Three classic February races in Parbold, Wrexham and Cambridgeshire made up the weekend activity at St Helens Tri. It all began on the slopes of Lancashire at the ever popular Parbold Hill Race on Saturday afternoon. Kevin Dunbar has long been the club’s leading light at this testing venue and he performed well to make the top 30 in a time of 49:15 (and also enjoying an uncontested victory in the competition for best race photo) but he was upstaged by Ben Livingston. Ben must have enjoyed his experience in Helsby last month as he and his dad Mark made their way around the fields, climbs and obstacles of one of the most iconic early season races in the North West. Ben’s time of 49:02, around two and a half minutes clear of his dad, meant that he was first St Helens Tri member home confirming his status as the comeback athlete of the year ahead of the annual awards night. Also racing were Neil Jackson, who finished in 57:23, and Jeanette and Andy Fisher, with Jeanette coming out on top to the tune of just over three minutes, Andy nonetheless finishing just ahead of Will Bardin who used the race as a useful warmup to his adventures in North Wales, but more on that later.
The following morning saw Eddie Hirst and Mark Turner up at the crack of dawn to participate in the Anglian Water Duathlon hosted by Nice Tri events, another of those team GB qualifiers they both relish. Mark hit the headlines two weeks ago with his remarkable 35:09 and second place finish at the Aintree 10k and here he was right into it, setting a scorching sub-38 minute time for the first run. His bike split gave a little away to those around him but a final burst on the second run elevated him to 16th place and fourth in the M25-29 division at the finish, which should put him in prime position to secure a Great Britain qualifying spot for the ITU world championships. Eddie Hirst has enjoyed a solid, if not quite so flying, start to his season and as such was a little more circumspect on the opening run, but his bike position is so dialled in nowadays that he made up a boatload of positions as he covered the 40km in under 64 minutes, and his final run off the bike, which has long been his speciality, propelled him to a top 30 finish overall and 8th in his age group.
Mark and Eddie weren’t the only ones enjoying a road trip as eleven club members completed the Village Bakery Wrexham Half Marathon hosted by Cute Fruit Events. Conditions were unseasonably warm and quite windy in North Wales so not exactly conducive to PB performances but several club members still enjoyed a run to remember. David Isaac has often been “best of the rest” behind the top three at this year’s cross country races, and his consistent and ever improving performances combined with a sound pacing strategy on the day gave him an outstanding time of 1:25:35, over four minutes quicker than he managed in Southport last year. Andy Devaynes has come on in leaps and bounds since his Ironman 2018 campaign and here he was next man home, finishing in 1:38:07 over four minutes quicker than his previous PB. Craig Abbott has had a lot to contend with over the last few months, not least a move to Wallasey, however his comeback race went better than expected as he finished in 1:42:47 around three minutes clear of this week’s star “strongman” Will Bardin who somehow dragged up enough reserves after Parbold to finish in 1:45:59, a gritty performance indeed. Mark Eccleston has been a prolific contributor to the club both at the Friday night track sessions and the Saturday morning swims and his contribution to the cause was rewarded on the lanes of North Wales with a fine run to 1:48:37. Azzam Taktak has also been a valued contributor to both St Helens Tri and the IRF running club, and here he put in a dogged display for the Saints as he beat the 1:55 mark by ten seconds. One might think he was the last member to beat the two hour mark but Helen Broderick came up with perhaps the save of the season as she hit the finish line with 1:59:59 showing on her watch, how is that for a sprint finish! Also racing were newcomer Antony Lindley who recorded a 2:02:09, Lynette Houghton who warmed up for the OCR season with a 2:10:02, and Sarah Taktak whose Ironman preparations continued apace as she beat the 2:10 mark with room to spare and round off a thrilling weekend of racing where the star turns came from Ben and Kevin in Parbold, Mark and Eddie in East Anglia and David in Wrexham. Next week’s schedule includes the Standish Hall 10k and the first club duathlon of 2019 at Pimbo Industrial Estate, for which entries are still available at the time of writing.