It is easy to forget sometimes, but as recently as the end of 2014 St Helens Tri did not even exist as a club. Within the first two years of existence the club had already racked up many wins on a local and national level as well as organised the first ever St Helens Triathlon, for which entries for the 2019 edition are still available at the time of writing. However, even as the starters’ orders were given on 13 September 2015, some club members were already taking their first steps towards representing their country on the European and World stages. There have been many such episodes of Saints greatness in the last two years in particular but none quite like what the club experienced at the home of the fabled Soyembika Tower in Kazan, Russia on Sunday morning.
Emma Austin has enough such experiences and stories to write a book all of her own, and took on two pre-race favourites from the host country in the F20 division. Her swim in just over 13 minutes is pretty much par for (her) course nowadays but it was her sub-35 minute bike split that put distance not only between herself and the other two females, but the entire class of 2019. The only question was could she hold the field off on the run, having found progress on top-end speed somewhat stymied over the last few years by a succession of calf injuries. One of the local entrants did indeed set a very fast run split in a late bid to challenge for the win, but the minute gained on Emma was far too little too late to make any difference to the final outcome, and Emma crossed the line to win the F20 division, by an astonishing four minutes and 22 seconds! She wasn’t the only one heading home with a gold medal either, as Steve Williams was out to try and add a sprint title to the standard one he won 12 months ago in Estonia. Steve did have a bit more of a challenge as he exited the water in second place, but never doubt his ability to destroy an entire field on a bike course, and this he duly did, recording a 34:20 over three minutes faster than anyone else. Amazingly, he ran up an even bigger winning margin than Emma, as he pulled further away on the run stage to win his age group by over six minutes. The post-race photos (sent into the St Helens Star for inclusion in this week’s edition) told everything an outsider might want to know about the star quality at two different ends of the age spectrum, and how St Helens Tri has cemented its position at the forefront of North West triathlon in just five years.
Emma and Steve were joined in Russia by Michael Forber, David Gaskell and Helens Broderick as they looked to join the ranks of club elites who have thrived on the international stage. Michael was in a tough division once again made up mainly of GB athletes and Russians but despite facing far choppier waters than he regularly swims in at Eccleston Mere, he was still nicely up the field upon reaching T1. The bike leg was another strong effort despite being surrounded by many quick athletes, and one should never discount his ability to finish with a flourish, as his 19:02 run split was even quicker than the man who won the race. In the event Michael’s final time of 1:12:11 placed him sixth overall and third GB athlete home, securing automatic qualification for next year’s championship. Dave Gaskell enjoyed his first foray into European competition as he was out of the water in under 17 minutes and followed it up with a bike stage that put him in contention for a top-10 finish. Other runners ultimately got away during the final leg, but 13th overall, only around a minute shy of the top 10, and fourth GB competitor home was a great way to warm up for next month’s world championships. For overcoming pre-race nerves that lasted well into the swim, Helen Broderick deserved a medal just as much as those who stepped onto the podium, as she fought her way back from the rear of the field to record some excellent bike and run times en route to a sub-90 minute time with a particularly impressive sub-38 split on two wheels. All five club members were an absolute credit to team GB, St Helens Tri and also to the Violet-Grace charity raising awareness for road safety in Violet’s memory.
Closer to home, the club was seen out on the roads of Salford and Snowdonia enjoying the changeable conditions that could only come right after the hottest July week on record. At MediaCity UK three raced the sprint distance while a further two doubled the distance for the standard. Jennifer Pybis has proven to be something of an expert at getting results in big races, and so it proved once again as she followed up a remarkable 11:33 swim with a bike time of just over 40 minutes. Having dropped behind Paul Booth (pictured below) in the battle for first club member home she then reeled off two terrific run laps to not only finish in 1:17:52, but also place third in her age group just ten seconds ahead of her teammate enjoying his first post-Ironman outing. Meanwhile Ian Orford continued to grow into his element at open water racing, as he was out of the water in under 15 minutes and followed up a 39:17 bike stage with the fastest run split of the Saints trio, eventually finishing in just under 80 minutes placing him 45th overall. Andrew McGlone has been under the radar for a while now having not raced as much in 2019 as he did last year, but he was back with a bang in the standard race as he flew round the quays in 21:33 for the 1500m swim, before reeling off a sub-75 minute bike and a run of just over 45 minutes to finish in the top 10 of the men’s senior category. Mark Derbyshire was rather more comfortable taking on Salford this year having not done Ironman two weeks prior and so it showed, as he put in a good performance in all three disciplines to make the top 60 in a time of 2:36:09.
If ever there was a race which demanded precision preparation it had to be the Snowman Triathlon, which club reporter Robert Chesters opted for as a return to where he competed in his first open water race two years ago. Back then it was the sprint, this time he opted for the Classic, including a 1000m swim, 70 hilly kilometres through Beddelgert, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed, and finally a 10km run/power walk/wobble (delete as appropriate) to the top of Moel Sionau. It’s fair to say that Robert, and many others, were caught out by the unique nature of what is loosely termed an “adventure” triathlon (imagine the DNF rate if they launched an “expedition” version!) but you can read Robert’s full report at https://robjchesters.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/a-week-and-a-race-of-two-halves/ and get an idea of how tough the course is even for those who kept their composure and didn’t start feeling dizzy on the “run” back down the mountain! In the end a finish in just over 4 hours 45 minutes as a marker for a half Ironman entry next year was a decent result, rounding off a weekend where the star turns came from Emma and Steve in Kazan and Jennifer in Salford. Next weekend’s schedule is rather more sparse, with only the Allerthorpe Classic Triathlon on offer, but the following weekend is not only the Premier League season-opener but also the Manley Mere Triathlon hosted by Stockport Tri Club, for which several club members are already entered with just a fortnight to go.