such a diverse range of races and here he finished in a top 10 elite time of 1 hour 10 minutes, while Lynette was third elite lady home and was the recipient of a particularly impressive trophy.

The Sunday was marked by two classics of the early-to-mid season variety, one being the St Neots triathlon, the other in Chester at the Deva Junior Aquathlon. Reuben Wilson was our sole entrant at the junior event and overcame the warm conditions to make up several places on the run and lift himself into the top 25 at T2 level. Myka and Che Heard made the longer trip down to the historic county of Huntingdonshire (near the modern country of Bedfordshire as per the title) where they were competing in an Olympic distance triathlon serving as a warm-up for next weekend’s main event, which will be covered later. Both finished well up the order in their respective age groups and it was a triumph of spirit for both, with Che having fully adjusted to post-Ironman training with an especially quick performance on the bike while Myka was returning after being unable to run for much of the past few months; they are a fine example of the racing character that has come to epitomise the club over the past few years. And there will be plenty of it for all to enjoy next week as the club experiences perhaps the busiest weekend of the year, with triathlons in Southport, St Anne’s, Llanberis, Nantwich and Cambridgeshire while the Christleton 5k is well-known as a perfect race to hunt a new PB, the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll Marathon weekend offers a modern classic around the city’s most famous landmarks and the biggest race of all takes place on the streets of Manchester as 40,000 runners mark the Manchester arena attack anniversary weekend with one of the most popular races on the UK running calendar. The third weekend of May is always one for stories that are talked about many months into the future and also one for cool heads in highly charged atmospheres; in light of the proximity to May 22 it will be even more so this year. The countdown is on……….

Catching Fire in Chorley, Clumber Park and Cathedral City

The hottest Bank Holiday on record made for some very tough going but St Helens Tri still managed to record three memorable results in two local races and a modern classic rearranged from the “Beast from the East” winter. With Che Heard’s top 10 finish in the Wednesday evening time trial at Rainford being the only notable early doors race result attentions soon turned to the Liverpool Festival of Running, the Chorley junior duathlon and the Clumber Park English championship duathlon, three events with not a single swimming pool to cool down in on such a hot weekend! First off the starting line were the competitors at the Chorley race where the club had Harriet King competing in the TriStar youth race. Harriet’s experience of the Litherland circuit league proved vital as she carved out a blisteringly fast bike split and had enough in hand on the final run to edge a three way battle for the final podium spot. Meanwhile the ever inspirational Stephen Williams made the long trip south and east to Clumber Park for an English Championship qualifier. This event was due to be held in March but in keeping with a winter where snow and 50mph winds always seemed to arrive on race days it was one of many events rescheduled and the irony of now having to race in conditions more akin to Ironman would not have been lost on the competitors but Stephen was more than up to the task, as he progressed from sixth in his age group after the first run to launch into an outstandingly fast bike segment. This lifted him to second entering the final run stage where he stayed all the way to the finish, completing the course in a time of 1:13:45.

The streets of Liverpool were awash with office parties, music fans heading to Sound City and people heading to the Liverpool Vegan Fair but for thousands of hardened runners it was also race day at the Mersey Races Liverpool Spring 10k with a new route passing many of the city’s iconic landmarks including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Philharmonic Hall. Fresh from his stunning run at the London Marathon, Jordan Clarke used his experience of running rather further than 6.2 miles in tropical conditions to produce one of the fastest 10k performances in club history as he reached Sefton Park in an incredible 37:22 less than seven minutes behind runaway winner Degene Gezimu while it was also a welcome return to form for Chris Levy who put in a dogged shift to complete the course in under 45 minutes; we look forward to watching both members transfer their running speed to the upcoming schedule of multisport events, as while next weekend’s slate is rather sparse in terms of events, the busiest weekend of the year follows with the Slateman, Southport, St Anne’s, Nantwich and Grafman triathlons plus the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll races, not to mention the Great Manchester Run which is always a huge event with over 40,000 entrants but in light of its proximity to 22 May one year on, will be perhaps the most emotionally charged race of the season.

A St Helens Tri “triple double” – Mold, Mid-Cheshire and the Midlands

The final weekend of what has been an amazing April was marked by two long running favourite events and a terrific double victory in a relatively new form of racing which more club members will no doubt want to try in the coming months.As well as the Parkrun times we had two notable results at the Uventure obstacle course race in Kettering, Northamptonshire where George and Lynette Houghton were competing. Held three times over the summer months, it offers three distances, with a 3.5km junior race, a 6km adult beginners course and a 12km full distance special for seasoned obstacle course racers with obstacles including water slides, cargo nets and A-frames. George impressed by winning the junior race while Lynette was first in her category at the 12km distance. The next event in the series is scheduled for Saturday 14 July which should serve as an intriguing preamble to Ironman UK.

