A Taktak Tornado Three-Step – Veni, Vidi, Victory

The arrival of Storm Dennis decimated another weekend of racing with both the Wrexham Half Marathon and the Bolton 5k called off. As such it was a relief to hear that the ever popular and always full to capacity Parbold Hill Race hosted by Skelmersdale Boundary Harriers was going ahead despite concerns that another amber warning might just kick in at the last minute. Leading the way for St Helens Tri was the ever reliable and always strong Mark Livingston, whose time of 48:29 landed him 9th overall, less than three minutes away from the podium, and a resounding winner in his age category by over a minute. Fresh from his excellent outing at Heaton Park last week, Kevin Dunbar cracked the top 40 overall in under 54 minutes and he placed third in the M40 group. After a while David Isaac held off Azzam Taktak to be next club member across the line, the pair separated by around 90 seconds and both beating the 80 minute mark. Rounding out the club’s entrants were Nick Hall, looking forward to the long distance triathlon season, Sarah Taktak returning to the wilds of West Lancashire on university recess with a time of 1:33:22, and Diane Taktak who can always be counted on to perform well at the classic multi terrain races.

Indeed Diane scored the best under the radar result the following week at the Winter Hill 10k hosted by Time2Run Events. On yet another wet and windy Sunday which was more like an early season open water event, she took on the newly reversed course in one of the most inhospitable settings for a winter race and won her age group in under 85 minutes to round off a month full of unexpected feelgood stories. This weekend’s big event is the 10th anniversary St Helens 10k while the juniors get their season underway at the Mersey Tri aquathlon staged at the Bebington Oval.

Claire and Robert Storm to the Summit – Manchester XC Season Finale 2020

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!


The Saints Symphony: Four Seasons, Four Villages and a Four Minute PB

The fourth round of the Manchester Cross Country League rolled into deepest Cheshire on Saturday 11th January and for the first time in a long while, St Helens Tri had two full teams out in the men’s race. Before that, however, the juniors had their best outing of the season with Grace Hirst getting the day off to an encouraging start as she finished the U11 Girls race in under 13 minutes. Charlie Murphy recorded a 15:27 in the longer U13 Boys event while Holly Hirst matched her sister’s top 60 finish at U13 Girls level and Oliver Murphy rounded out the junior involvement with a time of 26:03 in the U17 event. After lunch it was the turn of the senior ladies and once again Claire Murphy was the leading light finishing in 171st overall with a time of 42:57; in addition she now has an unassailable lead in the club championship with one round remaining. Behind her came the ultimate example of team spirit as Sheena Shearman lost a shoe out on the course but was helped back into the race by Christine and Bethany Forber, and this carried on all the way to the flag, the trio all recording the same time! The finish line video has already gone down in club history as one of the most popular feel good clips in club history. Meanwhile Liz Spensley received a huge round of applause on her return to XC as she completed the course in just over 65 minutes, her spirit and enthusiasm never in doubt.

So on to the men’s race it was, and as mentioned earlier the club had twelve entrants and enough to form A and B teams. The tactic Robert Chesters used at Arrowe Park in December (sneak over to the left at the start and get a clear track) worked a treat as he was able to use the run to the first corner and the two long straights to stretch the legs and a final sprint saw him sneak into the top 100 overall in a time of 37:31. Running him much closer than five weeks earlier, Michael Forber who ran particularly well in the early stages until his team mate escaped, but a sub 40 time was a rich reward for his rapid recovery since his accident on the Cumbrian Cracker sportive. In fact Michael was also facing a bit of a hurry up from behind in the form of Kevin Dunbar and Patrick Neill who themselves finished only a minute apart; clearly the slightly shorter distance and less technical nature of the course had the desired effect of keeping the racing close and exciting. Chris Murphy hasn’t got a great deal of recent experience in XC but you certainly wouldn’t have known it based on his performance here, indeed him and John Wilson sprung a welcome surprise to round out the A team as both finished under the 47 minute mark. They both finished ahead of two who did the Friday track/Saturday XC double, namely Lee Stinch and Chris Hayes, the latter having improved significantly since he completed Ironman 70.3 Marrakech last October. In ducking under 48 minutes Chris also held off track session leader Terry Bates and long time rugby player Peter Rawlinson who certainly appreciated the long straights as an opportunity to power past his rivals. It was good to have Gary Birch back in the fold and indeed he ran commendably close to the club head coach for much of the race, eventually finishing in under 50 minutes while Andrew Bridge and his unmistakable yellow beanie hat rounded out the club’s involvement in proceedings with a gritty run to a time of 50:23.

