Awesome double at Arley Hall – the “Third Time Lucky” Cheshire 10k

The mass participation running events may be on hold, but there have still been a handful of races on offer at Covid-19 secure venues in time trial format and one such race was the twice postponed Cheshire 10k. A flat, fast course, it staged a dramatic race where the winner clocked a staggering 29:24, but several St Helens Tri members still had a story to tell. Chris Hayes has often credited his half Ironman in Marrakech nearly 12 months ago as the race which truly gave him the confidence to attack shorter distances, and he was in his element here, recording a new best time of 42:46, but arguably a bigger story was developing a few (metaphorical) metres behind him. David Mellor has a long history of sprint performance from his years playing rugby union, and in the true spirit of the Exeter Chiefs he delivered a champions’ performance; having never broken the 45 minute mark prior to today, he clocked a brilliant 42:53, a fitting reward for a member who has bought into the all round development methods encouraged by the club coaching team. Alan Mckeegan and Rob Preston were next up, the pair separated by just 18 seconds at the line, while Azzam Taktak has enjoyed a late season surge and it continued at Arley Hall, setting a 51:21. Diane Taktak rounded off the weekend as she had an enjoyable run to a time of 1:00:39 placing in the top 25 of her category.

So another dramatic weekend of sport in which two rugby finals and the Merseyside Derby were followed by another fruitful day of racing on the Sunday morning. The upcoming weeks are fairly sparse apart from the Halloween spooky run on October 31st at Gale Brook in Northwich, but November is an interesting month with the Ulverston and Castle Combe duathlons a fortnight apart, and the Oulton Park Running Grand Prix is still scheduled for December 6th to kick the festive season off with a bang.

A Coaches’ Double, and a Tribute to Key Workers – Oulton Park Delivers Again

There may come a day in the future when we look back on October 4th 2020 as the day St Helens Tri firmly reasserted itself as a major force in the wake of the lockdown which wiped out most of the summer racing season. Oulton Park has long been a favourite venue for either an early season sharpener or an end of season blowout at one of the fastest race tracks in the country. This year’s sole event was effectively two races worth of entries rolled into one, and as such the organisers put on a middle distance to go with the usual sprint and standard races. No St Helens Tri members were in the 8:30am race so it was all hands to the pump on the standard and sprint distances. In the longer race Rob Preston and Kevin Dunbar had a cracking duel, as they were closely matched early doors but Rob pulled away on the bike, his TT position paying dividends. Kevin put in a last ditch effort to catch his teammate but Rob stayed ahead to the tune of just 68 seconds, the pair both cracking the top 50. Azzam Taktak’a regular attendance on the Pimbo oval at the Tuesday night bike sessions proved invaluable as his time of 2:33:52, powered by some particularly impressive laps on the bike, propelled him to third in his age group.

The sprint distance was a similarly thrilling race with over 80 people facing the timekeepers at 20 second intervals. Robert Chesters was off to the races as he reached the end of the first run in under 15 minutes. His new St Helens Tri liveried Merida Warp proved a handy weapon on the bike course as he averaged laps well under seven minutes, and a final time of 1:08:16 gave him an age group title for the first time since June 2018. David Mellor has long been a bolt of lightning over short distances as one might expect from an ex rugby player, but here he proved that previous sporting experience is no obstacle to strength and speed in more endurance related activities, as he powered around on his Giant TCR and not only finished in well under 80 minutes, but also in the top six in his age group, while it was a welcome return for Robert Saile whose power and strength on the bike proved pivotal in allowing him to make up places en route to 83rd position. However, the best story of the day was that of Christine and Bethany Forber. Christine has been working throughout the lockdown as an essential teacher for those children who were unable to miss school, and she has long been a key source of inspiration for other club members as well as raising money for local charities. Here, she was closely matched with Bethany on the first run before pulling out a gap on the bike and eventually recording a time of 1:35:08, good enough for third in her age group just 36 seconds ahead of recent new club member David Wright. Meanwhile Bethany, who like Robert has been a long term contributor to the club coaching team, showed the sort of strength normally reserved for much older athletes especially on the tough climb after Knickerbrook Corner, not only finishing within three minutes of her mum but joining Robert in the champions’ circle as she won the F20-24 age group!

