While some choose to watch snooker or mow the lawns on May Day Bank Holiday weekend, St Helens Tri are often seen up and down the country racing far and wide and 2019 was no exception. First cabs off the rank were those of Michael Herbert and Mark Ashton at the Tuesday night bike time trial at Bickerstaffe hosted by Prescot Eagle. Michael made a welcome return to the fold posting a sub-24 time while Mark just missed out on beating the 25 minute barrier. Tracy Chapman also recorded a notable result the following evening at the St Helens CRC hosted event on the same course, as she was first lady home in a time of 25:27. The world championships from the week before weren’t quite over as Peter Fairclough and Mark Riley, both members of St Helens Tri and St Helens Striders, were participating in the aquathlon in Spain. Peter has improved markedly at swimming and was well up the field upon exiting the water. For once he didn’t make up as much ground on the run as on previous occasions, but his seventh place and fourth in the GB team was a fitting reward for months of hard work. He was joined by Mark Riley, who was actually out of the water even quicker in less than 17 minutes but later dropped back on the run, nonetheless joining his teammate in the top ten.
Four events, including three triathlons and a hugely popular Liverpool Spring 10k made up the Sunday schedule. Mal Balmer and Eddie Hirst took the long haul trip in more ways than one to Cambridgeshire for the Grafman Triathlon, which has gained in popularity as an early season classic distance race. Eddie was only a few days removed from returning to the UK after his own participation in the World Championships, yet here he was straight into the thick of things as he completed the 1000m swim in just over seventeen minutes. Mal wasn’t far behind him at this stage, but Eddie would pull away on the bike and run to the tune of nine minutes, finishing in a time of 2:06:27 which would place him 14th in his category, while Mal’s 2:15:24 was good enough for 8th in his age group. Closer to home, Wilmslow and Horwich played host to two spring triathlons. At the venue near Manchester Airport Jennifer Pybis and Shirley Fox were taking in the course featuring the fabled bike stage under the airport road and the run through the leafy houses near the leisure centre. Jennifer had considerable experience of the course from previous visits and it was no surprise that her swim and run were both fast (her run being the fastest in her category) but it was on the bike that she really caught the eye; from being unable to crack the 50 minute mark on her first visit in 2015 she recorded a 45:46, and as such her accolade of being the second fastest female on the day was well deserved. Shirley Fox has long been a strong cyclist owing to her many trips to ride hilly routes both in the UK and further afield, and her years of consistent riding brought her a third place in her category, a result matched by Caroline Bones who made a long-awaited return to multisport after many years swimming. It wasn’t purely a ladies day out either, as Gary Davies and Nick Hall also took part, Gary riding with particular distinction on his way to placing 85th while Nick recorded some very consistent splits and demonstrated his abilities as a well-rounded triathlete in taking 8th in his division.
If you want a calm, sunny day to do a triathlon in early May, then Horwich might not be the race for you. However, you would be missing out on a cracking course, with a pool swim lengthened to 500m, a 40km bike course taking in some of the best scenery on the West Pennine Moors, and a run to Rivington Pike. Of course, it always seems to coincide with a day plagued with changeable weather (such idiosyncrasies being magnified in an area known for having a micro-climate) but such a factor often separates the pack out markedly and so it proved in the 2019 edition. Mark Turner was back in the fold after a few weeks away from competition and he was right up and at it straight away, completing the 500m swim in a little over eight minutes. His bike time was also encouraging given that he comes primarily from a running background, and indeed his 8.6km run was one of his trademark fast cadence sprints to destruction as he recorded the sixth-fastest run of the day to lift himself to 17th at the finish. Mark Eccleston’s season has been a story in itself, as he has particularly enjoyed the long, tough versions of traditional distances, particularly the Parbold Duathlon in March. As such it was little surprise that he excelled on the lumpy bike course, his newly-improved strength and fitness enabling him to finish in the top 125 with a time of 2:18:33. Steve Bower bounced back nicely from a few difficult races of late to edge Sean Dalby, the pair both finishing the testing course in under three hours.
If the triathletes competed in fairly remote locations, the same couldn’t be said for Azzam Taktak, Ben Mason, Neil Wallace, Ian Wright, Brian Diggle and Jill Littler who joined over 4,800 other runners at the Metropolitan Cathedral for the Liverpool Spring 10k hosted by Mersey Races. This course has become incredibly popular in its short time on the calendar, featuring an opening stanza past the Philharmonic Hall, a middle stint into Sefton Parkand a final flourish onto Princes Drive. There was little to choose between them and all had a story to tell. Ian Wright has recently joined the club and marked his first appearance in the results column with a fantastic debut time of 40:55. Ben Mason was taking part in the race as a participant in the six-day Supersonic Race Series; the final round, the Crock n’ Roll 10k, takes place at Croxteth Park tomorrow. As such he was able to start in the first wave of runners competing for the series title, and he did his chances of a high overall placing no harm whatsoever by ducking just under the 50 minute mark, showing some particularly dogged determination on the run out of Sefton Park. On Team Taktak Diane and Sarah have enjoyed most of the limelight in 2019, as Azzam has preferred to train, rather than race, his way towards his next Ironman. However, he stepped out of the training room and onto the stage in fine style, crossing the line just seven seconds behind Ben but actually recording a quicker chip time to the tune of over a minute, his 48:42 being a new PB by over 20 seconds. keeping in with the theme of “after you, sir”, Neil Wallace started behind both Ben and Azzam, yet ended up with the second-quickest time of all the St Helens Tri runners, with 48:17 as his final time. Jill Littler was in fine spirits ahead of the start as she continues to diversify her weekend racing activities away from the Ormskirk Parkrun, and she was rewarded with a chip time of 50:20, just 24 seconds behind Ben while also placing in the top 30 in her age category, and it was an encouraging debut for Brian who was reruenore from a plantar fascia injury yet managed a new PB of 51:55, a fine time on a day when so many runners from “partner clubs” such as St Helens Striders and Penny Lane Striders took part in what is now surely the biggest 10k race on the Merseyside running calendar. Next week’s main event is the Cheshire Triathlon at Barony Park in Nantwich, while the Howgills Triathlon and Trail Races offer something for those who like their races tough and off-road, before the next Super Sunday follows in a fortnight’s time with the Southport Triathlon at Marine Lake.