Jubilation for James and the Juniors, and a Taktak two-step

For many members of St Helens Tri the West Lancs Sprint Triathlon represents the true beginning of the racing season as it is literally a home event for those who turn up regularly to the Wednesday evening and Friday morning swims, or the Friday evening track session. The 2019 edition was attended by 17 members plus at least as many supporters who braved the near-Arctic wind chill at the crack of dawn to descend on Ormskirk. Leading the way for St Helens Tri was Adam Jones who has spent time at the NW Regional Academy. His swim of under six minutes was almost the quickest of the day, and while he gave a little away on the bike his incredible run split of 17:29 (utilising most of the Ormskirk Parkrun course) lifted him to 15th overall at the finish, winning the junior men’s category. It turned out to be a junior double to remember as Emma Austin went just a second quicker than Adam in the pool, came close to him on the bike on her new race wheels and had enough in the tank on return from a running injury to not only place top 60 overall but win the junior ladies’ title! A fitting reward to two of the club’s most talented and committed athletes.

Andrew McGlone led the seniors home, his swim being mere seconds behind that of Emma and Adam, and a strong bike and solid run enabled him to lock out a top-30 finish in a time of 1:04:22. Newcomer James Nairn has made quite a name for himself since joining the club, having finished well inside the top 10 at the club duathlons over the winter, and his status as third club member home (44th overall) in 1:07:12 was one of the most popular stories of the day, his feel-good result matched if not surpassed by his enthusiastic comments about how much he enjoys training and racing with the club (and in his case, dodging a parked car on the last bend before T2!) He even edged out Emma’s dad Paul, who looked to have the upper hand after the swim and bike but could not stay with James on the run, nevertheless Paul wound up 58th overall, 7th in his category and just over a minute ahead of his daughter. Steve Williams had only just returned from training camp in Mallorca and as such would have been forgiven for having an easy like Sunday morning rest day but here he put in a proper good shift particularly on the bike to edge the fast-finishing Mark Eccleston out, Steve coming home 23 seconds in front while also taking second in his division. Mark used the race as training for his Ironman adventures later in the year, but comendably he set by far the fastest bike split of any St Helens Tri member and only a difficult start on the swim prevented him from challenging for a top-60 placing. Anthony Bearon’s season has been one of continual improvement especially at Friday night track sessions where he has regularly been quickest man on track, particularly over short intervals. It paid off here as a rapid run helped him make up places (having lost time to a slowly deflating rear tyre on the bike course) and with a bit more luck he would have cracked the top 100. Peter Leadbeater was next over the line just 21 seconds behind Anthony, his cycling experience with the Liverpool Century paying dividends as he made up time on the twisty bike course to place 108th overall.

Chris Dyson only joined the club at the beginning of the year but has been a regular at the Friday morning swim sessions. Coming from a rugby background, he has relatively little experience of measuring effort over more than one hour having come from a game where it’s all about sprinting on demand, but here he was right into his element. Benefitting from being drawn in lane 2 (his regular station on Friday mornings) he flew through the first half of his swim in under four minutes and but for a fellow competitor impeding him (for which a penalty should have been awarded at very least) he would have been out of the water in under eight minutes. Nevertheless, he decided to get even rather than get mad, put in a good shift on the bike and then polish it off with an assured run to take 120th overall in a time of 1:15:44; on a less technical course such as Splashworld in a fortnight’s time he has every opportunity to break the 70 minute mark, you certainly wouldn’t bet against him. Ian Orford has rarely featured at swim sessions but is known for his superb speed over 5k, and sure enough his form from the club duathlons carried over very well indeed as his 20:07 was the second-fastest St Helens run of the day; he was just four seconds adrift of Chris Dyson’s time at the finish. Andrew Beacock regularly does a Friday double and has a tendency to work his way into sessions and races. Sure enough, the same thing happened on race day as he also enjoyed considerable progress despite being drawn in an early (read: freezing) wave, his time of 1:19:26 lifting him to 147th. Next up were Paul and Paul, namely Paul Burns and Paul Hazlehurst, who have both contributed regularly to the club with their efforts at the Friday sessions. The pair were fairly closely matched on the bike, before Paul Burns edged away on the run to finish around two and a half minutes ahead. Three more club members also did the Saints proud, starting with Stuart Dillingham who recorded a swim even faster than Steve Williams, eventually finishing 305th just over 90 seconds ahead of Jill O’Connor, a Parkrun regular who made a long-awaited return to the multisport fold and marked t with a particularly encouraging run to place 311th. Meanwhile Michelle Beacock enjoyed her day out just as much as those battling for honours as her time of 1:41:54 was enough to get her into the top 350 and round off a freezing, yet fantastic day of racing where the star turns came from Emma Austin, Adam Jones, Andrew McGlone and James Nairn. A special mention must also go to Diane Taktak, who completed a seemingly-impossible double of the Hawkshead 16k trail race on the Saturday followed by the Lancaster 10k the following morning, recording a time of just over two hours for the trail race and finishing the 10k in a time of 1:03:15. Next week’s Epic Events Sprint Triathlon is in the wilds of Clitheroe, with a particularly challenging bike route taking in Birdy Brow and plenty more climbs, while the Salford 10k and a range of Easter specials including the Delamere Easter Bunny Dash and the Rivington Pike fell race should all add up to a very exciting holiday weekend indeed.


