It was a case of “all up north” over the Father’s Day weekend as the juniors took part in the Salt Ayre Junior Triathlon while a select few seniors made their way to Ullswater for the first of the 2019 Epic Lakes Swim Series and we had an entry in the Lakesman Half. On the Fylde coast four juniors took part in the regional championships hosted by the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club and all emerged with credit. Unfortunately the results are incomplete at the time of writing due to a serious incident at the end of the bike stage when one of the competitors collapsed at the dismount line. As such only Oliver Murphy currently has a result, however the wellbeing of the young aathlete involved is the most pressing concern at this moment in time; we hope for good news and a full recovery.
KellyAnne Towns is no stranger to the half Ironman format having participated in many such events across Europe but the Lakesman must rank as one of her toughest and most rewarding to date. Out of the water in just over 37 minutes, she put in a fine performance on the bike and an even better one on the run to finish in a time of 5:53:43, putting her in the top 5 of her age group. Meanwhile four club members took on either the mile or 2.5km swim at Ullswater hosted by Epic Events. Lynette Houghton, fresh from her heroics at Ironman 70.3, was our sole entrant in the 2.5km race and cracked the top 150 as she finished in a time of 52:11. In the mile race Tony Waine described it as a “swim of all weathers” as the swimmers faced torrential rain and bright sunshine in the space of an hour. For his part he picked up speed as he got warmer in the sub-12c water and eventually finished in a little over 40 minutes. It was a good outing for Laura Banks, as she came good on her predominantly pool swim experience to finish in the top 75 with a time of 33:21 but the real star was George Houghton, who figures to be one of the club’s leading up and coming athletes for many years to come. In his first Epic Lakes swim he recorded an astounding 29:09 which must have him in the mix for age group honours in years to come, thus rounding out a fairly quiet but still fruitful weekend for the club. The remainder of the month is equally sparse in terms of major events but the Southport Half Marathon and 10k offers an interesting fixture close to home on June 30th, and at the time of writing, it’s only four weeks to Ironman UK!
It is somewhat unfortunate that Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and the Leeds ITU weekend seemingly clash year in, year out but that is the fact of life as the racing schedule gets ever more overcrowded. However, that is the current state of play and as such it was a tough decision for many St Helens Tri members as to which race to choose. First of all, however Megan Cowley and Ann Gregory got the ball rolling with the 2 mile swim in Windermere on Friday. Against a backdrop of torrential rain and high winds which thankfully proved less troublesome than first anticipated, Megan finished in the top 1000 in a time of 1:56:12, while Ann, who has been a valued contributor to the club at Wednesday night swim sessions as well as improving week by week on Friday mornings, was delighted with her 1:16:04 leaving her mere seconds away fro the top 400.
Onto Sunday it was then, and the first athletes were out and about at the crack of dawn for the Staffordshire 70.3 with seven club members facing the massed start in the water, a technical bike course and a varied run with flat sections and very tough hills thrown into the mix. Star of the show was undoubtedly Steve Williams, who had only just returned from his top-5 in the ETU championships in the Netherlands, but here he easily beat the 40 minute mark for the swim and kept up a 20mph pace on the bike. The run proved tougher going for him but he still finished in an overall time of 5:53:31, good enough for second in the M65 division. There wasn’t much in it between Steve and Mark Eccleston in the water but a succession of chain snaps early on during the bike course left Mark with a lot to make up in the later stages. To his credit, he made up some time on Steve on the run to finish within 20 minute of his teammate and hold off Lynette Houghton, who has been a revelation in recent weeks particularly at the Nottingham Sprint. Here, she finished in a time of 6:26:31 which placed her in the top 30 F45’s, a fitting reward for months of hard training and regular attendance at club sessions, not to mention her attention to detail on bike position, in collaboration with the fit team at Thatto Cycles. Peter Rawlinson was next over the line in just over six and a half hours having made up a fair bit of time from exiting the water thanks to a dogged effort on the bike and some much improved pace over the half marathon.
