It has been a quiet few weeks of action, but to round off the month of April the club was here, there and everywhere in the UK and beyond. On Easter Weekend Diane Taktak and Jennifer Miller provided the only cheer for the club, with Diane taking part in the Caldervale Good Friday 10 miler which she completed in a little over 90 minutes, and she was joined by Jennifer for the Hale 5 organised by Interval Races on Easter Sunday. The dynamic duo faced a high quality field and extremely hot conditions for mid-April but ran their best races in a long time, Jennifer recording a time of 47 minutes on the nose while Diane came home just over two minutes further back.
After Dean Golba used his waxed chain to great effect in recording a 21:39 for the Tuesday night 10 mile TT at Rainford (lubricant now available at Thatto Cycles), the final weekned of April was characterised by the ITU Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain as well as two triathlons and the London Marathon. On the Iberian Peninsula Eddie Hirst was going for glory in the standard distance age group race, and came good on his years of running strongly and consistently on all terrain as he reached T1 in a little over 40 minutes. The bike course saw him make further progress and while he was not quite able to hold position on the run, he still managed to place in the top 25 in the world. HIs result would be quite a way to light the proverbial touchpaper for David Isaac’s mission to complete the London Marathon. David has mainly excelled at running during his time at the club and was first noticed when he completed the Southport Half Marathon last year in a little over 90 minutes. His build-up to the VLM was characterised by a top-5 position in the club XC standings and a phenomenal run at the Wrexham Half Marathon shortly after. On the streets of London he was straight into his stride, completing the first half in 1:32:22. Amazingly he came within two seconds of recording a negative split, almost unheard of in London, nonetheless he easily cracked the top 3000 and vindicated the club’s decision to hand him the ballot place with a stirring run to a final time of 3:04:56. he was joined by Craig Abbott who must have run out of superhero suits as he resurrected the Superman outfit of years past which he took to a time of 4:36:11. However, Mike Goulbourne stole the show as his epic running career took yet another improbable turn; he has finished many marathons in under three hours but that was before a major accident on his bike a couple of years ago left him sidelined for many months. However, he was out of the blocks like a scalded cat and his final time of 2:48:00 was absolutely extraordinary. No better result possible for no quieter spoken man, well done Mike, exceptional effort.
The Blackpool Festival of Running is a regular favourite amongst those who failed to get a ballot place for the VLM, so much so that if you enter both and the London ballot comes up good for you, the Fylde Coast Running organisers up north will even refund your entry fee! Lee Stinch took the trip to the Irish Sea coast and was pleased to overcome the strong winds and finish in just over 1 hour 35 minutes. He wasn’t alone in making the trip to this oft-forgotten backwater area of Lancashire as several juniors were in action at the North West Clubs and School Trawlerman Aquathlon at the Palatine Leisure Centre in the Pleasure Beach town. Grace Hirst ran a great race to edge into the top 10 (by just one second) in the T1 Girls event while it was a family day out for Thomas and Holly Saile as Thomas beat the 20 minute mark in the T2 Boys race and Hollie completed the T3 Girls race in 26:49, where she was joined by Grace’s sister Holly who was unlucky to be edged out of the top 20.
Two triathlons made up the remainder of the weekend schedule in Chirk and Southport. At the mid-Wales early season classic, Sean Dalby was joined by Mal Balmer and Myka Heard as they took on a course suited to those who like a challenging bike leg, somewhat unexpected in this “flat” part of Wales near the border. Sean showed considerable improvement particularly on the bike course as he finished 240th and was unlucky not to beat the 75 minute mark but the big hand of the day had to go to Myka, who was out of the water in under seven minutes before using her time trial bike to best effect on the testing roads of Wales, and her run was one of the most encouraging in a while as she not only recorded a 1:02:24 but was also second in her category. Meanwhile, Mal got within twelve seconds of Myka in the water and indeed the pair were out onto the bike almost line astern, but Mal would edge away during the course of the race and even dipped under the hour for good measure, finishing 58th overall and third in his division.