When in Rome, do as the Saints do + Masters of Manchester 2019

The last weekend of March and the first Sunday of April, often regarded as the true beginning of the racing season, provided more cheer for St Helens Tri at an unheralded race venue, two modern classics and a rarely-visited European capital as the Saints headed abroad. Chris Dyson closed out the month of March at the Liverpool Resolution Run where he joined three work colleagues and recorded a pleasing 1:06:55; hopefully his teammates will find the joys of swimming and cycling quite as much as Chris has in his short time with the club! The following weekend saw several members up and about early with Rob Preston and Steve Bower travelling to the South Lakes for the Epic Events Uverston Triathlon. In a dramatic race, which saw former St Helens Tri member Phil Ellison come within 12 seconds of winning outright, Rob and Steve were fairly evenly matched throughout the swim but Rob set a quicker T1 time and his additional power on the out and back bike course along the dual carriageway also translated into superior running form for the final leg. In the event he placed 145th in a time of 1:45:38 while Steve would wind up just over 40 minutes in arrears having finished 237th.

The rest of the weekend schedule was of the marathon variety as three club members did the Manchester marathon while Mike Gregory won the award for most enterprising choice of race, going to Italy for the Rome Marathon. Mike described the course as tough, particularly the cobbled sections, but with nice scenery especially for a city marathon, and a fast start propelled him to a fine time of 3:55:02. Meanwhile Kevin Dudley was joined by longtime club members Matt and Emma Shillabeer in Manchester for what is fast developing a reputation as the quickest course in the UK. Kevin has long been a regular on the long distance race circuit and has often been top of the club’s “second division” at the cross country races behind the top three who generally led the way during the winter series. Kevin’s commitment to the cause has long been unheralded but here he had his day, as he completed the 26.2 miles in a time of 3:50:15. As good as his story was, in KA y ways Emma Shillabeer’s was even better, as she was rarely more than a 5k entrant in the years when St Helens Tri was known as Ashurst Bike Club. However, a commitment to training the longer distances was always going to pay off -and spectacularly so, as she and Matt finished in just over 4:11 and gave away less than a minute per mile to the seasoned veteran Kevin in doing so, thereby rounding off a fortnight in which few races, but all had a story to tell. Next week’s signature event needs no introduction as round 2 of the Epic Events sprint triathlon season takes place in Ormskirk with the West Lancs Spring Triathlon at Edge Hill Sport, a venue the club is eternally grateful to for being able to use its facilities for swim and run sessions. As such it provides a perfect opportunity for late starters to get their season going on home ground.

Dean serves up Six of the Best in Skelmersdale

The second St Helens Tri club duathlon of the winter season took place today with 21 athletes converging on Pikelaw Place in Skelmersdale for a course comprising two laps of running twice through the local walkways and along Pimbo Road bookending a six lap blast on the bikes around the course normally reserved for local road races. Conditions were not as warm as a month earlier and a noticeable wind picked up during the course of the morning which would blunt the top end speed on the cycle stage but a cracking race was enjoyed by all. In the early stages Robert Chesters put his winter of cross country running and tough sessions in the hills of Aughton to good use and reached T1 around a minute ahead of Ian Orford and Dean Golba. However, the bike course would prove to be somewhat different and while Ian dropped back, Dean was immediately into the zone that saw him record him 4:31 at Ironman 70.3 Dubai. Equipped with a finely tuned position on his Giant Trinity (even down to the length of his aero extensions!) he took the lead at the end of lap 2 and would reach the pit lane over two minutes ahead thanks to an amazing sub-32 minute 20k bike time. Robert would not give up and somehow completed the second 4.5km run in under 15:30 but ultimately ran out of time to make the deficit up as Dean won in a time of 1:07:20, some 29 seconds ahead. After a wait of a few minutes it was new member Neil Prescott who took third place, his excellent bike split within a minute of the time set by Robert being the difference in his battle with Patrick Neill for the last podium position. James Nairn, last month’s best newcomer, enjoyed considerable improvement as he moved up from 10th in February to 6th here, challenging Neil Jackson for 5th overall even if Neil’s superior bike speed proved to be enough of an edge.