The two main events of the weekend took place on the Sunday, with the rearranged Oulton Park Spring Duathlon on the same day as the Mold Sprint Triathlon. At the Little Budworth circuit Che and Myka Heard took on the sprint distance, the former enjoying his post-Ironman “speed” season, the latter taking on her first race since returning from injury. She used it to excellent effect with a bike split very close to beating the 40 minute mark, indeed were it not for a disrupted build up she may well have been a contender for an age group win. Asit was she finished 110th and 3rd in her age group in a time of 1:24:10, while Che demonstrated tremendous improvements particularly on the two run stages as he made it home in under 70 minutes, 37th overall placing him fifth in his division. Full results are not yet available at e time of writing but Emma Austin was not only first junior lady home, but received the news on the same day from British Triathlon that her performance earlier in the month at Loughborough had earned her a place at the ITU Junior race in Leeds on 10 June when several club members will join her in the age group events.

Also making the trip to the England/Wales border was Nick Hall who took part in the Chester Half Marathon and ran a clever, negative split race to finish inside the top 4,000 with a time of 2:17:56, while closer to home Charley Devaynes competed in the Sefton Community Triathlon hosted by Epic Events at T1 level and showed promise especially during the final stage to complete the mixed terrain course in 31:30. Meanwhile Dave O’Connell ventured much further afield as he took on Ironman 70.3 in Marbella. Dave got off to a cracking start on the swim averaging under two minutes per 100 metres and carried his form through the bike leg and into the early stages of the run. The heat made for a tiring final few miles but he still completed the challenge in just over six hours which on another day may well have landed him in the top 1,000.

Five Go down to the Capital

An increasingly popular triathlon, a junior classic and the London Marathon were the three signature events on offer for St Helens Tri on St George’s Day weekend. First off the start line, however, were the time triallists, as David Gaskell made good use of the warm, fast conditions to post a 26:26 and open the club’s Rainford account for 2018. It was then into the Saturday Parkruns where there were highlights aplenty, including three in the top 20 at Stadt Moers where Robert O’Shea was just 15 seconds away from making the podium and Paul Austin getting within 15 seconds of his PB at St Helens where Tony Waine joined him to post a 35:33. At Edge Hill Charlie and Oliver Murphy were separated by around 90 seconds with both making the top 30, while Laura Banks found a big chunk of time in just seven days to record a promising 28:54 around three and a half minutes ahead of Liz Spensley.

The country was very much split into two halves the following morning because while it was sunshine and heatwave conditions for both the London Marathon and the FA Cup semi-final it was almost back to winter up north. Travelling furthest were the Kendal Triathlon entrants including Lynette Houghton, entering her first triathlon after years of specialising in cross country running and obstacle racing. Here, she recorded a 9:10 400m swim, good for anyone but excellent for a first time racer, and while the tricky bike course was somewhat unnerving for a newbie she made up some time with her run strength to place 245th in a very encouraging time of 1:27:39. Also travelling north were the juniors tackling the Blackpool Trawlerman Aquathlon as five of the club’s young stars took on the best of the north west. Grace Hirst was first to set off in the T1 Girls race and made up several positions with her fine Parkrun form to snatch a top 10 finish. Two juniors took part in the T2 Boys event, with Charlie Murphy racing for the second time in as many days to a top-20 placing as consistent pace on the swim and run lifted him to 16th while Reuben Wilson looked as though he might give Charlie a close race but ultimately Charlie’s Parkrun strength proved to be the difference as Reuben finished around two and a half minutes further back and in the corresponding girls race Holly Hirst looked as though she had the sprint finish to make the top 20 but ultimately fell just short. Last to race was Oliver Murphy at T3 Boys level and he overcame a difficult start on the swim to produce a terrific run that lifted him to 13th just ten seconds away from making the top 10. Meanwhile just down the road Lee Stinch was racing in the Blackpool Festival of Running in the half marathon and overcame the torrid conditions to record a satisfying 1:37:59 putting him in the top 25 in his age category and he was joined by Tony Doyle who opened his 2018 account with a time of 2:13:03. In addition Sean Dalby showed a major improvement over last year by beginning his season with an excellent fifth place at the Delamere Go Tri off road duathlon staged in the Blakemore Moss.

The big show in town, however, was the 38th London Marathon which had been the subject of many un-British weather warnings in the build up and although it was not as hot as first anticipated it was still a tough day for all who ran. On a historic day when Mo Farah broke the British record dating back to 1985 five St Helens Tri members took on the streets of the capital. Jordan Clarke, star of the Boggart Hole XC race last November, led the club home as he went off like a rocket at the start. He might not have kept his pace up all the way but a final push saw him record a time of 3:01:01. Further back an equally inspiring story was developing as Michael Forber was running 26.2 just two weeks after his 3:00:07 on the streets of Manchester. Here, he ran with Patrick Neill the whole way as the black and red of St Helens Tri combined with the pink of the Isabella Rose Foundation to finish together in a time of 3:33:05. Kevin Dudley was behind the dynamic duo at the halfway mark to the tune of just over three minutes but would eventually overhaul them with an excellent second half to beat the 3:30 mark and record a 3:27:17. To top off a day of inspirational stories in the capital Diane Taktak, who won a place in the VLM via a raffle of all things, enjoyed her day out as she finished strongly in 5:21:18 to round off another superb weekend with star performances coming from Robert O’Shea, Lynette Houghton, Grace Hirst and everyone who completed the London Marathon. Next weekend is a somewhat lighter schedule but the Bank Holiday weekend that follows is somewhat more significant as it includes the Liverpool Festival of Running and the Horwich Triathlon.