A terrific way to end the best reunion race of the autumn (post lockdown?) season, which no-one could possibly have predicted a few short months ago. Further duathlons are on the horizon at Milton Keynes and Clumber Park before the end of the month, and the trail running season is well underway giving race-starved athletes plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.

 

 

Fab Four serve up some Midlands Magic

The Outlaw Half was one of the very few long distance events to survive the CV19 pandemic and four St Helens Tri members set about making the best of the late season opportunity at this iconic venue in the East Midlands. The race was well attended and of high standard, not surprising given the lack of opportunities for the UK triathlon community to race in 2020, and the course was a tough one; individual start times in 12c water which led to the swim being cut short. The character building wasn’t over yet either, as the athletes faced 30mph gusts of wind on the bike and a mostly off road run which was more akin to cross country than multi terrain. Leading the way was Eddie Hirst, who parlayed his traditional rapid bike split into a remarkably quick 13.1 mile run of a little over 95 minutes to finish in 4:46:22 giving him 154th overall and 13th in his age group. Next up was Ian Wright who enjoyed a close battle with Peter Rawlinson for much of the day, but pulled away on the run; his final time of 5:25:48 put him just outside the top 500 and around 20 minutes clear of his teammate. Gary Davies was remarkably close to Eddie in the water and stayed ahead of the dynamic duo behind him for part of the bike stage before Ian and Peter found a way past. In the event Gary’s time of 6:10:29 was good enough for 887th place.

Next weekend sees the return of the autumn duathlons as several club members will be taking on the Oulton Park Autumn special, which is closely followed by similar events in Milton Keynes and Clumber Park on 18 and 24th October, both of which are sure to be popular.

A tale of two Lakes and a Capesthorne Classic

The North West Classic Triathlon and the Windermere Festival of racing provided a scenic backdrop to another fruitful round of racing for St Helens Tri over the past weekend. At Alderford Lake it was a tale of the first opus joining one of the greatest stories of all as Chris Murphy, whose photography skills have been much valued at club events, joined forces with Steve Williams, perhaps the greatest example to those who think they will never make it to the big stage. Chris actually set a faster run time in his first open water triathlon as he posted a final time of 1:18:57 with a 22:39 run split, but Steve possibly set the club record for biggest ever winning margin in his age group. Exiting the water in under 11 min, he set a staggering sub 37 bike split aboard his Cervelo P2 and rounded off with a 25:07 run to win his age group by over 14 minutes! An incredible effort on a day when Eddie Hirst’s two daughters Holly and Grace took part in the untimed junior duathlon at the same venue, a fine example of an event held under Covid-19 secure guidelines and allowing future generations to thrive in a pressure free environment.

 

The following morning was equally action packed with club members eager to make the best of a truncated race season. Chris Hayes was in action at the mile swim and recorded a useful sub-40 minute time, then the attentions turned to the Epicman Windermere Triathlon, one of the most scenic in the UK. A spirited battle developed between Charlie Stirrup and Peter Fairclough, with Charlie eventually pulling out a gap on the bike. Despite Peter making up more than ten minutes on the 20km run Charlie ultimately prevailed by just a couple of minutes, taking a top 40 spot overall as well as top 5 in his age group. Anthony Bearon has regularly attended club sessions for the last few years, and with the family cheering him on he got his just reward as his unique training method of cycling to club sessions paid off with an excellent effort resulting in a final time well under the 6:30 mark, while Will Bardin actually ran ahead of Anthony in the early going but eventually finished around half an hour in arrears. Chris Hayes and Kevin Dunbar were evenly matched during the swim in the standard distance but Chris and his new found speed aboard the bike proved to be the difference, and despite a terrific effort by Kevin to reel his teammate in on the run Chris took the honour of first club member home, finishing in 2:43:52 with both making the top 40. A similarly close battle developed between Azzam Taktak and Paul McGregor where Paul set the quicker time on two wheels and Azzam had it all to do on the run. This time, the faster runner got the edge as Azzam finished ahead by around eight minutes. Diane Taktak rounded off the weekend of racing at the Capesthorne Hall half marathon, one of the most stunning locations in the country to run a 13.1. Her small group of six runs during the lockdown proved invaluable as she took on the surprisingly warm conditions and finished in just over two hours 20 minutes. Next week’s flagship event is the City of Birmingham Triathlon, while duathlons at Oulton Park, Milton Keynes and Castle Combe promise an exciting autumn of racing to look forward to.