If there was a people’s champion award at the club prizegiving (currently scheduled for late November) Chris Forber would surely be a contender; not only has she enjoyed her best season to date, she has never been one to miss a race where her friends and family have been competing and has always been that person for a club member to turn to in times of self-doubt. As such it was only fitting that she should have her day and 9 June proved to be exactly that, as she was out of the water very close to the Steve/Lynette/Mark trio and her previous experience of the bike course helped her no end with her pacing strategy for the run. The video of her coming down the finish chute was one of the most uplifting clips in years and her final result of 7:06:50 put her just outside the top 40 in her age group. Indeed, her route recce “partner in crime” Diane Taktak, who had enjoyed a good warm-up race four days earlier at the Birkenhead Park 5 Miler, also enjoyed a day out to remember as although she was unable to hang with the St Helens Tri leaders in the water, she made up for it with a particularly good run to beat the 7:45 mark with room to spare. Rounding out the participants in Staffordshire was Sean Dalby, setting a similar pace to Diane on both the swim and bike and being desperately unlucky not to beat the eight-hour mark, surely it is only a matter of time.
Memo to the Staffordshire organisers: please choose a date other than June 7th for 2020. That’s an unusual choice of sentence to open the second half of a weekly report, but it’s because the Leeds ITU festival/stadium race/ampitheatre (choose as you wish) race has already been scheduled for that date, and there are some excellent early bird special prices available at the time of writing. This is one event no-one wants to miss, with the swim in Roundham Park often being set to classic party tunes, a bike course which despite the increased competitor traffic is still thrilling to ride, and a run course into the city centre akin to participating in the London Marathon. Up at the crack of dawn were three club members eager to get in with a chance of qualifying for the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Mark Turner and Eddie Hirst were the two main contenders for the Saints and both would place 12th in their age group, with both recording excellent swim times mere seconds apart, Eddie having the edge on the bike and Mark setting a blistering 36:21 10k time to actually edge his teammate at the line to the tune of a couple of minutes. Both await the email to confirm a place on the world stage. If Chris Forber deserved the spirit of competition award for the 70.3, Chris Hayes had to get it in Yorkshire, as here he was taking part in his first standard distance event with friends from work and a couple of others who have taken part in Friday track sessions but at the time of writing have not yet joined the club. Coming from a rugby background, Chris has always had power and strength to burn, but the question was, could he maintain it over a three hour race? The answer was yes, as he set a promising time over the 1500m swim and beat the 75 minute mark on the bike. The run proved more taxing as the energy sapping heat started to kick in (or maybe the kids with the water and jelly babies didn’t appear until the sprint distance racers took to the run course) but his final time of just over two hours 50 minutes was one of the off-the-radar results of the year so far.
In keeping with the “spirit of competition” Chris even managed to get back to a good spectating point for the sprint distance race featuring Emma Austin, Paul Austin and Robert Chesters AKA Team Green and Black’s (the colour of their bikes, no reference to the chocolate company!) Emma was always going to be the favourite for grabbing the headlines and so it proved, as another terrific swim despite having to tread water initially had her into T1 in a commanding lead and an excellent bike split gave her every chance of an age group podium. Eventually a faster runner made their way past but Emma was still delighted with second in her division and ninth female overall, as she continues to work her way back from a running injury that took her out of much of the winter training block. Indeed, Robert would match Emma’s “9/2” result despite the running joke doing the rounds prior to the start that Paul, starting five minutes later, would be out of the lake before him, but luckily his coaching experience plus the memories of last year’s “yellow buoy……..oh no that’s a canoe” incident had him gunning for a much quicker swim time. 16:42 was certainly not anywhere near Team Austin territory but was 90 seconds quicker than his 2018 time, and while the bike course proved frustrating as he repeatedly caught packs of riders at the tight corners, he didn’t get mad, he got more than even on the run as a 7.5km time of just over 27 minute saw him make two critical passes on the way into the city centre to match Emma’s result, finishing in 1:24:38. It was also a cracking performance by Emma’s dad Paul, who quite incredibly went quicker than Emma in the lake, and was close to Robert’s time on the bike course. In the end he was just edged out of second in his division by a flying finisher, but his run of just over 35 minutes still cemented third in the M50 category to round off an exceptional week of racing where the star turns came from Ann at the Windermere Great Swim, Steve and Chris in Staffordshire and all six who raced in Leeds. Next week’s schedule is rather more quiet, with the only races of note being the Birmingham Triathlon, the Port Sunlight 10k and 5k and the Flash in the Park 10k at Leigh Sports Village, but there are only five more weeks until the date of destiny, Bastille Day and Ironman UK Day all in one. The date of 14th July is one not to be missed!