Emma joins the elites, Team Isabella go Totally Wicked

After last week’s improbable drive to victory at Stadt Moers Park the only thing that could have put the cherry on the cake would have been the club defending its title, but thanks to the ever improving Robert O’Shea that is exactly what happened as he came out on top by 15 seconds in a closely fought race. A meteoric rise indeed for someone who had not finished in the top 10 before last Saturday’s fourth place. That set the tone for the rest of the weekend beginning with the other Saturday morning runners including Joseph Duffy cracking the top 35 in Ormskirk where he was joined by Chris Murphy recording a time of 27:19, Laura Banks sneaking into the top 150 off the back of a last minute push for the line and Liz Spensley making it home in under 35 minutes. At Victoria Park in Warrington Emma Shillabeer got very close to her PB and with a little more luck will soon go under 30 minutes while this week’s intrepid travellers were Oliver and Charlie Murphy at the Omagh Parkrun in Northern Ireland where on previous occasions it had been a close run thing between the pair of them, but this time Oliver came good finishing just over a minute clear.

Three short haul road trips and a journey to the East Midlands characterised Sunday as well as the big “community team” effort of the spring at the St Helens 10k. On the road it was the turn of Myka and Che Heard to excel at the Chirk Triathlon. Che has always been known for his ability on the first two stages of a triathlon but here it was his running that really caught the eye, as he recorded a 19:16 5k to finish in a remarkable 1:07:05, while Myka overcame a disrupted build-up to the triathlon season by finishing second in her age group which will undoubtedly please the team at Limar and NRG4 Cycling. Neil Wallace also raced well off the back of his top 12 at last weekend’s Stadt Moers Parkrun and made up a little time on Myka during the run, however he eventually ended up around three minutes further back but still in the top 150. Making a shorter trip south was Anthony McLaughlin who was running the Mersey Tunnel 10k. It was a close run thing for a sub-50 time but he managed it by all of one second, that must have been some sprint to the finish. Travelling north for the Clitheroe Triathlon were Eddie Hirst and Dean Golba. Eddie opened his season account with a fine performance, 1:40:09 being good enough for 22nd place as he distanced himself from fellow pedalling powerhouse Dean on the run stage to the tune of around three minutes, Dean still finishing in the top 35. Taking a rather longer trip south was Emma Austin, one of the stars of last week’s Edge Hill triathlon. She was taking part in the junior national championships at Loughborough University and was up against a whole new level of competition, but PB times on both the swim and bike stages helped her to 45th overall.

Eddie’s wife Lisa would be one of the stars of the show at the rearranged St. Helens 10k held at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Up ahead on the road Adam O’Shea came good on all the promise he has shown over the winter XC season by cracking the 40 minute mark and placing in the top 50. His brother Robert, still on a high from his stunning victory at Stadt Moers Park, was next up just over three minutes in arrears while Paddy Lee, Chris Levy and Tony Waine finished just 35 seconds apart. It was even closer between Emily Ashton and Wesley Brown as Emily edged that duel by just six seconds on the run in to the finish line. After a wait of around six minutes the first of last weekend’s marathon heroes crossed the line, Melanie Sayed improbably managing to go under 55 minutes just seven days after her remarkable performance in Manchester, and she was joined in the sub-60 club by Paul Brown. As previously mentioned, Lisa Hirst opened her 2018 account in style and was very unlucky to miss out on the sub-hour club, no doubt she will beat that mark with plenty to spare on a flatter course, while Kevin Dunbar joined his wide Rebecca and the Isabella Rose team in jogging round in a time of 1:08:01.

As it turned out there were plenty of IRF runners and the dual-registration members who really caught the eye were the ones also known as Team Forber. Out front it was a close run thing between Bethany and Chris Forber as they fought to beat the 55 minute mark but in a thrilling finish Bethany got the nod at the line by just two seconds. Meanwhile Molli was joined by dad Michael who was still getting last week’s inspirational effort in Manchester out of his legs as she took on her longest ever race, off the back of the Hale 5 two weeks earlier and here she was more than equal to the task, finishing as one of the many stars of the weekend show clocking a time of 1:08:34 to join Robert O’Shea, My,a Heard and Eddie Hirst as the star performers of the weekend. Next weekend’s Epic Event is the Kendal Triathlon, while the summer bike time trials begin at Bickerstaffe on Tuesday and Wednesday evening and the big one, namely the 38th Virgin London Marathon takes place on what promises to be the warmest weekend of 2018 to date.