The following week saw several members return to Cheshire for the Four Villages Half Marathon. In sharp contrast to the near summer temperatures experienced at Tatton Park, conditions were so cold and foggy in Helsby that there were doubts beforehand as to whether the race would go ahead hut in the event the show went on – and what a show it was for St Helens Tri. Michael Forber led the way as he had done on so many occasions in the past, cracking the top 250 with an outstanding time of 1:27:40. Fresh from being third club counter at Tatton Park, Kevin Dunbar ran a time remarkably close to what he did two weeks earlier on the Fylde, his chip result of 1:31:02 placing him 325th overall. He came home just over 17 minutes clear of Mark Livingston who opened his 2020 account with bs finish just inside the top 800, and it was a close run thing between Christine Forber and Helen Broderick. They both broke the two hour mark and Christine ended up ahead to the tune of just 18 seconds, but more importantly she recorded a new PB by over four minutes, while Gary Davies rounded out two weeks of racing as he finished in under two hours 20 minutes. All in all two excellent weekends of racing in deepest Cheshire, with stars of the show being Claire for wrapping up the ladies club XC championship and Christine for her landmark PB and first sub 2 hour half marathon in Helsby. The month of January is already drawing towards a close but there is still one more cross country at Heaton Park in three weeks’ time while the winter/spring duathlon season begins especially early with Oulton Park on February 16th.

Central Lancs Curtain-Raiser and Three Travel to Thurstaston

The first weekend of the calendar year is often characterised by the Central Lancs New Year’s Half Marathon and the Wirral Way Trail Half, and once again it provided a welcome curtain raiser for St Helens Tri members looking for a benchmark to set themselves up for the half and full Ironman races ahead. On the Fylde Kevin Dunbar led the way as he placed 47th in a time of 1:34:05 while Helen Broderick only missed out on a sub 2 hour time by a matter of seconds, nonetheless finishing comfortably inside the top 250.

Over on the Wirral three club members raced the ever popular multi terrain course taking in much of the coastal trails on the peninsula. First home for the club was Azzam Taktak whose experience of Ironman Barcelona must have made the 13.1 miles feel like a sprint; he finished in just over 1 hour 55 minutes while David Leigh recorded 2:17:12 just 17 seconds ahead of Nick Hall, with all three making the top 250 and capping off a good first weekend of the 2020s for St Helens Tri. Next week’s signature event is the fourth round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Tatton Park in Knutsford, the series’ first visit to the National Trust site, with the finale a month later at Heaton Park in Prestwich.

Boxing Day Burn-Up and a Curtain Call in Clitheroe – We Did It Our Way

St Helens Tri rounded out the decade with an assortment of festive running races close to home, in two different ways. The Murphy family made the trip to the annual Boxing Day 5 Mile Road Race at Greencastle in Northern Ireland. The trio were closely matched early on, but this time Oliver stole the show as he pulled away towards the end to duck under the 38 minute mark. Chris finished in 38:03 while Claire, who is odds on to take the club cross country championship, was rewarded with a 40:04 at the end of a long hard season. Closer to home, Diane Taktak’s Tour of the North West concluded at the Boxing Day 10k at Worden Park Leyland where she finished the classic course in under 70 minutes, a fine effort in the awful weather.

Conditions were rather better for Mark Livingston at the final signature event of 2019, the Ribble Valley 10k in Clitheroe. This ever popular race attracts an elite field every year and the first runners home regularly beat 30 or even 29 minutes, indeed this year the top two broke the existing course record. Mark has often been part of a family team this year supporting his son Ben on the comeback trail but Mark can still more than hold his own and here he was in his element, finishing the race in a time of 46:16 placing him well in the top half of the field, and round off an amazing five years where St Helens Tri defend the second half of the decade with some never to be forgotten occasions, from the running of the first ever St Helens Triathlon in September 2015, to Steve Williams’ first European Championship in July 2018, and then the mother of them all when Sarah Taktak completed Ironman UK 12 months later. It’s been a memorable ride, and long may it continue!