The month of June began with the city of Liverpool celebrating and most of Merseyside nursing some pretty sore heads but for St Helens Tri members making the trip down the M56 to Chester there was no such lie-in as 12 of them faced either the standard or middle distance Deva Triathlons hosted by Chester Tri Club. In the standard distance the stars of the show were Michael Forber and Patrick Neill. We are fairly used to seeing positions set in stone between club members nowadays, but it is a long time since such a back-and-forth duel in an open water race (as in decided on the finish line) has eventuated, yet here Michael and Patrick put on a thrilling show with Michael’s much improved swim pace seeing him out of the water nearly two minutes ahead only for Patrick to use his TT bike to ease away on two wheels, not easy given the strong winds and changeable conditions. However, you can never write Michael off and a searing 43:25 for the 10k run saw him edge it at the line by just 17 seconds after nearly two and a half hours of racing. This result also left him second in his age group, in which he overtook many tiring runners over the final few kilometres. Ian Wright and James Nairn were similarly well matched on overall time, however in this case it was more that James’ late rally fell short as despite making up over 90 seconds on the run and having superior transition times, Ian held on to be third club member home by only 28 seconds, with the pair having enough in hand to hold off Patrick Lee, racing for the first time in open water since the Birmingham Triathlon last June. He managed to hang onto his two teammates for much of the race before dropping back on the run to finish around five minutes in arrears. However, Bethany Forber once again stole the show and scored a podium as her much improved speed on the bike lifted her to third in the F20-24 category and 280th overall in a time of 3:10:13, huge encouragement for one of the club’s top young talents.
St Helens Tri members have been competing in various Team GB qualifier events with distinction recently and two more races over the Bank Holiday weekend relatively at new multisport venues offered yet another chance to represent their country on the European and World stages. Mal Balmer and Jennifer Pybis made the trip to Barry Island (which is actually a peninsula in Glamorgan) for an ITU draft legal sprint triathlon with a sea swim, a multi-lap draft legal bike course and a 5k run with sea views. Mal had a bit of a fight of it in the water but quick transitions helped him overcome some tough competitors on the bike and run stages and he eventually finished in 1:30:56, good enough for 23rd super veteran. However, Jennifer positively starred; for someone not used to sea swimming she was into the thick of things like she had been doing it for years, and her much improved bike performance and traditional rapid finish on the run gave her a time of 1:22:20 and lifted her into the top 15 senior ladies on the day before breakdown into 5-year age groups; it is to be seen whether this translates into team GB qualification for next year’s championships in Edmonton, Canada.
If conditions weren’t exactly ideal for sea swimming in South Wales, up north (or at least in the East Midlands) they were positively inhopsitable for club reporter Robert Chesters and the hordes who came from all over the UK to take part in what could have been viewed as an unofficial national championship race; with Oulton Park rarely featuring as a local qualifier nowadays and Bedford Autodrome hosting the other two 2020 ETU qualification races, Darley Moor near Ashbourne, Derbyshire is perhaps the best-kept secret for those whose swimming is not up to the same level as their other two disciplines. Darley Moor Circuit is best known for hosting motorcycle races and in essence is a straight triangle shape with a couple of chicanes, and this made for tricky going on both the run course, held around the gravel paths at the circuit perimeter, and the 8-lap bike segment which was Robert’s first opportunity to test a new position on his bike. The first run was hard going for many, especially those relying on compression gear toaid bloodflow, and as such Robert reached the pit lane outside the top 30, but an imcreasingly quick bike stage on what was fast becoming a river more than a racetrack saw him move up the order as others faded and a top-10 final run split enabled him to pull off some critical overtakes landing him sixth in the M35-39 category, which will hopefully put him into position for a wildcard slot next year’s ETU duathlon championships, for which the date and venue are yet to be confirmed.
