The second round of the Manchester Cross Country League was the focus point for St Helens Tri over the past weekend. After Keith Ashcroft made it home well under the hour at the Arley Hall 10k in the morning, attentions turned to the University Playing Fields in Bagley, the newest round of the championship. In fact the venue has proven so popular than when attempts to revive the Sherdley Park round as a season closer fell through, Bagley was selected to hold a second round on February 9th. In the morning the club enjoyed a spirited battle between Charlie Murphy and Joseph Duffy, with Charlie edging it in a sprint finish by just a single second and both making the top 40 overall. With temperatures struggling to reach double figures it was a cooler version of round 1 that greeted 23 club members for the afternoon races, with only a slight breeze and even some sunshine – surely not cross country weather?
On return to the Saints fold, Claire Murphy strode confidently to take the title of first club counter home by just over a minute, her time of 33:12 giving her 158th overall. Behind her a cracking three way battle was son between debutant Carol Clive, a regular at the Edge Hill Friday morning swim sessions, Cheryl Pace who took first last time out at Wythenshawe, and Myka Heard, last season’s champion. The trio finished in that order, Carol scoring an outstanding debut result less than 15 second ahead of Cheryl while Myka eventually finished around a minute further back. Helen Broderick was next, her performance at last week’s Striders Trail 5 obviously having given her a confidence boost, while Bethany Forber chased Sheena Shearman all the way to the line and looked like she might overcome her more experienced teammate, but in the end their positions from round 1 were reversed leaving them both tied in the series standings. In recent months questions have abounded as to whether there is anything that Sarah Taktak cannot do, and until now she had little in the way of XC history to fall back on. That would all change as she put in a spirited performance to open her season account in a good strong run to a sub-40 time placing her eighth club counter home and in the top 300 overall. Her mum Diane was next home having just done enough to get under the 42 minute mark and Liz Spensley showed the inspirational spirit that has won her so many fans with a determined drive to the line as she rounded out the club’s entrants, also finishing less than three and a half minutes from winning her category.
Current ladies point standings, top 6:
Cheryl Pace 40
Myka Heard 30
Claire Murphy 25
Carole Clive 18
Bethany Forber 18
Sheena Shearman 18
At 2:30pm the men ploughed their way over what was left of the playing fields for the longest race of the day. After last year’s thrilling four-way finale at Wythenshawe this season’s edition is looking like a two horse race between Colin Dobbs and Michael Forber. Clearly Michael enjoyed the course more having raced well here last season and his time of 38:22 was enough to place him as first club member home, well inside the top 200 and the top 20 in his age group. In fact Colin was having a battle to hold onto second place because in a major turnaround from the season opener David Isaac was hot on his heels and Colin only held onto the position by four seconds, however after two rounds he still holds the lead in the club points competition. There were more surprises to come as while Ian Orford can usually be relied upon to finish on the podium or close to it, Dean Golba, who rarely featured in the headlines last season (as the aforementioned Cart-Man in the headline, nothing to do with the South Park character rather his own storied karting career) put in an outstanding effort to pip Kevin Dunbar for fifth club counter, Kevin apparently being the only person in the club who is actually looking forward to more muddy conditions! Indeed, Kevin just got home ahead of Patrick Neill, another major improver from Wythenshawe, who gave his illustrious teammate a real race for the last slot in the A team (first six counters for the interclub league) coming home just eight seconds in arrears. Kevin Dudley and Mike Gregory were the next two home, separated by less 20 seconds and it was even closer between Mal Balmer and Andrew Gaskell who were both unlucky not to break 45 minutes. With eleven runners home only two remained to finish, and they were Chris Murphy enjoying a well earned break from the role of chief supporter for Charlie, and Andrew Bridge who continues to grow into his role as a dynamic club coach.
Current men’s point standings, top 6:
Colin Dobbs 43
Michael Forber 40
Ian Orford 22
Kevin Dunbar 20
Robert Chesters 18
David Isaac 17
It wasn’t purely a cross country Saturday as Lee Stinch was running the last ultra of his 2018 campaign, the Warrington Way 40, which meanders through Cheshire to many quaint villages. Lee has done this event on numerous occasions in the past and he would have been forgiven for having the weekend off after running one and a half marathons in the past two weekends, and yet here he was on a mission to beat last year’s time when he dipped under seven and a half hours. In the under the radar story of the weekend he put in a spectacular performance to finish in 6:45:04, over 43 minutes faster than last year, to round off a super Saturday which will be remembered for Carol’s breakout debut and Dean’s rise to prominence as he came good on all the promise he has shown on the bike in 2018. The next few weeks are rather quiet with several club members running cross country for their first or second claim running clubs but the next St Helens Tri big day out is the third round of the Manchester cross country league at Woodbank Park in Stockport featuring a difficult off camber descent and the fabled climb at the end of every lap. As the final major league race of 2018 and the toughest on the MACCL calendar, the much anticipated finish under fading light promises to be an epic backdrop to a perfect calendar year finale.