It is rare that St Helens Tri have cross country to contend with on consecutive weekends but after the slopes of Sherdley it was the hills of Heaton Park near Prestwich last Saturday for round four of the winter cross country league. With the demise of Boggart Hole Clough this is now the series only foray towards the Yorkshire end of Manchester and features long, steady hills with flat speed sections aplenty in between somewhat dulled by the ferocious winds that plagued the day. Racing first were the juniors. Charlie Murphy was first to go for the U13 Boys race as his time of 15:07 was just over a minute away from a top 20 placing. He came home 21 seconds clear of Joseph Duffy and then got to watch his older brother Oliver take 36th in the U15 Boys event while at U17 level George enjoyed his trip round a course with rather fewer obstacles than he is accustomed to as he finished in just over half an hour.
After lunch it was a different looking senior squad turning out with seven ladies and twelve men in the ranks. None of the top three in the club points standings were racing although Claire Murphy was doing a sterling job providing marshalling duties. In the event Sheena Shearman, a regular at the Monday might run sessions, took a thrilling and thoroughly deserved first club counter placing as she edged home ahead of Lynette Houghton by just six seconds, the dynamic duo finishing the testing course in under 50 minutes and both inside the top 250 overall. Christine Forber, fresh from her efforts with the Isabella Rose runners on New Year’s Eve, was next over the line but had to battle to fend off a hugely improved Sarah Taktak and Bethany Forber, the trio crossing the line less than a minute apart. Rounding out the ladies was the ever impressive Liz Spensley who once again showed what true team spirit entails as she finished in just over an hour.
At 2:30pm the starting gun sounded for the men and a Dirty Dozen were off down the long, straight hill for their three lap journey into the great unknown. Mark Turner has excelled in Prestwich over the years and in his first outing for the club this winter was easily the first man home, as he was the only club member to finish in under 40 minutes, his time of 39:24 leaving him less than ten seconds away from the top 100 overall. He was around two minutes clear of a pair of battles we see regularly during the winter months, with the ever improving David Isaac edging Colin Dobbs for second club counter by just two seconds, Colin nevertheless moving to within touching distance of the club championship with his third place finish and time of 41:31. The pair was just over 15 seconds clear of the usual duo of Ian Orford and Kevin Dunbar. They have provided much of the entertainment during a long, cold winter of XC and here Kevin got the nod at the line with both sneaking into the top 200 overall in under 42 minutes. Michael Forber was around 40 seconds behind the duo and a similar time ahead of Patrick Neill, however 20 points will be a difficult deficit to make up to Colin at the season finale next month. After Patrick came two of this season’s much improved runners, Alan McKeegan and Lee Stinch who finished around a minute apart and usefully into the midfield overall after a couple of years of hovering near the back. Three more runners were still to finish, with Mal Balmer using his extensive XC experience with both St Helens Tri and Penny Lane Striders to good effect and Chris Murphy getting a good run-out as he got his turn to put his pictures in the Murphy family’s ever growing photo album. Paul Booth may have been the club’s final finisher but he still completed the tough course in under 50 minutes and provided the most amusing story of the day:
“On the XC course today I went past some spectators on a bench, a lady and a child. Just as I passed, the child said (incredulously) “why do they do it?” I still haven’t come up with an answer”………
A priceless anecdote there, but one with a good answer; many runners come to St Helens Tri from a track running or power sport background well capable of setting fast times on the track, however as a little preview of club reporter Robert Chesters’ forthcoming post on his own blog “why you should join a Tri club”, one simple way of boiling this down is to say “how do we improve”? Look at what you’re doing regularly, think about what you don’t do regularly, and do it. With preparations in full swing for the 2019 multisport season, there’s never been a better time to join the club and there is still time to register for the final round of the XC season at the Manchester University Playing Fields in Bagley near Wythenshawe, to develop that all-important leg strength and conditioning that so often makes the difference after finishing the bike stage of a triathlon.
One person who is certainly not short of strength is Lynette Houghton. Immediately after the XC she drove to Rivington for the Petzl Nightrunner where she was joined by her son George and Chris Dyson. Team Houghton completed the tricky off road pitch black 10k in under 90 minutes while Chris set a time of 1:18:37 and got himself close to the top 200. The following morning Diane Taktak braved horrendously strong winds at the East Lancashire Hospice 10k in Great Harwood. The off road nature of the course always drags the times out and more so in such torrid conditions but Diane stuck to the task at hand and miraculously managed to beat the hour mark by just four seconds to round off a cracking weekend where off road running was flavour of the moment with Sheena and Mark deservedly taking the plaudits as the star performers.