The biggest club outing of the day, and the second-biggest of the season so far after Edge Hill two weeks ago, was at the Southport Splashworld Triathlon hosted by Epic Events. Splashworld opened nearly 15 years ago and has been host to many events including parties and swimming galas. The running joke doing the rounds in the weeks leading up to the race was that the competitors would have to go down the slide to start the swim, but that might have been a little too frivolous even for an entry aimed at first timers, and indeed it was great to see so many newcomers tackling their first triathlon, whether for St Helens Tri or for another club (or unattached, just dropping a hint there). Robert Chesters might have had the honour of leading the club home in 13th overall with a time of 1:05:40, but his was a strange race; first off, he enjoyed a marked improvement on the swim, thanks in no small part to joining the club’s nucleus of BTF course qualified coaches (a terrific investment not only for triathlon success but also for developing professional skills). He was out of the water in around eight minutes but was soon struggling to hold position on the bike, and a mediocre performance on two wheels only got worse when a Honda Civic who obviously didn’t understand the “ROAD CLOSED” sign overshot the roundabout, did a three-point turn on Marine Drive and nearly took him out! Perhaps the “red mist” helped, as given he was nowhere near any accolades up until this point he did at least record the third-fastest run split of the day to lift himself up the order, but to say he got out of jail is an understatement. Perhaps a bike fit is in order soon. One person who has seriously improved on the bike over the winter is Emma Austin, who is used to racing at the sharp end. Here, she was out of the water in her customary sub-6 minute time and got within three minutes of the mark Robert set on the bike. She is still coming back from a running injury so for once it was just as well that the “attack the bike” pacing strategy was the right one, as she finished as third female in the open category (the junior division having mysteriously disappeared from the awards here) and 37th overall in a time of 1:11:04, 37 seconds ahead of her dad Paul who nearly made up the lost ground to Emma over the course of the race, but ultimately had to settle for third club member home, however he still placed 41st overall and fourth in his category. If there was an award for good guys with great character Chris Dyson would probably have locked it up for the next decade’s worth of awards nights; his was a great opening swim as he was out of the water in under eight minutes (proving once and for all the benefit of regular attendance at the club swim sessions) and having exchanged greetings at 25mph with Robert at least four times on the bike course he pulled into T2 with a very satisfactory sub-42 cycle stage time. This made for a very entertaining finish as he made a hilarious attempt to snatch the “best finish line pose” award while Robert closed in trying to look everywhere but ahead (or was he just pushing so hard?) but in any case Chris thoroughly deserved his top-100 placing and time of 1:19:01.
Chris isn’t the only one who has benefitted from the Friday morning swim sessions; Carole James has consistently held her own, and more, in Lane 2, indeed it will make for very interesting viewing to see if either or both can make the step to lane 3 in the near future. Carole was out of the pool in under nine minutes and used her low, aggressive race position on her bike to great effect into the wind on the coast road. Her run split of 25:15 was an improvement of over 30 seconds on her final stage at the Parbold Duathlon last month, and her eventual runners-up spot in her age group was a fitting reward, and quite possibly the performance of the day. Next up was Sam Walton who recorded a blindingly quick time in the pool of under six and a half minutes and he put in a determined shift on the bike and run to record a final time of 1:23:48. Lynette Houghton recently credited her strength improvements to a programme of bodyweight workouts and lighter, but higher quantity reps in her training. It paid off in style as her swim plus T1 time was comparable to what Robert and Chris managed, and her final time of 1:26:06 put her in the top 10 for the V40 category. Kylie Barlow was quick to pay tribute to the club after the race as until a few months ago she had never managed 50 metres of front crawl. Well what a difference a winter’s training makes; her sub-10 minute time in the pool was her personal best and although the bike leg proved somewhat more difficult she ran a terrific 23:57 for the 5k, the second-quickest St Helens Tri member on foot, as she recorded a 1:31:20 and came very close to cracking the top 200. Rob Chalmers has been at the club for longer than Kylie but also had a good outing, with a particularly encouraging bike split propelling him to a 1:36:36 finish, while Keith Ashcroft was back in action as he nearly caught Rob’s time at the finish, but eventually had to give best by just sixteen seconds. All in all a terrific weekend of racing, where the star turns came from Eddie in Pontevedra, Mike and David in London, Myka and Mal in Chirk and Emma and Carole at Splashworld. Next week’s Epic Triathlon is the long-running Horwich special, including the race to Rivington Pike on a course best suited to those who run long distances on a variety of terrain. With the Liverpool Festival of Running and a variety of other races on the schedule, the World Snooker final Bank Holiday Weekend promises to be action-packed for everyone, including St Helens Tri!