Steve Williams made it two out of two in the super-vets race, almost catching leading M50 Paul Austin on the bike, before Paul’s superior running speed took him clear on the final stage, happy as he was to be cheered on by his daughter/photographer/marshal/junior team GB star Emma (who took the ohotos shown below, a small selection of her esxelexce photography). Indeed, they both had their hands full holding off Ian Orford towards the end as he rebounded from outside the top 10 on the bike to chase them down on the run and give them a real hurry-up to the finish. Carole James reached T1 in the top 10 and was happy to have chosen her race bike, as in a marked contrast to Parbold a week earlier, she found the position well suited to the flat and fast confines of Pimbo; she would hold onto her position on the second run to join Steve in winning her division in both events. She finished around three and a half minutes clear of Lynette Houghton, whose son George put in a terrific charge on the final run segment to overtake Melanie Sayed and finish in the top 15, demonstrating the sheer potential of the club’s junior cohort. Indeed it is they who will undoubtedly drive the future of the club as it looks to continue its recent successes on the wider stage and also promote its own events, with the next one being the St Helens Triathlon on Sunday 8 September, for which entries are now open!

Race winner Dean on the first run
Leading runner Robert Chesters on the bike


Carole James on her way to winning the ladies race

Paddy’s Day means Parbold, Podiums and Pies!

Two long standing classics and two recent additions to the racing calendar brought plenty of joy for St Helens Tri on St Patrick’s Day. At the Trimpell 20 Ben Livingston’s meteoric rise continued apace. Having only recently rejoined the club after a few years away, he was taking part in by far his longest ever race, a tough 20 miler as part of the Lancaster Race Series. In a high quality field he not only recorded an outstanding time of 2:24:46 but he also cracked the top 60 overall, outpacing many more experienced runners and looking comfortable in illustrious company. The slopes of Wigan town centre often make for tough going particularly at this time of year (having been one of very few mid-March races to survive last year’s Beast from the East) but three club members enjoyed a grand day out. Diane Taktak’s 10 mile time of time of 1:40:54 was good enough for ninth in her age category, but while Mark Derbyshire’s 22:35 was enough for 57th in the 5k race, Helen Broderick ran one of her best short distance races to date as she clocked 25:14 and, in a furious battle for age group places, took third in her category. Needless to say, the pies on offer at the finish were well received and well deserved.

Paul Booth has long been an athlete to relish tough off road courses and as such he was always going to be a perfect fit for the Lancaster Duathlon hosted for the first time by T2 Events. Paul has years of running experience with St Helens Striders but here he caught the eye on both run and bike as he raced soundly to a 17th place finish, a good result any day of the week but a great one given that it was his first outing in more than two months. Meanwhile six hardy souls joined the masses at the ever popular Epic Events Parbold Duathlon. In a very competitive race, which saw local runner Ian Lawton take a runaway victory, Ged Roberts led the way for the Saints with a consummate performance drawing on the strength and confidence gained from recently topping the time sheets at the 3000m club time trial (used by the coaches to set training paces) and despite his relative lack of familiarity with the race format he came up with a brilliant performance, especially on his recently acquired Giant Propel with disc brakes (which were a godsend on the descent of Hunter’s Hill) to place in the top 15 overall in a time of 1:38:27 less than five minutes away from the top ten. Next to finish, both inside the top 60, were club coaches Mark Eccleston and Lee Stinch. Lee was over half a minute ahead as they entered the pitlane at the end of the first run, but Mark’s greater experience and familiarity with the bike paid dividends and he eventually pulled clear of Lee in finishing 46th overall. Indeed, Peter Rawlinson got within sight of Lee towards the end of the bike course, however Lee showed why he regularly features towards the front of the club Friday night track sessions and eventually held off his teammate to the tune of just over two and a half minutes. Will Bardin and Carole James exited the pitlane pretty much in tandem as the inevitable Parbold Duathlon traffic jams built up, but Will would pull away on the bike course and managed to cross the line just under the two hour mark. Carole enjoyed an eventful race as she continues to grow in confidence, even surviving a scary moment at the end of the second lap on the bike when the person she was attempting to overtake forgot that it was three laps not two (just as well he couldn’t turn his bike quickly because it was clearly too big for him) but she overcame her trepidation of descending Hunter’s Hill to place third in her age group and join the stars of the weekend, namely Ben for his 20 mile time, Helen for her age group podium in Wigan and Ged for his top-15 overall in Parbold. Next week’s main event is the second club duathlon of the winter season, Entries will remain open until Wednesday at midnight, including post race breakfast at the Skelmersdale truck stop.


March Winds Blow, but it’s still On with the Saints Show

The first two weeks of March were nothing like the warm, sunny end to February and the race schedule suffered as a result with the cancellation of the much awaited Firefighters 2-up duathlon in Belmont. Running in rather warmer conditions was Jennifer Miller who took on the Benidorm 10k along the beach. Starting at sunset in an old favourite holiday resort/TV series (delete as you wish) she was more than equal to the conditions and the rolling terrain and soaked up the atmosphere to finish in just over an hour, her result plus the late news of George Houghton once again qualifying for the OCR World Championships being a nice little prelude to the following weekend’s races in St Helens and on the Liverpool waterfront.