Five more members stayed closer to home and tackled the Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon. A favourite among many local running clubs, the Run Rock n Roll series has grown in popularity since its inception in America and now boasts multiple events in countries all over the world. For St Helens Tri Chris Dyson was making his half marathon debut alongside Neil Wallace, Diane and Azzam Taktak and Karen Kelly and the quintet shone through conditions every bit as difficult as those at Darley Moor. While Neil led the club home in a time of 1:50:37, the resurgence of Azzam continued after his spectacular return to form at the Spring 10k earlier this month. Here, he was in his element and having only been hoping for a sub-2 hour time he went and smashed the target by over three minutes, clocking an excellent 1:56:44 in possibly the performance of the weekend. Chris got in some valuable training miles ahead of his half Ironman distance debut next week in Chester as he got round in 2:16:29, and it was actually a close run thing to the line as he found himself sandwiched between Diane, who came in 27 seconds ahead and Karen, with the trio finishing just over two and a half minutes apart. All in all, an exciting Bank Holiday weekend had by all who competed with star turns coming at all three race venues. Next weekend the month of June begins with the Deva middle distance and the Epicman Windermere while the Leeds ITU Triathlon takes place a week later at Roundhay Park as the final build stretch towards Ironman UK begins in earnest.
And so it was to Sunday, with no less than 30 club members entered in the sprint and standard distances races at the Epic Events Southport Triathlon, also incorporating the Triathlon England National Championships, while others preferred to travel to either Worcester or Nottingham for alternative racing ventures. On the Irish Sea coast the racing began at 7:30am for the standard distance races including a two-lap, 1500m swim in the Marine Lake, two 20km laps of the coast road and two 5k laps of a 5k run course including some portions of the route used at last month’s Splashworld event (the sprint course being one lap each of the above). Mark Glynn and Eddie Hirst were always likely to be fighting it out for first club member home and so it proved. Mark got an advantage of just over half a minute on the swim but Eddie chipped away and arrived at the end of the bike course slightly ahead. However, on this occasion Mark’s rather more sparse race schedule in the build-up to Southport came up trumps over Eddie’s fixture list which looked more like Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final and his fresher legs enabled him to take 18th overall in a time of 2:08:15, while also taking third in the M50-54 category. Eddie meanwhile was just edged out of a top-30 placing overall but still got in the top ten in his category, his experience with hanging in there paying dividends where others would have faded out of contention. Behind him, one might have expected a close battle between Andrew McGlone, Paul Austin and Michael Forber for the “St Helens Tri Podium” but amazingly Andrew pulled off the swim of his life and created a gap never to be bridged; while Paul enjoyed a superior bike time and Michael came up with his customary fast 10k to finish neither could reel him in and his 2:21:06 placed him 125th overall around three and a half minutes clear of Paul and a further 90 seconds clear of Michael. A gap of a few minutes followed while others rolled in, but there were plenty more interesting stories, including that of Claire Murphy who only eight days removed from ironman 70.3 Mallorca put in yet another memorable performance as her sub-28 swim and much improved pace on the bike and run stages enabled her to take a top-10 finish in her category and a final time of 2:38:17. Ian Wright only joined the club at the beginning of the triathlon year (April 1st) but he has certainly made quite an impression already particularly with his running prowess, and he gave Alan McKeegan a real run for his money as he sought to close the gap on the bike and run before Alan eventually finished 45 seconds to the good. Still the Saints came rolling home, but the next huge story of the day was about to unfold. Sarah Taktak has excelled for a long time at the Wednesday and Friday swim sessions held at Edge Hill Sport, but here she made a huge improvement on the bike, particularly in view of her preparation for Ironman UK, and with the number 1 on her race bib she came good on exactly that as she swept to victory in the F20 division completing the course in 2:52:26, her dad Azzam also continuing his good form after the spring 10k as he finished only a few minutes behind. One person Azzam overtook on the bike was Bethany Forber, who would produce the next great cheer of the day as she followed up her customary speedy swim with a sub-90 minute time on the bike and rounded it off with a 54:09 run to take third in the F20-24 category, behind only two team GB triathletes! The family photos, complete with mum Christine who was less than three minutes behind, were one of the highlights of the day. