Superb weekend for Saints in Spain and Stockport

It was very much a “Spain and Stockport” theme for St Helens Tri over the weekend as duathlon took centre stage at home and abroad. First of all, though, Lynette and George Houghton represented team GB at the OCR World Championships in Essex. Held over three days, it requires competitors to complete three separate races totalling 33 kilometres with obstacles aplenty. The standards are set extremely high and it is particularly difficult to record a pass on any of the three courses but both George and Lynette had the strength to overcome the challenges thrown at them and end as proud finishers. Two remarkable all round athletes who have carved out their niche and done so with commitment and enthusiasm.

The main focus of the weekend, however, was in Ibiza where four club members were competing in the ETU Duathlon Championships. On the Saturday Shirley Fox participated in the sprint distance race. Shirley has really upped her game on the bike in the last 12 months and her strength carried her to a creditable 17th place in her category. However, the big story of the weekend was undoubtedly that of Jeanette Fisher who was competing at international level for the fist time. Jeanette has always been a fast runner but here it was her bike performance that caught the eye, as she recorded a bike time quicker than most of the eight who finished ahead, and only a handful of seconds behind the overall winner! Ninth place was the very least she deserved for a stunning conclusion to what has easily been her best season to date. The following afternoon saw the standard distance races take place and competing for St Helens Tri were Eddie Hirst and Mark Turner, who were only racing a week earlier in Bedfordshire and Parbold. Eddie has concentrated on his bike strength (you might see a trend here) due to a few minor niggles in recent months and it paid off, as he matched Jeanette’s 9th from the previous day in the M40-44 standard distance event. Mark Turner recorded the best result, however, as he fought the rising temperatures and a strong M25-29 field to go sub-38 for his first 10k. He held firm on the bike course and despite having to back off in the final stages so as to make the finish he crossed the line in an outstanding sixth place, and less than two minutes away from the podium!

Closer to home, three members enjoyed rather shorter journeys to races in Liverpool and Manchester. Sarah and Diane Taktak changed into fancy dress for the Beat the Reaper 10k at Croxteth Hall. Sarah was flying round the iconic venue with her time of 55:51 putting her in the top ten of her category and Diane recorded an encouraging 1:02:17. Meanwhile, Robert Chesters  pictured belowb took on his first solo multi-sport event in nearly four months at the end of season Stockport Tri Club Duathlon held at Poynton Leisure Centre. This is definitely one for your 2019 diary, comprising two technical 5k runs with some sharp climbs through a forest and a few stiles to swing round, together with a two-lap, 21km cycle stage featuring a very tough climb which caught out many a seasoned competitor. Robert came into T1 at the back of the top ten but made use of the flat time trial sections and his own recent weight loss on the hill to move past several competitors on the first lap of the bike course, and he remained at the sharp end all the way to the flag to finish fourth, with third in his age group, in a time of 1:20:39 and round off a terrific weekend where the star turns came from Jeanette Fisher and Mark Turner for their standout performances in Ibiza as well as Lynette and George Houghton in the OCR world championships. The Halloween weekend is a relatively quiet one but Kevin Dunbar returns to one of his favourite haunts at the Snowdonia Marathon, while November’s schedule includes the Fireworks 500 open water swim at Capernwray on the first Saturday and the second round of the Manchester Cross Country League at the Kenworthy Woods University Playing Fields on November 10th.

Storm Eddie plays a Starring Role in the South East

Sunday would prove to be just as busy for St Helens Tri as the first round of the Manchester XC league the day before. The long haul tripper of the week was Eddie Hirst, who was travelling by far the furthest to compete but was actually in the most significant race of the weekend. Bedford Autodrome is a smaller, twistier version of Oulton Park owned by Jonathan and Jolyon Palmer (both former Formula 1 drivers) and Eddie was competing in the standard distance duathlon which also served as an ITU Duathlon qualifier. With a series of calf and hamstring niggles over the past few months the last thing Eddie would have wanted would have been a poor weather forecast; unfortunately so it transpired as large puddles of water courtesy of Storm Callum made progress very difficult for everyone especially on the bike course. Nevertheless, his black and orange bullet also known as his time trial bike served him as well as ever and he held on tenaciously during the second run to place 31st overall in just over 2 hours 6 minutes, which also gave him fifth in his age group and leave him in with a chance of world championship qualification. Closer to home, Mark Turner (pictured below) led the club by example as he has done so often in 2018 by taking an excellent seventh place at the ever popular Parbold Duathlon, where he was backed up by Will Bardin, who also had a strong outing particularly on the cycle stage, as he got home under the two hour mark which put him just outside the top 50. Strangely, for two events that were originally scheduled for March 18 (and both fell victim to the final Beast from the East) Parbold and Lancaster were rescheduled for the same date again, so it was left to Chris Murphy plus Sarah and Azzam Taktak to tackle this increasingly popular race which comprises two off road runs with some fast roads to stretch those cycling legs on. Chris Murphy was on fine form as he was into his stride from the off, and a good show of consistent pace over all three stages saw him place 32nd overall, while taking a top-six place in his age group. His 6th place was matched by Sarah who recently set a new mark to aim for in training with a fine run in a recent club 3000m time trial at Edge Hill University, and the first signs of this improvement were evident from the off, yet she actually saved some of her best pace for towards the end as her running strength combined with two lightning fast transitions saw her match Chris Murphy’s sixth place, in the junior women’s standings. The pair were split by Azzam who seems to be fitting in a race every weekend at the moment, but he showed no sign of burnout as he finished in just seven seconds over two hours, yet cracked the top 50 overall.