Epic Swim Season goes to extra time – Coniston/Ullswater Edition

Amidst a backdrop of cancelled races and traditional formats which have little hope of recommencing soon (the Manchester Cross Country League being the latest to cancel at least part of the season) the open water swim series has been remarkably popular and resistant to the developments of the outside world. The Chillswim 7 mile in Coniston is a classic example, and indeed Melanie Sayed was more than up for the challenge as she arrived at the hallowed shores on Saturday morning. Starting at 10:20am, she faced the longest swimming race she has ever taken on, but with a pace of under 33 minutes per mile she mastered the conditions brilliantly and finished in under three hours 50 minutes.

The following day saw the latest instalment of the Epic Events Lakes swims at Ullswater. Perhaps the most iconic location on the calendar, it is overlooked by Pooley Bridge and often attracts a large crowd. Naturally it was more of a spaced out atmosphere than in previous years, and the water was freezing, but five club members opted for the longest distance of 3.8km and in a remarkably close race, all were separated by less than seven minutes. Coming out on top was David Wright who recorded a 1:32:54, and Chris Hayes, sporting a “speckled” colour scheme wetsuit, joined him in the top 50 coming home less than half a minute behind. He in turn was just over a minute ahead of Kevin Dunbar who probably should have a Lake District tourist pass by now (or at least after next week’s Windermere Triathlon) and Azzam Taktak was not too far behind either with a time of 1:36:52, while Rob Preston rounded out the weekend of racing with a great effort to beat the 1hr 40 mark. Next weekend’s offerings include the aforementioned festival of racing in the South Lakes, while the North West Classic Triathlon has been moved to Alderford Lake (now on Saturday 19 September NOT Sunday 20th as previously advertised) and the Darley Moor Duathlon is still going ahead in time trial format the following morning.

A Duel in the Deva City and an Epic at Ellesmere

Myka Heard has long been one of the most inspirational members of St Helens Tri and added to her roll of honour on Bank Holiday Monday at the Chester Tri Club Aquathlon. Having starred in a pilot event the week before she was third in her age group upon exiting the water, made a quick pit stop to get her shoes on and overtook the local celebrity and television presenter Louise Minchin to record a sub-25 minute 5k and take second in her age group. Her remarkable result set the tone for a brilliant performance by Eddie Hirst the following Sunday. It’s not often you have a “champions league” of triathlon at a public event especially on the treacherous slopes of Helvellyn, but this iconic venue had long been a favourite for those who like their courses tricky and technical, and Eddie was right into the swing of things in the North Lakes. In a race which featured international standard racers such as Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Gossage Eddie was out of the water in a little over half an hour and, after just over two hours on the bike (which he rode with no hydration after both bottles fell off!) he was up and down the mountain in a time good enough to place him just outside the top 50 as well as a handy 13th in his category.

However, the greatest sporting story of the day was elsewhere – and with due respect, it wasn’t Pierre Gasly’s shock win in the Italian Grand Prix. Rachael Fairclough has been a perfect sporting ambassador not only for St Helens Tri but also the wider community for the last 10 years including being an Olympic torch bearer in the run up to London 2012. Over the last couple of years she has predominantly remained a runner, but when she gets an opportunity to race triathlon, there are few better at taking their chances than her. At the Shropshire Triathlon in Ellesmere she was racing in the sprint distance (750m/25km/5k) and was embroiled in a thrilling battle for age group honours throughout. With a small lead exiting the water, she edged further ahead as the bike leg began and then her closest rival tried to snatch the initiative back heading onto the run course. Rachael promptly took control back with an epic final run to not only win her age group by 81 seconds, but also make the overall podium! A remarkable result for someone who stands alongside Myka as a perfect leader for the St Helens Tri ladies and an example to those who are looking to join the club in preparation for next season.