The St Helens 10k has been a club favourite since its inception in 2011, even in 2018 when the Beast from the East forced a hasty rescheduling to mid-April. Conditions were hardly any more hospitable for the 2019 edition but the club had no less than eight entrants on the start line ready to take on the climb of North Road and the finish into the Totally Wicked Stadium. Leading the way for the club was Alan McKeegan who has had quite a year since joining the club last spring. Here, he slayed the slopes of St Helens and the tight confines of the city streets to great effect and beat the 42 minute mark as he recorded a time of 41:48 and a top-75 place. Next up were Mike Gregory, Chris Dyson and Will Bardin who were locked in a tight battle during the early going, however Mike pulled away later on and took the honour of second club member home in a time of 44:57 just over 90 seconds ahead of Chris whose 46:31 was a new PB. Will fell back after the halfway point but was always well clear of Jordan O’Shea, who was a further minute down the road, meaning that the first five club members had all beaten the 50 minute mark. Another trio were also locked in a close contest as Tony Waine, Lisa Hirst and Melanie Sayed were aiming for a sub-55 time. Tony took a while to get into his rhythm but eventually worked his way past to lead the group home, just 28 seconds separating the trio while Lisa took most of the plaudits for a new PB of 54:40.

Three club members attempted the Liverpool Half Marathon which suffered the worst of the shifting crosswinds on the waterfront. During the commentary of the 12noon game from Anfield the weather was described as “four seasons in one day” but that would have been of scant comfort to those who ran 13.1 miles as they could have been forgiven for thinking they were in Alaska rather than Merseyside. Robert O’Shea has travelled far and wide over the last 12 months with races in all corners of the country and at long last he was back on home ground battling the winds on the waterfront, and here it was his turn to lead the club home, a time of 1:38:50 being a just reward, around six minutes clear of club website designer Scott Farrow who did just enough to go sub-1:45, while Steve Williams used the race as strength training for his upcoming attempt at Ironman 70.3 in Staffordshire and recorded 1:57:31, finishing seventh in his age group and making it home just in time for the football!

While Liverpool and Burnley tried not to catch frostbite in the aforementioned lunchtime kickoff, several St Helens Tri juniors were at the Wirral Aquathlon, the traditional multisport curtain raiser at the Bebington Oval where Sally Bearon was joined by Oliver and Charlie Murphy, plus Holly and Grace Hirst. First off to race were Grace and Sally, and both had a fine outing as they cracked the top 20, Sally finishing in 15 minutes. Grace put her regular Friday night track run sessions to good effect as she worked her way up to seventh by the end of the race. Her sister Holly faced stiffer competition at T3 level but still ran in good spirit and 16th place was her end result. Charlie Murphy has ran well throughout the winter cross country season and his improved strength carried him to 16th position at T3 level before watching his brother Oliver turn in arguably the performance of the day along with that of Steve Williams in Liverpool as he too came good on his XC campaign to take fourth in the youth race and round off a wet and windy weekend of racing where it was probably for the best that the flagship duathlon on the West Pennine Moors was postponed. In any case two signature duathlons characterise the next couple of weeks as next Sunday sees the return of the Parbold Duathlon while the second St Helens Tri club duathlon takes place the following Sunday, for which entries are still available at the time of writing.

A Skelmersdale Spring Sizzler – Club Duathlon 2019 Round 1

It was a bright, glorious day with little or no wind on the Pimbo oval for the first St. Helens Tri winter (spring?) duathlon last Sunday. Twenty-one members faced a course altered at the last minute due to roadworks and a milk tanker of all things at Pit Hey Place. As such the two run legs were shortened to around 2.7 miles, exactly the same as is featured at the Oulton Park Duathlon. The bike course would be the usual five laps of Pimbo as used multiple times throughout the year by road racers. Such conditions were always going to favour those with plenty of bike speed and good preparation behind them (in particular the February heatwave proving an unexpected hurdle in terms of perfect hydration) and as such it was little surprise that the leaders set off at a frenetic pace on the first run with Mark Turner reaching T1 well clear of the rest of the field, indeed Eddie Hirst pitched up in the pit lane over a minute in arrears. Both were chased down by fifth-ranked runner Dean Golba who used his Giant Trinity to best effect and went from 5th to the lead by the end of the bike stage with easily the fastest cycle split of the day. However, Mark was not to be denied and his final, epic effort on the run saw his breeze past Dean and take a resounding victory in a time of 1:05:54. Eddie Hirst might have challenged for the win had he not been out for 90 miles on the bike two days earlier to rehearse the 2019 Ironman bike route but once passed by Dean he was set in a comfortable third place, briefly looking like catching Dean towards the end but ultimately running out of time to make the decisive move. Nevertheless it was a supreme performance by the club’s top three athletes of the moment with more to come from all of them in the months ahead.