Sarah and Azzam weren’t the only ones racing from the Taktak family as Diane had to contend with some rather miserable conditions in Liverpool for the Alder Hey 10k. Hosted by Sports Tours International, it is a scenic route round Croxteth Hall and Country Park, normally associated with the weekly Parkrun. According to some runners there were some rather tight turns marked out by some rather haphazardly placed cones but Diane overcame it all in her usual cheerful manner to go well under the 58 minute mark and place 263rd overall, scoring, you guessed it, yet another sixth place to match her daughter and Chris Murphy in Lancaster. Meanwhile several club members who raced at Wythenshawe Park the previous day were out in force for Team Isabella at the Manchester Half Marathon, widely regarded as one of the fastest courses in the country. While their results counted for the IRF, Danielle Buckley raced for St Helens Tri in the hope of getting under the two hours mark after a year plagued by injury and as such she was delighted to cross the line in a time of 1:57:35, rounding off a super Sunday where the star turns came from Mark Turner in Parbold, Chris and Sarah in Lancaster and, with the result of the weekend, Eddie Hirst at the Bedford Autodrome. Next weekend’s schedule is rather more sparse but while Eddie and Mark go for glory at the ETU standard distance championship in Ibiza, the Stockport Tri Club Autumn Duathlon at Poynton still has entries available at the time of writing while there will no doubt be plenty of pictures doing the rounds on social media as the plethora of Halloween themed races offer plenty of tricks and treats in the run-up to October 31st!

Setting the Pace in South Manchester

The second weekend of October is always one of the busiest weekends of the season with the first round of the Manchester Cross Country League and the Manchester Half Marathon but this year the postponed Parbold and Lancaster duathlons, a corresponding event in Bedford and the Alder Hey 10k made for an action packed schedule. First on the fixture list was the flat, fast expanses of Wythenshawe Park where the club enjoyed a record turnout on an unusually hot and windy day, which together with a modified course made shoe selection a minefield to say the least. The U13 boys got the ball rolling early doors with Charlie Murphy both cracking the top 40 and finishing just three seconds apart, with Reuben Wilson coming home less than three minutes adrift. Oliver Murphy took 39th in the U15 Boys race and George Houghton made the top 25 at U17 level but after lunch the focus switched to the seniors, with ten ladies and sixteen men facing the starting horn in the 1:30pm and 2:30pm races. A remarkable story developed in the ladies race as debutant Cheryl Pace was first club counter home! Coming from a long background of trail racing at Penny Lane Striders, she completed the course in a little over 40 minutes holding off fellow PLS/St Helens Tri member Myka Heard in a close battle. Lynette Houghton carried on where she left off from last season in bagging another podium finish coming in less than two minutes behind Myka, but another fascinating story was concluding just over 90 seconds Lynette as Bethany Forber, who stepped up to half marathon level earlier this year, came good on all the promise she has shown by beating the 45 minute mark and being fourth club member home to round out the A team. The next two were spaced out by just over a minute apiece, Sheena Shearman marking her first appearance for the club with a strong run to 45:17 just ahead of Chris Forber who would also turn out the following morning at the half marathon for Team Isabella. Yvonne Tinsley has only recently joined the club but was right at home from the off as she recorded a time of 47:22 on debut just over half a minute clear of Jennifer Miller, while a case of mistaken identity saw Shirley Fox credited with a time of 53:18 just two seconds clear of the (present) Liz Spensley! Quite how someone can score a couple of points for the club XC league when they are in a swimming pool is anyone’s guess, but the report will be updated when corrected results became available. In the event the ladies placed 46th in the overall team standings.

With the ten (nine?) ladies home and dry, sixteen men lined up at 2:30pm for the start and the main question was whether Michael Forber could maintain the form that saw him take last season’s club championship. On this occasion, however, with the terrain unusually flat and dry, different running styles proved to be equally productive and he was quickly into a congested upper midfield pack featuring teammates Colin Dobbs and Robert Chesters, the former having seriously improved his strength following a recent marathon in Iceland, the latter able to use his straight line speed for once on a day when the conditions would not punish poor downforce and road-holding ability. Colin edged away over the final lap to take the honours in a time of 39:07 and place 123rd overall but Robert and Michael planned things to take advantage of their strengths, with Michael able to fly on the technique parts of the course while Robert made up ground on the long straights. The pair traded places during the second half of the race but in a thrilling sprint finish, Robert found that little bit extra on the home straight to not only take second club counter but also boost the club’s overall points tally, making it a double-double for St Helens Tri/PLS registered runners. After a wait of just over 90 seconds Kevin Dunbar completed his Chicago Town Pizza burn-off with an excellent effort to finish as fourth club member over the line, just missing out on the top 200. He in turn was 16 seconds ahead of Ian Orford who in turn cleared Patrick Neill by just under two minutes to secure the A team a top 25 place in the team standings. Andrew Gaskell was next man home as both he and Kevin Dudley got into the sub-45 club, while David Isaac was listed as next in 45:28 but his time is subject to confirmation from the race officials. Mal Balmer and Garry Banks enjoyed a sprint finish every bit as enthralling as the Robert/Michael one earlier as they came home just red seconds apart, Garry proving that it’s never too late to return to cross country (this being his first XC in over a decade) while Andy Devaynes performed heroically after his performance six days earlier in Chester to get close to the duelling duo ahead and round out the B team.