Rachael wasn’t the only one in the West Midlands; David Mellor was also in the sprint distance and was out of the water in just over 15 minutes. His immense power served him well on the bike and despite a stitch on the run he still placed in the top 30 overall and fifth in his category. In the standard distance Chris Hayes, Kevin Dunbar and Azzam Taktak took their long distance strength around the Shropshire lanes and all went home happy, Chris overcoming an early deficit in the water to pass Kevin on the bike course with a noteworthy sub-67 minute time for the 40k stage. Although Kevin set a quicker 10k time on the run course it was not enough to catch Chris who duly held on to be first club member home and inside the top 50 overall to boot. Meanwhile Azzam Taktak put his regular attendance at the Tuesday night bike sessions to good use as he finished the event in under three hours and ten minutes.

So a truly memorable week of results with star performances coming from Myka Heard, Rachael Fairclough and Eddie Hirst; three contrasting yet equally remarkable stories to tell. Next weekend is another relatively sparse schedule but the North West Classic triathlon follows at Alderford Lake in a fortnight’s time while the Oulton Park and Carlisle duathlons are still on and open for entries at the time of writing.

David Mellor and Chris Hayes at the Shropshire Triathlon

Sunshine After the Rain – Squally Showery Shropshire followed by Hurricane Horwich

While some club members opted for the Epic Events open water swims, a few who were keen to get their race bikes out of the garage chose the varied offerings of the UK Ultimate festival held in Whitchurch, Shropshire and the shortened Horwich Triathlon. At the UK Ultimate Ian Wright and Peter Rawlinson took part in the half Ironman distance and both came away very happy with their end result, Ian finishing with a sub 2 hour marathon en route to a 5:32:57, while Peter finally reaped his reward for regular appearances and deep freeze moments at the Friday night track sessions in the winter by finishing in 6:02:45, half an hour faster than at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire last year.

The wet and windy conditions which plagued the UK Ultimate hadn’t let up by the following Sunday as several intrepid souls took on the Epic Events Horwich Triathlon. Known as the Kona of the North, it was changed for 2020 as the leisure centre was not available. Instead, the entrants tackled a longer bike course over Sheephouses and the usual off road run up Rivington Pike. Lee Brownhill and Paul Booth took part for St Helens Tri, the latter commenting on how long it had been since he had woke so early to race (it must go hand in hand with being a local legend on the turntables) but in the event the pair finished less than 90 seconds apart and under the 2:15 mark, Lee getting the edge on his teammate at the line. Races for next month are still up in the air at the moment, but the UK Triathlon series continues in a fortnight’s time at the Shropshire Triathlon while the North West Classic, normally held at Barony Park in Nantwich, has been moved to Alderford Lake, with entries still available at the time of writing.

I’ll Be Ready (No Don’t You Fear) – Return to Racing, Epic Events Style

At long last, racing is back and the first opportunities for competition starved athletes came on the first day of the month at the Epic Events open water swim in the cool confines of Three Sisters near Wigan. Eddie Hirst brought Holly and Grace along for a family trip in the 750m race and all three (pictured below) went home happy having cracked the 15 minute mark and finished in the top 50. Holly led the way in a time of 13:12, her pace being 1:45 per 100m while Grace finished in 14:56 just four seconds clear of Eddie. Mark Glynn cracked the top 25 in the full distance 3.8km, his 1:02:15 also giving him fourth in his age group while Ian Orford and Chris Hayes also enjoyed their first attempts at the 3.8km distance, Ian clocking a 1:13:34 and Chris coming in comfortably under the 80 minute mark.

Chris would also turn out at the Coniston swim two weeks later where he placed 116th in 1:20:18 but Dominic Pike was nothing short of a bolt from the blue. Historically he has starred at the club running sessions and the Ormskirk Parkrun, and yet here he took on the Ironman distance swim like he’d been racing long course for years as he recorded an outstanding 1:00:57, good enough for 32nd on the day. Also racing was Shaun Keenaghan whose time of 1:16:15 was enough to earn a top 100 finish. In next week’s report we will cover the full account of the UK Ultimate Triathlon in Shropshire as well as the shortened Horwich Triathlon, for which entries are still available at the time of writing.

A Race against the Dying of the Light – Knowsley, Parbold and Bedford

In what could well have been the last weekend of racing for 2020, two local events and one a little further afield brought the winter (and possibly summer) season to a close. At the Knowsley 10k Diane Taktak and friends took on one of the “emerging classics” as the Knowsley area becomes increasingly popular as a place to race, although whether this trend will survive the coming months and years is anyone’s guess. In the event Diane finished with a smile on her face and a time of 1:04:44 which was easily good enough to finish in the top 600.

The Parbold Duathlon just about managed to survive the incoming lock down and as has so often been the case in the past, Gez Roberts led the way for the club on his green Giant Propel bought from Thatto Cycles. His time of 1:37:54 put him 13th overall and fourth in his category. Making a welcome return to the fold was Mark Livingston who not only made the top 20, but won a thrilling battle with his closest rival to pull away on the final run stage and win the V50 category. Indeed, he also overtook Kevin Dudley whose skill set was more suited to the bike course, but Kevin’s top 25 overall placing was still an excellent result. Will Bardin was involved in one of the more amusing episodes of the race when he drafted a Citroën while running (out of T2) but in any case he still went home happy as he finished in a time of 2:02:09. Meanwhile Peter Leadbeater was the club’s sole representative at the Bedford Autodrome Spring Duathlon. Held under metaphorically black clouds it was hardly a race day to stir the soul, or so it seemed. However Peter still put on an outstanding performance in what effectively amounted to a national standard race as he finished the 5k/19k/2.5k draft legal event in a little over 70 minutes, with a particularly impressive bike split, to place fourth in his age group.

Club membership for the 2020/21 season is now open. As per the outcome of the recent committee meeting it is not priced at £15 for seniors and £5 for juniors. Please note that the club training sessions have been suspended until further notice. The committee and coaching team at St Helens Tri wish to encourage everyone to continue with their exercise as long as it is conducted solo and within safe parameters; with the likely wipe out of the remaining 2020 races now is not the time to push the limits for upcoming major events but rather to enjoy the great outdoors and appreciate the joys and benefits sport brings to all of us.

From the Wilderness to the Amphitheatre – 2-up Duathlon and Chester 10k Review

It was a remarkable day of sport on Sunday both at Murrayfield and Old Trafford, but St Helens Tri had their own compelling stories to tell at the Firefighters 2-up Duathlon and the Aldi Chester 10k. On the West Pennine Moors four teams of two joined many more in racing over a hilly course featuring two 6km runs either side of a 37km bike course where drafting and teamwork are just as important as strength. Leading the way for the club was the dynamic duo of Chris Hayes and Paul Howard, who have been regular attendees at the Friday night track sessions and put their newly found faster feet to perfect use on the slopes of Belmont, as they powered round to finish in the top 100 in a time of 2:42:27. Chris Murphy and Azzam Taktak have made legends of themselves in their own rights over the last few years, the former with his photography skills at club events, the latter with his spellbinding performance at Ironman Barcelona 2019. What better pairing to put together then, as two of the club’s top endurance athletes? Well, they were more than equal to the task and completed the course in under three hours and placed inside the top 150. It was also a good day out for Mike Gregory and Kevin Dudley who distinguished themselves at the winter cross country races. Here, they dug in deep and finished in a time of 3:01:20 to round off proceedings up north.

Meanwhile, newly appointed club kit officer Robert Saile was taking on the Aldi Chester 10k, a course set through the city centre in much the same way as the annual half marathon and Round the Walls races. In a dramatic race befitting of the amphitheatre itself, which saw the winner break 30 minutes, Robert improved immeasurably on his last significant run performance at the 2019 Manley Mere Triathlon and put on a big finish to get his chip time under the hour to the tune of five seconds! A fine way to round off another breezy day of racing. Hopefully it will be a bit calmer next week at the ever popular Parbold Duathlon, while the spring triathlon season is just around the corner, starting on April 5th in Ulverston, the same day as the Manchester Marathon.