Behind Eddie there was a great battle for best of the rest honours between Gez Roberts and Mark Ashton which was only resolved once Gez had put sufficient time into his rival on the bike course, the pair finishing just over two minutes apart. Patrick Neill might have joined them with a more efficient opening stanza but a top six finish was still a good way to back up a solid winter of cross country. The best performance from the “newcomers” came from James Nairn who looked right at home running with the upper midfield. His bike leg was not quite so hot but he ran so well on the final stage he almost caught first veteran Paul Austin, the pair rounding out the top ten overall. There was only ever going to be one winner of the super-vet competition and sure enough, Steve Williams came up with the goods once again as he rebounded from near the back on the first run to record a bike split only 17 seconds slower than that of Mark Turner. A top-10 overall looked on the cards only for quicker runners to pass him late on but 12th place and another super-vet title just added to his overcrowded trophy cabinet. Meanwhile Carole James and Lynette Houghton were enjoying a cracking race for the ladies title which eventually went Carole’s way, a fine reward for her commitment to the Friday morning swim sessions and her double winter of cross country with both St Helens Tri and Southport Waterloo, well done Carole.

A special thank you to Terry Bates for organising the event and to those who might also have taken part but instead offered their help marshalling and setting up the race venue. Also thank you to the Pimbo truck stop for the well received breakfast and allowing the club to use their building as the race HQ. The second and final club duathlon for the 2019 winter season is on 24 March, with entries still available at the time of writing.

Saint David’s Day in Dragon Country

Three classic February races in Parbold, Wrexham and Cambridgeshire made up the weekend activity at St Helens Tri. It all began on the slopes of Lancashire at the ever popular Parbold Hill Race on Saturday afternoon. Kevin Dunbar has long been the club’s leading light at this testing venue and he performed well to make the top 30 in a time of 49:15 (and also enjoying an uncontested victory in the competition for best race photo) but he was upstaged by Ben Livingston. Ben must have enjoyed his experience in Helsby last month as he and his dad Mark made their way around the fields, climbs and obstacles of one of the most iconic early season races in the North West. Ben’s time of 49:02, around two and a half minutes clear of his dad, meant that he was first St Helens Tri member home confirming his status as the comeback athlete of the year ahead of the annual awards night. Also racing were Neil Jackson, who finished in 57:23, and Jeanette and Andy Fisher, with Jeanette coming out on top to the tune of just over three minutes, Andy nonetheless finishing just ahead of Will Bardin who used the race as a useful warmup to his adventures in North Wales, but more on that later.

The following morning saw Eddie Hirst and Mark Turner up at the crack of dawn to participate in the Anglian Water Duathlon hosted by Nice Tri events, another of those team GB qualifiers they both relish. Mark hit the headlines two weeks ago with his remarkable 35:09 and second place finish at the Aintree 10k and here he was right into it, setting a scorching sub-38 minute time for the first run. His bike split gave a little away to those around him but a final burst on the second run elevated him to 16th place and fourth in the M25-29 division at the finish, which should put him in prime position to secure a Great Britain qualifying spot for the ITU world championships. Eddie Hirst has enjoyed a solid, if not quite so flying, start to his season and as such was a little more circumspect on the opening run, but his bike position is so dialled in nowadays that he made up a boatload of positions as he covered the 40km in under 64 minutes, and his final run off the bike, which has long been his speciality, propelled him to a top 30 finish overall and 8th in his age group.

Mark and Eddie weren’t the only ones enjoying a road trip as eleven club members completed the Village Bakery Wrexham Half Marathon hosted by Cute Fruit Events. Conditions were unseasonably warm and quite windy in North Wales so not exactly conducive to PB performances but several club members still enjoyed a run to remember. David Isaac has often been “best of the rest” behind the top three at this year’s cross country races, and his consistent and ever improving performances combined with a sound pacing strategy on the day gave him an outstanding time of 1:25:35, over four minutes quicker than he managed in Southport last year. Andy Devaynes has come on in leaps and bounds since his Ironman 2018 campaign and here he was next man home, finishing in 1:38:07 over four minutes quicker than his previous PB. Craig Abbott has had a lot to contend with over the last few months, not least a move to Wallasey, however his comeback race went better than expected as he finished in 1:42:47 around three minutes clear of this week’s star “strongman” Will Bardin who somehow dragged up enough reserves after Parbold to finish in 1:45:59, a gritty performance indeed. Mark Eccleston has been a prolific contributor to the club both at the Friday night track sessions and the Saturday morning swims and his contribution to the cause was rewarded on the lanes of North Wales with a fine run to 1:48:37. Azzam Taktak has also been a valued contributor to both St Helens Tri and the IRF running club, and here he put in a dogged display for the Saints as he beat the 1:55 mark by ten seconds. One might think he was the last member to beat the two hour mark but Helen Broderick came up with perhaps the save of the season as she hit the finish line with 1:59:59 showing on her watch, how is that for a sprint finish! Also racing were newcomer Antony Lindley who recorded a 2:02:09, Lynette Houghton who warmed up for the OCR season with a 2:10:02, and Sarah Taktak whose Ironman preparations continued apace as she beat the 2:10 mark with room to spare and round off a thrilling weekend of racing where the star turns came from Ben and Kevin in Parbold, Mark and Eddie in East Anglia and David in Wrexham. Next week’s schedule includes the Standish Hall 10k and the first club duathlon of 2019 at Pimbo Industrial Estate, for which entries are still available at the time of writing.

The Big Match Recreated; MACCL 2019 Finale Edition

The last few weeks have seen a relatively sparse slate of races for St Helens Tri but the final match of the Manchester Cross Country League, also the second trip of the season to the Wythenshawe Playing Fields near Bagley, is always a highlight of the club calendar as the team strives to maintain position in the wider competition and club members scrap for those final few points that could see them crowned series champion. First off the starting blocks were the juniors led by Charlie Murphy who battled well to finishing the U13 Boys race in a not so unlucky 13:13, while his brother Oliver raced in the U15 event and made the top 35 in a time of 16:37. After lunch it was the run of the senior ladies to face the starting gun at 1:30pm with Claire Murphy being firm favourite to be first club counter home and take the series title. History shows that when Claire sees such an opportunity she will grasp it with both hands and sure enough she absolutely starred as she finished the two lap course in 33:21, top 15 in her age group and doing more than enough to wrap up the club championship with 75 points. Sheena Shearman has also had a remarkable season as she had never run with the club prior to 2018/19 but here she was in her element from the off, keeping the gap to Claire to around four minutes and deservedly secure second club counter and the runners up spot overall with a final points total of 61. Bethany Forber and Sarah Taktak have made huge improvements over the season particularly since their trip to the Liverpool Waterfront on New Year’s Eve and here they were third and fifth club counters with Bethany finishing in just over 38 minutes to take 4th in the club series and Sarah almost passing Christine Forber towards the end as she rolled home less than half a minute adrift. Rounding out the club’s entrants was Liz Spensley whose effort in beating the 48 minute mark was perhaps her best of the season.

While the ladies title had been well and truly up for grabs on Saturday morning, the men’s series appeared to be something of a foregone conclusion as Colin Dobbs, with a 20 point lead over Michael Forber, only needed a top-7 finish to seal the deal irrespective of where anyone else finished. After all, he had been in the top three of every round thus far, and it looked to be a formality before the gun sounded. But then everything changed. In a sequence even Hollywood could not have scripted, the pair took off from the line with Robert Chesters moving left to create some space. As they moved to overtake an unknown runner in blue nudged past on the right side, Colin had to take evasive action and rolled his ankle, eliminating him before the first corner and blowing the race for the title wide open! For the opening mini-lap around the football pitches Michael and Robert were joined by the traditionally fast-starting David Isaac who was really running with conviction and authority, however he would drop back and Michael led much of the first long lap as the runners made their way into the woods, with the steep descents being particularly favourable to the seasoned veteran. For his part Colin was sitting in the team gazebo barely able to believe his luck, convinced his chances of walking up the red carpet on awards night had vanished.

But in a year when the Premier League title race has captivated even the neutrals, an almost spooky repeat of “Blackburn Anfield 1995” was about to unfold. Those over the age of 30 will understand the play on words in the title (the Big Match Revisited being a popular series to this day on ITV4) and they will probably remember the unforgettable occasion when a last minute goal condemned Blackburn to defeat at Liverpool only to hear the news after the final whistle that a Manchester United failure to win at West Ham meant they had done enough to squeak home as champions. This season finale on the fields of South Manchester was eerily similar; while Robert Chesters could never have envisaged playing the “West Ham” role that was exactly how things would play out over the next 30 minutes, as a newly honed stride length enabled him to pull away on lap 2 despite still struggling to deal with some of the steeper gradients on the course, and he soaked up the atmosphere from the noisiest crowd on the XC circuit to put in one final push on the last lap and take the prize of first club counter home in a time of 38:06, good enough for 111th overall and handing the club series competition to Colin who had been cursing his luck while his teammates slogged round the testing course. Michael Forber rolled home 43 seconds adrift of Robert but was spirited in defeat and praised the efforts of the new series champion. Kevin Dunbar closed well on Michael over the final lap but ultimately had to settle for overtaking David Isaac to place third club member home on the day as he edged his teammate by just over 10 seconds. Rounding out the “40 minutes and under” club was Ian Orford who for once had further company just behind him in the form of Patrick Neill enjoying his best outing of the season, as he came home less than 40 seconds behind Ian and secured the club its series points, for which it is hoped will be sufficient to remain in Division 2 next winter. Lee Stinch doesn’t let something like a track session in 50mph winds the night before stop him for giving his best and as such it should have come as little surprise that he would easily beat the 45 minute mark (he even threw in a training duathlon at the Endurance Store the following morning for good measure!) while Mal Balmer rolled home around 90 seconds behind. Gary Birch and Azzam Taktak made a welcome return to the hills and mud as they both wanted to throw their hats in the ring before the window of opportunity closed for another year and both enjoyed their outing as Gary edged into the top 350 overall, around five minutes ahead of his teammate.

Here are the final standings, with the top 5 ladies on points:

Claire Murphy 75
Sheena Shearman 61
Cheryl Pace 58
Bethany Forber 55
Lynette Houghton 48

And the top 5 men:

Colin Dobbs 83
Michael Forber 81
Robert Chesters 61
David Isaac 59
Kevin Dunbar 57

And finally………A big thank you from the club committee and race reporter to everyone who participated in the winter cross country series, the sheer spirit of the team carried the club through the toughest league in the North West. It was a winter season marked by many memorable performances but also by the tragic passing of Aaron Reading five days after the first trip to Bagley in November, and as such it was fitting that some of the best stories, particularly the emergence of Bethany Forber and Sarah Taktak came in the matches that followed. Also thank you to those who contributed on the support crew including the setting up of the gazebo and the supply of tea, coffee and post race refreshments, they have been much appreciated. The next two weeks promise to make for equally riveting action as the ever popular Wrexham Half Marathon is followed by the first club duathlon at Pimbo, for which entries are still open at the time of writing.

Robert Chesters and Michael Forber passing the noisiest fan base of the season at Bagley (photo credit: Christine Forber)

Dubai Delight for Diesel-Engine Dean

The best dinner occasions are those which comprise at least three courses, have a special something that no one saw coming, and have you eagerly anticipating the next such occasion. St Helens Tri might still be scrambling around to arrange their own version (the annual awards night, date TBC) but the past three weeks were still very much a three-course (week) feast of memorable achievements for many club members.

For chronological purposes the roundup begins with the Four Village Half Marathon in Helsby. One of the most popular early season races, it always sells out well in advance and is one of the fastest 13.1 milers in the North West. St Helens Tri had four members competing, with Ben and Mark Livingston making their long awaited returns to competition following a couple of quiet years. Ben might have been out of the game even longer than Mark but nobody would have known it, as he put in a sparkling performance to finish in 1:36:55, three minutes ahead of his dad with both father and son making the top six in their age groups. Gary Davies and Caroline Bones also made the trip over the Runcorn bridge and were rewarded with times well under two and a half hours.

That was it for week one but attentions quickly turned to the Ashbridge Duathlon in Hertfordshire which for the first time was a European and ITU qualifier. Eddie Hirst and Shirley Fox were competing in the Deep South with an eye on qualification and Eddie made a methodical, yet brisk start finishing the first 10k run in under 40 minutes. The bike course was very hilly and would not normally suit a triathlon bike but Eddie has dialled in a very efficient position on his race machine and as such was able to pick up more places on two wheels, yet still record a fast finish on the second run despite having to battle with gale force winds throughout and his final result was good enough to make him first age group qualifier for the 2020 ETU championships, while Shirley participated in the shorter distance event and recovered from the back of her division after the first run to make up places despite apparently “not being able to turn the wheels” (as she put it) and hang in where others were unable to finish, fourth place in her age group putting her through to the ITU world title race. Further north, Jennifer Miller took on even more inhospitable conditions at the cross-border 10k in Carlisle. In a desperately tough race, where only the first three finished under 37 minutes, Jennifer Miller overcame a killer wind chill to finish in 1:00:29, and apparently took far longer to thaw out! However, it was still a good result to bring January to a close.

The first weekend in February is, for many, the greatest in all of sports; Super League, the Six Nations and the Super Bowl all rolling onto our TV screens. One person who has had plenty of turbo and TV time (simultaneously) is Dean Golba, surely the standout candidate for most improved athlete of the past 12 months not only in the club, but also in the local area. While France and Wales were preparing for the opening kickoff at the Stade de France, Dean was on the shores of Dubai awaiting one of the most popular and most rapid half Ironman courses anywhere in the world. He avoided the last minute bike arrival problems that scuppered the preparations of others and after perfecting his pre race ritual (course recces followed by a huge pizza!) he was straight into it on Friday morning. The swim was quite choppy and it was difficult to make up ground but never discount Dean on the bike, as he used his Giant Trinity to fly past the very best in his age group. Dean knows a thing or two about aerodynamics from his years in motorsport, which sometimes affects people’s ability nowadays to run efficiently off the bike. However, a remarkable show of tenacity to complete the 13.1 only ten minutes shy of his all time half marathon PB gave him a stunning time of 4:31:23 placing him an astounding 26th out of over 200 in his age group. A fitting reward for one of the club’s most driven athletes (in more ways than one) and a sure-fire sign that he must be one of the early favourites for the two club duathlons, the first of which is on February 24th at Pimbo.

Super Bowl Sunday dawned, and it was the turn of Mark Turner and Caroline Stalker to roll into town as the Runthrough series arrived in Aintree. Mark was prolific at the summer edition last year when he placed third in the 10k and here he went one better, edging a spirited battle for second place with a stunning time of 35:09, one of the fastest 10k performances in club history. However, the 5k race was even more thrilling as Caroline, who only received news of her own team GB qualification from Ashbridge the day before, edged an epic duel to be first female home in 21:23 and close out three outstanding weeks for the club, perhaps saving the very best until last. Next weekend’s signature race is the final round of the Manchester Cross Country League in Bagley while the remainder of the month is characterised by the ever popular Wrexham Half Marathon and the first club duathlon.