There were still more to finish, however, and they were led home by the running section’s biggest contributor Lee Stinch, whose resume includes track coaching, race number administration and, you might remember, guiding people to car parks (especially in Bagley last year with the infamous “broken down bus” incident). Here, he ran Andy very close to only finish seven seconds behind and he was just over two minutes ahead of Lord Lucan, or should that be Peter Rawlinson, who took a unique double of proving hard to find (at least for one of the officials) while simultaneously winning the club fashion parade award for racing in the club cycling top (well they say white reflects heat while black absorbs it). Rounding out the club entrants were the closely matched duo of Ben Mason and Dave Shearman who finished in 54:11 and 54:15 respectively, Ben also providing much appreciated alternatives for those who abstain from dairy in the club’s tea and coffee department! All in all a fantastic first round of the 2018/19 season with many memorable moments including Cheryl’s stunning debut performance, Colin leading by example, the madcap finish between Robert and Michael, and Kevin and Andy picking their legs up off the floor to run so well just six days after their marathon efforts. In part 2 of the weekly report we will cover a diverse collection of duathlons as well as the Manchester Half Marathon and the Alder Hey 10k.

Deep Dish Delights in Chicago and Chester plus Rainford 10k Review

With the St Helens Triathlon falling victim to an overgrow of algae at Eccleston Mere the BeurBest Rainford 10k was the club’s only home event of the year. Established in 2013, it is an undulating course using many of the roads found on the Monday night social run from the Golden Lion, except that the 10k start and finish is at the ever-supportive Rainford High School. It attracts a field of 400 runners and always sells out in advance of race day. Given that it avoided the clash that befell the recent Southport/Ormskirk 10k double-header a strong field was to be expected and so it proved, but Ian Orford was more than equal to the challenge as he stepped up to the plate and led the club’s entrants home, finishing in 13th place in a time of 40:20 leaving him 5th in the open category. Next up was a close battle with Mike Gregory and Alan McKeegan, two of the club’s long distance triathlon specialists, crossing the line just 33 seconds apart, Mike recording a 43:10 thus putting both under the 44 minute mark, with the next pair of Neil Hunter and Kevin Dudley coming in as close as could possibly be, just a single second apart, 43:57 to 43:58. The club’s ladies were well represented, and while the results page is a little confusing as some raced for St Helens Tri and others for the Isabella Rose Foundation, Jillian Littler was the first St Helens Tri-entered lady to cross the line, her time of 50:04 placing her third in the open female division. Melanie Sayed and Christine Forber were the club’s next two ladies over the line, both recording a gun time of 43:34 but Christine setting a slightly quicker mark based on the timing chip. Other highlights included Azzam Taktak beating the 50 minute mark at the end of a long Ironman season, Derek Ireland, fresh from his heroics last week at Oulton Park, following up all those climbs of Knickerbrook Corner with a fine run to a time of 58:18 and the inspirational Liz Spensley completing the route in under 65 minutes. Full results are available to view at https://www.stuweb.co.uk/race/21O/ featuring all the participants; note also how large the winner’s margin of victory was and the photo finish for second and third!

It wasn’t a purely Rainford 10k day either as Diane Taktak was racing just down the road at Knowsley Safari Park for the increasingly popular Kirkby Milers 10 mile road race. Diane has been getting her form back in recent weeks and a time of 1:35:40, a season’s best, was a fitting reward on such a tough route. In addition the Chester Marathon took place around a surprisingly hilly course where the club was represented by David Isaac, Andy Devaynes and Robert Saile, with all three having a story to tell. David Isaac has been a regular at the Monday night runs turning up in all weather conditions, even leading a route on occasion, and here, an outstanding chip time of 3:10:11 was a thoroughly deserved reward for months of hard training. Andy Devaynes took to the start line unsure if he would even finish the race having battled injury problems for much of the past few months but still managed to tough it out “on one leg” as he put it, finishing the race in under 4:40. Meanwhile Robert Saile, who has spent much of the 2018 season supporting his son and daughter in their racing endeavours, rediscovered his form from iron man 70.3 in June as he pulled out arguably the biggest effort of the weekend to cross the line in a time of 6:02:58 while raising money for the Encaphalitis Society. In keeping with the 26.2 theme, it was just as well that the Chicago Bears NFL team were on their bye week as the Windy City was taken over by thousands of runners from all over the world, including a few from the Liverpool and St Helens areas, one being Kevin Dunbar. Kevin (pictured below) has already completed numerous marathons and is working towards Ironman 2019. Here, he almost didn’t make it to the race following a 30-hour delay triggered by a cancelled flight but once at the home of deep dish pizza he grabbed, well, more than a few slices of the action, even hand-slapping with the spectators on the course at one point (the video has already been uploaded) and after all the pre- and in-race hi-jinks he still put in negative splits, as per David Isaac in Chester, to finish in a terrific time of 3:29:54.

