It was a quiet lead in to the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Heaton Park, but Diane Taktak has been a pretty safe bet when it comes to touring new and interesting race venues. At the Warrington 5 Miler on January 25th she took on a challenging course and finished in just over an hour and on Super Bowl Sunday she joined friends at the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k. On a cold, windy morning she finished just outside the top 600 in a time of 1:07:40.
While some attentions turned to Murrayfield for the Scotland-England Six Nations game and Storm Ciara forced the cancellation of the upcoming Mad Dog 10k, St Helens Tri travelled to the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League at historic Heaton Park in Prestwich. Perhaps the most scenic event of the season, Heaton Park is set in over 600 acres of land including an 18th century Grade 1 listed building, Heaton Hall. The course itself is a fast, flowing route with little in the way of technical sections found at Wythenshawe or Bagley and the rapid downhill start is a real point of attack for those gunning for a PB, with an impromptu fairground and circus near the football fields this year offering a backdrop similar to the one found at the Suzuka Formula 1 circuit. For once the club had several juniors racing in the morning, with Grace and Holly Hirst joined by Oliver Murphy. Both Grace and Holly made the top 50 in their respective races while Oliver recorded a sub 30 time in the U17 Boys event. After lunch Claire Murphy was joined by Christine Forber for the senior ladies race at 1:30. Claire capped off a remarkable season as she ended up undefeated across all five events in the St Helens Tri club championship, her time of 45:57 placing her in the top 130 overall while Christine recovered from last minute shoe troubles to place 209th, coming back from last down the hill at the start to probably set the league record for most overtakes in a single race!
While Claire had already wrapped up the ladies club XC championship at Tatton Park, the men’s title was still up for grabs between three of the club’s longest standing members, with Robert Chesters leading Kevin Dunbar and Michael Forber and John Wilson odds-on for the Rookie of the Year award. Joining the ranks for the first time was Eddie Hirst who hasn’t done an XC since the 2017/18 curtain closer at Wythenshawe Park. He was prominent in the early stages and championship leader Robert was happy to have him run off and hide, but the second lap saw the script flipped on its head as Robert tentatively passed his teammate prior to the first woodland section. From there the dynamic duo continued to metronomically tap out a consistent rhythm but Robert’s recent experience of the hills and mud proved decisive and a final surge up the hill to a time of 40:33 in front of the club tifosi sealed his first ever club prize, joining Claire on a perfect 100 points. Eddie was less than a minute behind him but had to fend off a late challenge from Michael Forber who has been his usual consistent self all season; here his best performance of the winter secured him second in the club standings and in a time of 42:10. Such was the closeness of the field on the fast course that Kevin Dunbar was 14 placed behind his teammate despite being within 15 seconds, as he wound up third in the club competition one place higher than last year. The real breakthrough, however, and arguably the surprise of the day, was Chris Hayes, who has been a speed demon on the short distance efforts at Friday night run sessions and here he outlasted Chris Murphy to finish 26 seconds ahead in a time of 48:11. The top 6 counters placed the club in the top 30 in the overall scheme of things, and they were ably backed up by John Wilson who finished in 50:49, Paul Booth who certainly chose the best course to make his sole 2019/20 outing, and Azzam Taktak likewise who demonstrated real grit and determination on his efforts up the endless hill. Indeed “endless hill” is something of a metaphor for the whole season, or so it sometimes seems, but it is a climb which always serves club members well at the start of the summer triathlon campaign.
Special thanks must go to those who contributed to the effort in setting up the club gazebo, taking photographs and providing refreshments to the tired runners at the end of each race. Also thanks to Run North West who once again did a fantastic job organising the competition, the league has gone from strength to strength since they first provided their input and services. And finally well done to everyone who took part over the course of the winter, the numbers have held up well and to have 14 at the curtain closer is something to be proud of. Roll on the spring duathlon season starting at Oulton Park next Sunday!