Storm Sheena Steals the Show in a Heaton Park Hurricane

It is rare that St Helens Tri have cross country to contend with on consecutive weekends but after the slopes of Sherdley it was the hills of Heaton Park near Prestwich last Saturday for round four of the winter cross country league. With the demise of Boggart Hole Clough this is now the series only foray towards the Yorkshire end of Manchester and features long, steady hills with flat speed sections aplenty in between somewhat dulled by the ferocious winds that plagued the day. Racing first were the juniors. Charlie Murphy was first to go for the U13 Boys race as his time of 15:07 was just over a minute away from a top 20 placing. He came home 21 seconds clear of Joseph Duffy and then got to watch his older brother Oliver take 36th in the U15 Boys event while at U17 level George enjoyed his trip round a course with rather fewer obstacles than he is accustomed to as he finished in just over half an hour.

After lunch it was a different looking senior squad turning out with seven ladies and twelve men in the ranks. None of the top three in the club points standings were racing although Claire Murphy was doing a sterling job providing marshalling duties. In the event Sheena Shearman, a regular at the Monday might run sessions, took a thrilling and thoroughly deserved first club counter placing as she edged home ahead of Lynette Houghton by just six seconds, the dynamic duo finishing the testing course in under 50 minutes and both inside the top 250 overall. Christine Forber, fresh from her efforts with the Isabella Rose runners on New Year’s Eve, was next over the line but had to battle to fend off a hugely improved Sarah Taktak and Bethany Forber, the trio crossing the line less than a minute apart. Rounding out the ladies was the ever impressive Liz Spensley who once again showed what true team spirit entails as she finished in just over an hour.

At 2:30pm the starting gun sounded for the men and a Dirty Dozen were off down the long, straight hill for their three lap journey into the great unknown. Mark Turner has excelled in Prestwich over the years and in his first outing for the club this winter was easily the first man home, as he was the only club member to finish in under 40 minutes, his time of 39:24 leaving him less than ten seconds away from the top 100 overall. He was around two minutes clear of a pair of battles we see regularly during the winter months, with the ever improving David Isaac edging Colin Dobbs for second club counter by just two seconds, Colin nevertheless moving to within touching distance of the club championship with his third place finish and time of 41:31. The pair was just over 15 seconds clear of the usual duo of Ian Orford and Kevin Dunbar. They have provided much of the entertainment during a long, cold winter of XC and here Kevin got the nod at the line with both sneaking into the top 200 overall in under 42 minutes. Michael Forber was around 40 seconds behind the duo and a similar time ahead of Patrick Neill, however 20 points will be a difficult deficit to make up to Colin at the season finale next month. After Patrick came two of this season’s much improved runners, Alan McKeegan and Lee Stinch who finished around a minute apart and usefully into the midfield overall after a couple of years of hovering near the back. Three more runners were still to finish, with Mal Balmer using his extensive XC experience with both St Helens Tri and Penny Lane Striders to good effect and Chris Murphy getting a good run-out as he got his turn to put his pictures in the Murphy family’s ever growing photo album. Paul Booth may have been the club’s final finisher but he still completed the tough course in under 50 minutes and provided the most amusing story of the day:

“On the XC course today I went past some spectators on a bench, a lady and a child. Just as I passed, the child said (incredulously) “why do they do it?” I still haven’t come up with an answer”………

A priceless anecdote there, but one with a good answer; many runners come to St Helens Tri from a track running or power sport background well capable of setting fast times on the track, however as a little preview of club reporter Robert Chesters’ forthcoming post on his own blog “why you should join a Tri club”, one simple way of boiling this down is to say “how do we improve”? Look at what you’re doing regularly, think about what you don’t do regularly, and do it. With preparations in full swing for the 2019 multisport season, there’s never been a better time to join the club and there is still time to register for the final round of the XC season at the Manchester University Playing Fields in Bagley near Wythenshawe, to develop that all-important leg strength and conditioning that so often makes the difference after finishing the bike stage of a triathlon.

One person who is certainly not short of strength is Lynette Houghton. Immediately after the XC she drove to Rivington for the Petzl Nightrunner where she was joined by her son George and Chris Dyson. Team Houghton completed the tricky off road pitch black 10k in under 90 minutes while Chris set a time of 1:18:37 and got himself close to the top 200. The following morning Diane Taktak braved horrendously strong winds at the East Lancashire Hospice 10k in Great Harwood. The off road nature of the course always drags the times out and more so in such torrid conditions but Diane stuck to the task at hand and miraculously managed to beat the hour mark by just four seconds to round off a cracking weekend where off road running was flavour of the moment with Sheena and Mark deservedly taking the plaudits as the star performers.