Three more club members tried something a little different. First off, Lynette Houghton completed the trifecta of sprint, middle and long distance Spartan obstacle course races as she negotiated 25km in a downpour at Windsor. Despite having to complete 210 burpees during the course of the event she finished the toughest race of her season in under four and a half hours. In addition Stephen Gavin and John Bowes travelled to the Catalan capital to take on Ironman Barcelona. Stephen performed brilliantly to finish in under 12 hours thanks in no small part to a blistering sub-5:45 bike leg, while John Bowes finished handily in the top 2,000 overall in a time of 13:05:13 rounding off yet another busy weekend where the club’s biggest race of the entire year was a roaring success and David and Kevin stole the headlines on the road for two landmark performances in Chester and Illnois. Next weekend’s big event is the first round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Wythenshawe Park, which is traditionally the final round of the championship but this year serves as the curtain-raiser. As well as being the club’s main focus for training and racing over the winter, it offers all members the opportunity to compete for the club’s own senior mens and ladies titles, won last year by Michael Forber and Myka Heard, with the awards presented at the annual prize giving.

 

Age Group Awards Aplenty in Chilly Cheshire

St Helens Tri members were racing at four different venues on Sunday, with the focus mainly being at historic Oulton Park in Cheshire. Predominantly a motorsports venue, in recent years it has become a popular racetrack for holding multisport races with occasional running events being something of the spring and autumn duathlons. It’s a while since Mark Ashton has been spotted leading the club home but he has a very good past record in the Endurance Store winter training events, and all that practice of running off the bike proved useful as he followed up a solid first run and a blistering sub-34 minute bike with a dogged effort to take 72th overall in a time of 1:10:41. Given a little more time to practice on his Giant Propel Michael Forber may well challenge Mark for the honour next time as he made up nearly 90 seconds on the final stage, eventually finishing just under a minute adrift but placing in the top ten in his age category. In doing so he extricated himself from the clutches of Garry Banks whose 1:13:02 put him the top 100 overall and 5th in the M55-59 category, after which it was a little wait for Chris Murphy to be fourth club member home in 194th overall having run in a race of his own throughout. Behind him a cracking battle was on between Azzam Taktak and Helen Broderick which was only resolved on the final run as Azzam pulled away to get the nod at the line, to the tune of just 23 seconds. Shirley Fox has improved immeasurably with her weekly long rides and while unable to catch her teammates ahead, her time of 1:30:37 put her in the top 250 and 4th in her age group. A great story was developing in Shirley’s rear-view mirror as Bethany Forber and Sarah Taktak, who have raced many long-distance events together this year were side by side for much of the race, and as such it was fitting that they crossed the line together in 1:36:15, Sarah finishing second in her age group only a week after wrapping up the adventure series title in Anglesey. For some time it looked as though Christine Forber would stay with them, especially after a much-improved bike split, however she eventually came home a couple of minutes adrift having still done more than enough to beat the 1:40 mark. The remaining club entrants were Laura and Karen Banks with the pair separated by five minutes at the finish, Laura placing eighth in the F30-34 category and Karen sixth in her age group.

That was it for the sprint distance but in the afternoon five club members were off at 1pm for the longer standard race. While the sprint distance was five bike laps sandwiched by single lap runs, the standard length comprised a two-lap run to start, nine laps on the bike and a single lap to finish off. Mark Turner has steadily worked his way into being a specialist at races lasting around two hours and here he was again, leading the quintet home as his blistering sub-32 minute run at the beginning gave him a lead he would never lose, finishing over eleven minutes clear of his teammates, 41st overall and third in the M25-29 group. Terry Bates also had a day to remember as he threw everything at his division leader to catch him, only to fall short by just eight seconds, however his 2:07:25 and second place in his category was still an outstanding result. Neil Jackson was next up having actually run ahead of Terry early doors, however Terry’s experience on the bike eventually proved to be the difference with around two and a half minutes separating the pair at the line. Also racing was long distance specialist Mark Eccleston who was probably feeling the effects of many hard running events over the course of the season yet commendably rode faster than both Terry and Neil en route to a 2:10:50 finish. One more long-time servant of St Helens Tri, stretching back to the days of Ashurst Bike Club, also raced in the classic black and white colours of 2004 vintage. Ashurst Bike Club ran from 2004 to 2014 and one of the upcoming stars around the turn of the decade was Richard Kettle who had many fine outings at Oulton Park. Tragically he died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. So in his memory Derek Ireland, who had not raced in nearly a decade, decided to compete at the Cheshire circuit to honour his great friend. He did Richard proud, too, giving a particularly determined performance on the bike with his final time of 2:50:29 giving him a top-six placing in his age group. A fine example to club members new and old.

The juniors were out in force at the Blackpool end of season triathlon, the final round in the Triathlon England North West league. Holly and Grace Hirst competed for St Helens Tri alongside Hollie and Thomas Saile. Results are not yet in at the time of writing but while the grand St Helens Tri outing was in full swing in Little Budworth, Dean Golba scored the club’s best result at the Nantwich Triathlon since 2016 as he finished fifth overall and won his age group; undoubtedly a contender for the most improved triathlete of the year for 2018. Meanwhile Lee Stinch travelled a little further, to say the least, as he tackled the Monster Ultra Trail race in Ely, Cambridgeshire. On a tough, windy day he performed brilliantly to place in the top 20 with a time of 6 hours 55 minutes to round off a terrific Sunday of racing. Next week’s big event needs no introduction as BeUrBest host the Rainford 10k, with the kids fun run beginning at 9:45am and the main event starting 45 minutes later. Entries are still available but online entry closes in the next 24 hours for the 10k, which regularly sells out in advance of race day.

 

Sandman Success for Sarah on Saints Island

Regular followers of the club news reports will have noted the rise and rise of Sarah Taktak. Since joining the club a couple of years ago she has gone from participating in a nine-mile sponsored walk which at the time was known as “something mad” to completing numerous multisport events of various distances right up to half Ironman level. Rarely has someone under the age of 18 taken to such long events so well, especially the ones with tough courses requiring that special type of conditioning, but at the Anglesey Sandman Triathlon, a favourite among St Helens Tri members over the years, she was looking to put away the season series and take home the F23 title. It started well enough, with a swim time of just over eight minutes in the sea, but it was her character in recovering from a difficult first transition that really impressed, as she demonstrated improved strength on the bike course and made a crucial pass on the final 5k run to lift herself to 9th place in her category. Together with her results at the Slateman and Snowman triathlons earlier in the year her performance was more than enough to clinch the championship. Also racing was her dad Azzam, who was a little way behind exiting the water, yet really put the hammer down on the bike course and ran his best 5k for a while to place 232nd overall in a time of 1:38:20. In the classic distance race on Sunday Alan McKeegan was right out of the blocks with a sub-29 minute swim for the first stage and while he lost out al little on the bike, a good sub-50 minute 10k saw him home in a time of 3:40:34. He was joined in the classic race by Philip Hughes who had to give best to his teammate on the swim and run, yet was remarkably close on bike splits; in the end Philip’s time of 4:24:00 saw him sneak into the top 400.

While Sarah joined her mum Diane and a few of her friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation at the Totally Wicked Stadium the following morning for the St Helens Colour Run, the club excelled in four diverse events held in Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria. Will Bardin and Peter Rawlinson took part in the Ivan Percival Salthouse Dock open water swims, a low-key, friendly event open to all with all the proceeds going to charity. Results are not yet available at the time of writing but at Ormskirk Cricket Club the skies cleared just in time for both the start of the final day of the Food and Drink Festival and the ever-popular Ormskirk 10k. Here, Keith Ashcroft took on the rolling course around the local lanes and was rewarded with a time of 56:43, beating his previous PB by two minutes, leaving him suitably delighted with the result. In addition Michael and Sarah Hodgkinson made a welcome return to racing at the latest event on the Ulverston Triathlon Club calendar, the Lakeside Triathlon in Cumbria. A low-key event with that modern rarity of an open water swim in September, it is part of a local series which only recently became open to all. Michael proved that he has not missed a beat in the time away as he was third overall thanks to a particularly rapid run split while Sarah also enjoyed a profitable day out as she was in the podium positions throughout, finishing third lady home.

The juniors were out in force at the Deva Junior Triathlon hosted by Chester Tri Club. Racing in the boys sprint distance were James Evans and Thomas Mulhaney. James was a revelation as he made up places throughout the race and just ran out of time to snatch second place, but a bronze medal so early in his St Helens Tri career was a brilliant results to take into the off-season. Thomas was very evenly matched with James in the pool, before James took off on the bike course to pull away, however Thomas still managed a top-10 finish with a time of 17:44. Chloe Evans had a similar race to that of James in the corresponding girls’ event as she ran on the fringes of the top 10 for much of the race, but put in a great run that almost saw her grab 6th place, however in the end she had to settle for 7th position in a time of 18:34, a result matched by Sally Bearon in the Tristars Start race. The midfield was quite congested for much of Holly Hirst’s race in the T2 Girls event but a couple of rapid transitions helped her to finish 18th overall in 34:01, while Thomas Saile placed 24th in the same age group for the boys. Olivia Hague recorded the fastest swim time at T3 Girls level, and was very much in the hunt for a podium until the later stages as she eventually finished in fourth place, while Naomi Bearon and Hollie Saile had a good outing in the same race as they placed 9th and 11th to close out another superb week of racing with the star turns coming from Sarah Taktak at the Sandman, Michael and Sarah Hodgkinson in the Lake District and Keith for his efforts at the Ormskirk 10k. Next week’s two signature events are the North West Classic Triathlon in Nantwich and the Oulton Park Autumn Duathlon, while the club hosts the annual BeUrBest Rainford 10k the following Sunday, starting at 10am.

 

Gold Standards and Golden Memories on the Gold Coast

St Helens Tri have achieved much in European competition over the past few months but they have rarely enjoyed success on the world stage. This would all change however, as four members made the long trip to the Gold Coast Australia for the ITU World Finals, a part of the world where many top triathletes have emerged from ever since the Commonwealth Games 12 years ago. Team GB always feature prominently in these events and thanks to our own Fab Four of Myka and Che Heard plus Steve Williams and Mark Turner, 2018 would be no different with Myka and Steve racing in the sprint distance events on the Thursday. Myka was straight into the thick of the action as she was out of the water in under 14 minutes, finally getting the swim she has always hoped for, howvwer it was her bike strength that really caught the eye as she completed the 20km course in a time of 35:35. Her eventual overall time of 1:18:31 placed her 31st overall and third GB lady home in the F50-54 race thus setting the tone for another remarkable performance from Steve Williams. He also got off to a good start in the water but his bike speed was such that he actually set a faster 20km split than the person who finished second overall! He had to give best on the run to a fellow competitor gunning for a top-10 finish but he was still 11th in the world and 2nd GB athlete home at M65-69 level capping an outstanding season for St Helens Tri and Team GB.

Three days alter it was the turn of Mark Turner and Che Heard to race in the standard distance events. Mark Turner had a little ground to make up after a 24:05 swim but he was soon into his stride on the bike clocking an excellent 1:02:11, and a 37:22 10k comparable with his recent performance at the Aintree 10k lifted him into the top 50 in the world at the line. Che Heard has enjoyed a brilliant 12 months since his INUK 2017 performance and here he was again, straight into the action as he exited the water well up the field. A sub-21 minute swim was followed by a 1:04:34 bike split which did drop him a little way down the field, but an outstanding 10k run where he clocked 37:39 assured him of 27th place overall and third British M20-24 home, to round off an epic trip Down Under for St Helens Tri.

There was also plenty of interest closer to home with the two main events being the Kendal Triathlon and the Warrington Half Marathon and 10k. Garry Banks and Paul Austin have been regularly swimming in the upper lanes at recent training sessions and up in the South Lakes there was little to choose between them in the pool, Garry exiting the water just 12 seconds ahead. On the bike, however, Garry opened up a gap of just over a minute and a good final stage saw him take the honours of first club member home, in 1:10:49, 27th overall and second in his age group. Paul managed to finish within two minutes of Garry and his 35th position overall saw him secure fourth in his division. Emma Austin led a relay team to an outstanding sub-6 minute swim and on the bike they held firm before dropping back on the run, to finish just inside the top 100 in 1:23:11. Also racing at the home of Mint Cake were Laura and Karen Banks, with Laura making an early move to get herself over four minutes clear in the water, and she drew further ahead on the bike, her new-found form after the Ormskirk event proving to be no one-off as she rode confidently throughout. The run was somewhat tougher – she later described the climb to Kendal Castle as “a killer” – but her time of 1:38:00 saw her finish 179th overall and in the top 20 for the female open category, while Karen made up a little time on the run, however it was too late to catch Laura as she placed 214th in a time of 1:51:35.

Meanwhile, in Cheshire the ever-popular Warrington Half Marathon and 10k featured Mark Eccleston, Neil Hunter, Lynette Houghton and Diane Taktak. Diane Taktak competed in the 10k and her sub-56 time gave her a season’s best time by over two minutes, while in the half marathon Mark was suitably delighted with his 1:45:26 being over 12 minutes quicker than his previous best, and he credited Terry bates and BeURBest Coaching for the improvements in strength and conditioning to tackle the 13.1 mile distance at race pace (apparently far easier than running a full marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and over 100 miles on a bike). He was just 90 seconds behind Neil Hunter who seemed more at ease here than at the recent South Cheshire 20, and Lynette Houghton was happy with her time of 2:01:50 as the Warrington quartet off another amazing week on home soil and the world stage with the standout performances coming from the Fab Four in Australia plus Mark in Warrington and Garry in Kendal. Next week sees the Southport and Ormskirk 10k races take place, the latter offering free entry to the Food and Drink Festival later in the day, and the month of September concludes the following Sunday with the North West Triathlon in Nantwich and the Oulton Park Duathlon, while the BeUrBest Rainford 10k takes place on October 7, with entries still available at the time of writing.

 

Going Deep and Digging Deep in the Deep Valleys – Heroes of Haverfordwest 2018

The first weekend of September brought a quieter schedule than the August Bank Holiday bonanza but there was still several sources of cheer for St Helens Tri to enjoy. At the Sundowner Triathlon in Pocklington, North Yorkshire Charlie Stirrup and Gary Birch were out in force fighting high temperatures and testing crosswinds throughout the race. Charlie made use of his tight aero position to finish in a time of 5:24:10 leaving him just outside the top 100 overall while Gary opted for a cyclocross bike which apparently was an interesting experience in the shifting side winds but he still put in a good performance, narrowly missing out on a sub-6:30 time finishing as he did just as the festivities began on the banks of the lake at Allerthorpe Park.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the winter mud racing season had begun, or at least we were in preseason mode, as two off-road races took centre stage on the Sunday. Jennifer Miller was the sole club representative at the St Helens Dream Trail Race and was rewarded with a finishing time of 1:07:25 which placed her 117th. Meanwhile Lynette and George Houghton were back to their obstacle course racing after a few weeks away on their less familiar terrain also known as tarmac. Here, they were taking part in the Wolf 10k, and extremely muddy early autumn race full of tough obstacles and even some muddy water to have to swim through! Clearly their experience of the Nottingham club relays held them in good stead for that part of the course as George finished in the top 10 overall in 1 hour 9 minutes and Lynette’s time of 1 hour 15 was good enough for second female on the day.

