The best dinner occasions are those which comprise at least three courses, have a special something that no one saw coming, and have you eagerly anticipating the next such occasion. St Helens Tri might still be scrambling around to arrange their own version (the annual awards night, date TBC) but the past three weeks were still very much a three-course (week) feast of memorable achievements for many club members.
For chronological purposes the roundup begins with the Four Village Half Marathon in Helsby. One of the most popular early season races, it always sells out well in advance and is one of the fastest 13.1 milers in the North West. St Helens Tri had four members competing, with Ben and Mark Livingston making their long awaited returns to competition following a couple of quiet years. Ben might have been out of the game even longer than Mark but nobody would have known it, as he put in a sparkling performance to finish in 1:36:55, three minutes ahead of his dad with both father and son making the top six in their age groups. Gary Davies and Caroline Bones also made the trip over the Runcorn bridge and were rewarded with times well under two and a half hours.
That was it for week one but attentions quickly turned to the Ashbridge Duathlon in Hertfordshire which for the first time was a European and ITU qualifier. Eddie Hirst and Shirley Fox were competing in the Deep South with an eye on qualification and Eddie made a methodical, yet brisk start finishing the first 10k run in under 40 minutes. The bike course was very hilly and would not normally suit a triathlon bike but Eddie has dialled in a very efficient position on his race machine and as such was able to pick up more places on two wheels, yet still record a fast finish on the second run despite having to battle with gale force winds throughout and his final result was good enough to make him first age group qualifier for the 2020 ETU championships, while Shirley participated in the shorter distance event and recovered from the back of her division after the first run to make up places despite apparently “not being able to turn the wheels” (as she put it) and hang in where others were unable to finish, fourth place in her age group putting her through to the ITU world title race. Further north, Jennifer Miller took on even more inhospitable conditions at the cross-border 10k in Carlisle. In a desperately tough race, where only the first three finished under 37 minutes, Jennifer Miller overcame a killer wind chill to finish in 1:00:29, and apparently took far longer to thaw out! However, it was still a good result to bring January to a close.
The first weekend in February is, for many, the greatest in all of sports; Super League, the Six Nations and the Super Bowl all rolling onto our TV screens. One person who has had plenty of turbo and TV time (simultaneously) is Dean Golba, surely the standout candidate for most improved athlete of the past 12 months not only in the club, but also in the local area. While France and Wales were preparing for the opening kickoff at the Stade de France, Dean was on the shores of Dubai awaiting one of the most popular and most rapid half Ironman courses anywhere in the world. He avoided the last minute bike arrival problems that scuppered the preparations of others and after perfecting his pre race ritual (course recces followed by a huge pizza!) he was straight into it on Friday morning. The swim was quite choppy and it was difficult to make up ground but never discount Dean on the bike, as he used his Giant Trinity to fly past the very best in his age group. Dean knows a thing or two about aerodynamics from his years in motorsport, which sometimes affects people’s ability nowadays to run efficiently off the bike. However, a remarkable show of tenacity to complete the 13.1 only ten minutes shy of his all time half marathon PB gave him a stunning time of 4:31:23 placing him an astounding 26th out of over 200 in his age group. A fitting reward for one of the club’s most driven athletes (in more ways than one) and a sure-fire sign that he must be one of the early favourites for the two club duathlons, the first of which is on February 24th at Pimbo.
Super Bowl Sunday dawned, and it was the turn of Mark Turner and Caroline Stalker to roll into town as the Runthrough series arrived in Aintree. Mark was prolific at the summer edition last year when he placed third in the 10k and here he went one better, edging a spirited battle for second place with a stunning time of 35:09, one of the fastest 10k performances in club history. However, the 5k race was even more thrilling as Caroline, who only received news of her own team GB qualification from Ashbridge the day before, edged an epic duel to be first female home in 21:23 and close out three outstanding weeks for the club, perhaps saving the very best until last. Next weekend’s signature race is the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League in Bagley while the remainder of the month is characterised by the ever popular Wrexham Half Marathon and the first club duathlon.