Fab 14 face Force 14 – Arrowe Park XC 2019

It has been an interesting cross country season so far, to say the least. A paucity of junior involvement has been counterbalanced by some excellent performances by Claire Murphy and an increasing senior men’s participation at every round so far. Those trends would continue at Arrowe Park for round three of the 2019/20 season as Oliver Murphy was the club’s sole junior representative in the U17 Boys race where he ran to a solid time of 36:24. After the lunch break it was the turn of Claire Murphy and Chris Forber to fly the flag in the ladies race with Claire once again leading the way for an 88th place finish overall, less than half a minute away from the top 10 in her age group, and a time of 48:18, particularly impressive on such a nasty day (force 14 winds as per the title?) and a course considerably longer than listed on the venue notes. Chris, meanwhile, used her experience of the Myerscough 10 the previous week to push on where others around her faded in the latter stages to back Claire up in fine style, narrowly missing out on a sub 60 minute time but glad to finish after a hairy moment on the start/finish straight earlier on. Claire and Chris retired to the gazebo while ten senior men faced the starting gun at 2:30pm.

Robert Chesters went for it on the first climb, his prior knowledge of the course from his races with Penny Lane Striders proving invaluable as he made up ground on more technically proficient runners on the familiar parts of the course. A couple of late overtakes where he dispatched two Sale Harriers proved pivotal as his free sprint to the line bagged him 47 minutes on the nose and first club counter home in 64th overall. Michael Forber would have been right up there with him had it not been for his fall on the Cumbrian Cracker sportive a couple of weeks ago as he was driving forwards with only one strong arm but his overall strength is never in doubt as he was next home, doing just enough to beat the 51 minute mark. However, the story of the day was unfolding just behind him. Kevin Dunbar had been to Tatton Park for the Yule Yomp 10k. Not content with merely going sub-45 minutes there, he drove straight to the Wirral for the XC and despite taking some time to get into the groove, he outlasted track session specialist Patrick Neill to take third club member over the line and keep the lead in the club championship standings, with the pair separated by 49 seconds at the end.

Indeed, they may soon be under increasing pressure from an improving Ian Wright who transferred from the Isabella Rose club earlier in the year. Here, he marked his MACCL debut with an excellent run to a 54:52 and a place comfortably inside the top 200. Lee Stinch secured the club’s points in the league standings as he placed 224th under the hour to be sixth counter. After Lee came the current top newcomer John Wilson in 1:00:52. Behind John a cracking battle was on between Mike Gregory and a yellow beanie hat AKA Andrew Bridge. Unfortunately the league doesn’t give bonus points for style but Andrew gave Mike a close run to the line, eventually falling short by just 11 seconds, while Gary Birch’s first XC of the season netted him 265th overall inside the 65 minute mark, a good effort on a course closer to 11km than the 9.9 advertised. With the exception of the various festive races/Santa dashes there are relatively few events between now and the end of the year but there are some club socials to look forward to, including the club Christmas ride on December 22nd, for which details will be published in the next few days.

No Rain on the Plain in Spain for Mark’s Parade

While the awards night captured most of the club’s attentions over the past few weeks, there was still plenty of races across the North West and, in one case, a little further afield to say the least as Lee Stinch, Lynette Houghton and Chris Dyson got the ball rolling at the Preston 10 miler and Conwy half marathon. The Preston 10 had the distinction of being the Northern 10 championship race for 2019 and while the frontrunners slogged it out for glory Lee enjoyed one of his best races of recent times as he recorded a time of 1:13:05 while Lynette came commendably close to breaking 90 minutes. Over in North Wales Chris rounded off a year where he has regularly gone where ex rugby players rarely go and given his all at a long distance event. The Conwy Half Marathon is one of the most popular “tough” 13.1’s in the UK and Chris beat the Great Orme to finish in 1 hour 52 minutes, a good time any day of the week but an excellent one in such torrid conditions.

The hardy trio of Kevin Dunbar plus Chris and Michael Forber kicked off the month of December with the Myerscough 10 just north of Preston. Both Michael and Kevin recorded top six age group finishes with Michael cracking the top 20 overall in an outstanding 1:03:26 around four and a half minutes ahead of his teammate while Chris made the top 200 with her time of 1:31:43, the trio heading home in as good spirits as they set off. However, Mark Glynn provided the story of the winter so far as he mastered the best kept secret of the European marathon calendar, in Valencia. This course has rapidly gained a following as a PB hunter’s paradise and has straights over two miles in length, perfect for powerful runners who like to stretch their legs. Mark has enjoyed a strong season of short to middle distance racing but here he was in the same element that has seen him overcome so many long distance challenges in the past and he showed he had lost none of his endurance as he put together a race plan and stuck with it. His reward was a phenomenal 2:59:17 which puts him in a very select group of club members to have broken the three hour mark and round off ab action packed fortnight where long distance was the order of the day on more occasions than one. The final part of the website catchup will follow tomorrow covering the Tatton Yule Yomp 10k and the Arrowe Park Cross Country.

A Night of Rapture and Remembrance at the Rainford Junction

The St Helens Tri awards night was held on November 23rd and it was a fitting occasion to crown a calendar year which has been marked by so many inspiring, epic and improbable stories which have captivated club members and others who follow our activities in the local community and on social media. Held at the Rainford Junction pub next door to the train station, opening drinks were followed by a buffet kindly arranged by the owner and his catering team, and then it was on with the review of the year and the awards themselves plus a raffle featuring prizes donated by club members and their businesses, with the proceeds going to the Willlowbrook Hospice, who looked after Aaron Reading 12 months ago during his final weeks. Selected club members were called upon to present the awards including the competitions decided by results (duathlon/XC/series champions) and those voted for by the members (male/female triathlete of the year, most improved, and the Matt Shillabeer award for outstanding contribution).

The awards winners were as follows:

Female Duathlon Champion: Carole James
Male Duathlon Champion: Dean Golba

Female Cross Country champion: Claire Murphy
Male Cross Country champion: Colin Dobbs

Female club series champion: Carole James
Male club series champion: James Nairn

Female triathlete of the year: Sarah Taktak
Male triathlete of the year: Eddie Hirst

Most Improved Female: Lynette Houghton
Most Improved Male: Mark Eccleston

Matt Shillabeer award: Terry Bates (shown below presented by Lee Stinch. Trophy credit: Paddy Lee)

A fine time was enjoyed by all with special thanks given to Paddy Lee who, as part of his new business provided the trophies. Also many thanks to the Rainford Junction pub for their hospitality and support throughout the year with the Rainford 10k, and also to everyone who turned up and those who could not be there, for every member has been part of the memorable story that has been the 2019 season. It is not over yet either, as a few results from the weekends either side of the awards night will be covered in the next roundup, together with all the action from the third round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Arrowe Park.


A Race to Remember for Jennifer – Saints Salute to Service 2019

As all round commitment goes, Chris Hayes has to be one of the best in the five year history of St Helens Tri. Rarely has a week gone by when he has been absent from the range of coached sessions and each time he has returned having given thought on how to improve in one area or another. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you improve as long as you do, after all a minute faster is a minute faster, yes? Well, on Snowdonia Marathon weekend he took the club into unchartered territory at the Marrakech half Ironman featuring a fast bike course and the joys of running in 31c heat. His hard work, especially at the Friday night track sessions was rewarded with a terrific result as he completed the course in a time of 5:32:31, placing him 76th in his age category, a division with over 200 finishers. The following weekend Mike Gregory was the club’s only entrant in the Tatton 10k where he overcame the stormy conditions to complete the 13.1 in under 1 hour 55 minutes.

One of the curiosities of the November schedule is the fact that the Warrington Way 40 miler is nearly always the same day as the second round of the Manchester Cross Country League and 2019 was no different. Lee Stinch is no stranger to this event which passes through four checkpoints in four villages. Like a longer version of the Helsby Half Marathon, really. Most people dropped over half an hour on last year’s times due to the XC section of the course being caked in mud but Lee only went 10 minutes slower and was thrilled with 14th overall and 10th in his age group with a time of 6 hours 49 minutes while Gary Birch battled on into the night and his mental fortitude was rewarded as he completed in a little over nine hours. Meanwhile the club was out in force at the University Playing Fields in Bagley with league positions and intra club points up for grabs. Claire Murphy looks unstoppable in the ladies competition and made it two wins from two as she finished 162nd overall in a time of 34:54, her son Oliver having placed 35th in the U17 Boys race earlier. Behind Claire a cracking battle was on between Chris Forber and Sheena Shearman for second and third counter home, which was only resolved at the end by just three seconds as Chris got the nod. Six men faced the timekeepers at the 2:30 start and Michael Forber was always going to be favourite to come home first. He duly delivered in under 40 minutes leaving the remaining St Helens Tri members stretched out behind. Kevin Dunbar’s 41:32 was next best as he moved into the lead of the club points competition while Patrick Neill was around another two minutes further back, cracking the top 300 in the process. The remaining runners were separated by only just over a minute with Chris Murphy putting in a gritty performance to edge out Mike Gregory, while Chris Hayes made his debut on the mud and was rewarded with a creditable 47:27 time less than half a minute behind Mike.

Jennifer Miller hasn’t been as active in 2019 as she was in previous years but she would have her moment in the very bright sun of Lytham St Anne’s for the annual Windmill 10k on Remembrance Sunday. Most other 10k times over recent years have hovered around the hour mark or just under, but on this flat fast course she was in her element, driven on by the sense of occasion Remembrance Day brings every year and she was justifiably delighted with her final time of 54:17 rounding off a fortnight of racing where she was the star together with Chris Hayes for Marrakech and Lee Stinch for the Warrington Way. It is worth noting that round 3 of the cross country league is on Sunday 8 December NOT Saturday 7th as Arrowe Park is already occupied on the original date.

Calm down, calm down, it’s only a marathon (that’s what Kevin said)

The autumn season is usually defined by the opening rounds of the cross country leagues around the North West but the Snowdonia Marathon and St Helens Striders Trail 5 are always two occasions to raise a cheer, and 2019 was no different. Weather-wise it was a tale of two contrasting days as the marathon entrants knew they were in for a tough one from the moment some of them got such in a storm at Northop Hall on the way to the venue the night before. As such it was hardly the perfect build-up to the toughest marathon of the year but they responded brilliantly the following morning amidst stormy conditions which made even the tarmac sections extremely treacherous. Leading the way, as he had done so many times before, was Mike Goulbourne, perhaps the club’s most well rounded runner, as he mastered the course like a seasoned pro, got to Pen-y-Pass within 35 minutes and finished in the top 50 in a time of 3:09:54. David Isaac’s excellent 2019 marathon form continued as he was next home for the club, keeping remarkably close to Mike in the early stages before dropping back a little. Nonetheless he still recorded a creditable 3:28:46 putting him in the top 150. David had Lee Stinch for company early on l, Lee showing no ill effects from nearly catching frostbite at the abandoned Friday night track session (maybe the A55 traffic jam wasn’t so painful an option after all) and he held the gap down to around 10 minutes at the halfway mark before Ian Wright and Kevin Dunbar overtook him and while Lee finished in 4:11:55, Ian and Kevin enjoyed a fantastic battle with a few friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation, the pair eventually separated by just 35 seconds on chip times with Ian coming out ahead. Louise Johnson enjoyed her first trip to the Welsh classic as she closed a little on Lee over the final few miles, eventually recording a 4:33:42. Also taking part were Thomas and Alan Ralfs, two regular participants in the Friday night track sessions; on this occasion Thomas got the better of his dad to the tune of around five and a half minutes, while Helen Broderick’s long history of toughing it out on challenging courses paid dividends as she put in a spirited performance to finish in under five and a half hours.

The following morning’s Striders Trail 5 was once again a roaring success with many club members both racing for St Helens Tri and various first claim running clubs. First St Helens Tri entrant home was James Nairn, one of the club’s top improvers of 2019 who took to the trail like a duck to water and finished in a little over 36 minutes. There were also a couple of star turns from Alan Mckeegan who recorded a 38:53 and Michael Lucas who got round in just over 40 but the most amazing story of the day came from Kevin Dunbar who somehow crawled out of bed after Snowdonia to add another 5 miles on for the weekend, and even setting ba decent time of 42:31! Surely there must be an easier way to run a 50km ultra………..

Capping off the weekend was a calm and composed Diane Taktak (as per the headline) who beat the Liverpool-Tottenham match traffic to take on the Arriva Scouse 5k. This ever popular event hosted by Mersey Races includes a Scouse wig as part of the entry fee but it didn’t seem to get in Diane’s way as she overcame a foot issue to complete the course in under 45 minutes and round off an action packed weekend which will be best remembered for Mike’s top 50 performance in Wales and the remarkable effort of Kevin Dunbar to combine for 31.2 miles of off road racing within 24 hours at two different venues – surely a new club record!