Onto the next week and three events took centre stage, two being in Lancashire, the third in deepest Wales. Close to home we had the Lancaster Triathlon and the Wigan 10k. While results from Lancaster are not yet available at the time of writing, the streets of Wigan were treated to a very competitive race featuring thousands of runners from all over the North West. Six St Helens Tri members took part, with Andrew Bridge, in his first 10k for seven years, being first home, commendably breaking the 45 minute mark clocking 44:33 which put him in the top 10 for his age category. Neil Hunter, fresh from the South Cheshire 20 mile last week, his sub-46 time placing him 227th overall. As good as their performances were, in many ways the performance of George Houghton was better still; here we joined his mum Lynette on one of the few weekends when they were not racing OCR or a long open water swim, and in his first 10k he starred with an excellent 49:29 placing him in the top 500, while his mum recorded a 57:25 and with a bit more luck would have sneaked into the top 1000 finishers. Also racing for St Helens Tri were Helen Broderick and Diane Taktak, with Helen coming him in 52:02 just over nine minutes ahead of her teammate.

The big road trip of the weekend was Ironman Wales, where Eddie Hirst and Andy Fisher took on an increasingly popular alternative to the UK edition, because it offers an ideal opportunity for those who want a longer build-up, while also taking in some picturesque scenery which more than makes up for the fact that it is one of the hardest Ironman courses in the world. Eddie Hirst had a fraught start to his day when the bike mechanic snapped a valve on his tyre trying to pump it up to maximum pressure and then had someone run into him during the sea swim knocking his goggles which meant he never quite got full sight of the course from there on. Despite this, he was out of the water in 67 minutes having averaged 1:46 per 100m. He was out on the bike before 8:30am and some particularly speeding pedalling just after the halfway point propelled him to a bike time under 6:30, good anywhere but excellent on such a hilly course. On the run he nursed a tightening hamstring and ran conservatively for a while before stretching his legs to finishing the marathon in just over four hours, his final time of 11:44:18 placing him in the top 40 for his age category. Andy Fisher ran Eddie close in the water and showed much improvement on the bike course, his recent speed work for the club relays really paying dividends, and while he dropped back from Eddie on the run, some judicious use of the aid stations allowed him to cross the line to huge cheers from several club members who made the trip down to Haverfordwest, as he finished in 15:10:37 placing him 1683rd overall. The racing over the next few weeks reverts back to rather shorter formats for the most part, with the exception of the Warrington Half Marathon, but with sprint triathlons in Kendal, Wilmslow and Nantwich between now and the end of the month it promises to be a classic sprint finish to another successful season.

 

Hurricane Turner Strikes Again – First Stop Nottingham, Second Stop Ormskirk

As mentioned at the end of part one of the weekend report, some club members decided to take part in both the Nottingham relays and the West Lancs triathlon at Edge Hill University the following morning, as Ormskirk hosted a triathlon-Motorfest double of its own. Mark Turner, fresh from leading his team to a top-5 age group place in the East Midlands, led the way as he was straight into the top 20 from the off, then recorded the fifth-fastest bike time and a top-3 run split to complete the course in under an hour and place second overall, a tremendous effort in the treacherous conditions. Also doing the double was Dean Golba, whose swim and bike times have always been impressive but here it was his running that caught the eye, his mid-20 5k split enabling him to finish 12th overall and seventh in just over 1 hour 4 minutes. Garry Banks edged Dean in the water before Dean’s superior bike power proved decisive but Garry was still able to place in the top 30 overall and fourth in the M50-59 category. The never-ending feel good story of Steve Williams continued on home ground as he was always going to be in his element given that the course is quite literally on home turf for him, and so it proved as a sub-35 minute bike split and one of his best runs in a long time gave him a resounding victory in his age group, while also placing him in the top 40 overall. He was over seven minutes clear of Paul Aspinall, whose bike split was a good indicator of consistent progress and it made that all-important difference in terms of squeezing into the top 100 on the leader board. In fact his swim time was matched to the second by Carole James, who then rebounded from a tricky bike stage to go under 24 minutes on the run and take third place in her division. The trio of Chris Wynne, Keith Ashcroft and Laura Banks were separated by just three minutes overall, Laura enlivening the gloomy conditions with a Mexico-themed tri suit and thoroughly enjoying her first triathlon in a long time, while the remaining club members came home just six seconds apart, Jill O’Connor being delighted to have completed her first triathlon after many months of starring at park runs and local 10k races, her time of 1:39:03 edging her clear of Karen Banks by the smallest of margins.

The juniors were also racing on Bank Holiday weekend, as Holly and Grace Hirst made their way to Blackpool Palatine Leisure Centre for a Sunday festival of racing. The event offered a relay race similar to that of the seniors in Nottingham but with insufficient numbers to form a team Holly and Grace simply entered the Go Tri event. Results are not yet available for this race at the time of writing but over at West Kirby Marina four more club members tackled the Wirral Open Water Triathlon, another long-standing classic hosted by Epic Events. Star of the show on the peninisula was Andrew McGlone, one of the breakout performers of 2018, as he was out of the water in under 13 minutes. The bike course, with its technical turns and deceptively tough climbs, saw him drop down the order a little but a terrific sub-19 5k into the freezing wind and rain on the shoreline enabled him to finish 12th overall and top ten in the men’s senior category. Peter Leadbeater broke the 90-minute mark and also recorded a top-90 placing with his strength on the bike proving particularly useful on the relatively unknown hills around Hoylake and West Kirby. Also racing for the club were Nick Hall, who was ahead of Peter exiting the water but eventually had to give best to his teammate once the climbing started, and Cheryl Pace, who continues to build her way into multisport after years of running at Penny Lane Striders; here she put in a particularly pleasing mid-22 run split leaving her within touching distance of the top 50 ladies overall. The Fab Four may have had to contend with choppy water in West Kirby but Paul Booth went one step further by taking on a 3km sea swim in Fowey Polkerris while on holiday, where he put in a tremendous show of endurance in awful conditions to place 92nd overall in 1 hour 2 minutes rounding off a thrilling weekend where Mark Turner was undoubtedly the star performer for his unique Nottingham/Ormskirk double, Dean Golba reminded us all why he is fast becoming the club’s strongest cyclist and Steve Williams’ incredible 2018 season continued with yet another win on home ground. The month of September is marked with several classics including the Kendal Triathlon on September 16th, the Ormskirk 10k on the 23rd (at the cricket club, all race entrants get free entry to the food and drink festival on the same day) and the North West Triathlon in Nantwich on the 30th. Meanwhile the cross country dates have been announced for the 2018-19 season, with the first round at Wythenshawe Park on October 13th providing the ideal curtain raiser to four more months of mud in Manchester.

 

Karen, Laura and Garry Banks at Edge Hill

We Can’t Tri This at Home, So We Hit The Road – Club Relays 2018

August Bank Holiday weekend is always a seismic hub of activity around the country. Some choose to visit Creamfields, others make a trip across the channel to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, and triathletes from around the UK descend on Holme Pierrepont at the National Watersports Centre for the triathlon club relays hosted by One Step Beyond Events. St Helens Tri enjoyed a fine outing at the “organised chaos” in 2017 and this year they formed no fewer than nine team to race, one in the morning, the other eight in the afternoon. Conditions were a lot cooler than in 2017 but there was a noticeable breeze blowing from the west, which had the effect of making things more bearable on the bike and run course but made for a choppier swim than 12 months ago, a situation not helped by the need to treat the water recently to remove traces of algae which plagued other recent races at the East midlands venue. With more categories on offer than ever before, 3/1 gender splits were now permitted as well as the traditional 2/2, and one of these teams led the way in the morning. Team Damp Squib were in the midfield for the first portion of the race and for much of the cycle leg, but a blisteringly quick final 15km on the bike lifted them into a good position to begin the run with renewed impetus and a sub-18:30 run from Michael Forber lifted them to 37th in the non-BTF Open category and top 90 overall. Splash Flash and Dash was founded by Rachael Fairclough for the 2017 edition but with only Robert Chesters as a holdover from last year’s heat wave special three new teammates were required to spearhead the club’s afternoon challenge. Mark Turner, Maxine Rochelle and Che Heard all put their names forward and as such the crowd were treated to a diverse range of talent from all four, with Maxine enjoying her best swim to date completing the 500 metres in under eight minutes, Robert pulling off a sub-22 minute time on the bike course despite the best efforts of his bike’s cockpit to throw him off back into the lake, and Che and Marko recording sub-19 minute run splits as the team recorded a final time of 3:31:12, good enough for 11th overall and 5th in their age group. Also coming in well under four hours were Team Relay Tri-Ing Hard who were led by Richard Seville; he mentioned after the race that he had “no speed” after his Ironman Austria training but it is quite a thought as to what his definition of speed must be as he recorded the third-fastest “cycle 2” time and a sub-19:30 run as his team finished in 3:54:55, good enough for a top-30 in the non-BTF open race. Chafing the Dream were somewhat behind their club mates in the water but some very strong cycling and some tough running led them into the top 50 in the 3/1 mixed open race finishing in just over four hours, while it was an extremely close run thing for next club team home; “3 Fast 1 Furious” eventually edged a titanic scrap to come out ahead of Team Watts UP who were just nine seconds in arrears having enjoyed some particularly quick times on the second and fourth legs of the swim, and the opening stage of the run; their reward was fourth in their age category. The award for the best entertainers had to go to “Don’t Tri This at Home” comprising Emma Austin, Sarah Taktak, George Houghton and Bethany Forber. Emma’s blisteringly quick pace in the water and her recent major step forward on the bike proved pivotal in their push for a high placing and their reward for their energy, enthusiasm and months of hard training was a time of 4:24:52 and a 128th placed finish. Drown, Crash and Stumble did anything but live up to their team name (thankfully) as they made up multiple places towards the end of each segment and make it home in under 4 hours 45 minutes. Rounding out the club’s entrants were Team Two Cobbled Twogether, who were formed with two separate duos to make a quartet as a late entry. They certainly put in a dogged effort and crossed the line to the cheers of all their club mates; with a bit more luck they easily would have broken the 4:45 mark as the clock struck 6:30pm. After that the club made their way to the campsite, and while Jennifer Miller was 200 miles away completing the Blackpool Illuminations 10k in a creditable 55:38, the East Midlands crew enjoyed a hearty barbeque and some well-earned celebration drinks around an “endless campfire“ as provided by Dave Gaskell. That is, as long as they had the rest of the weekend free. As will be discussed in part two, some opted to make it a double header with the West Lancs Triathlon in Ormskirk, which will be covered in the next instalment as well as the Wirral Triathlon in West Kirby, the Blackpool Junior Go Tri and the Fowey Polkerris 3km sea swim.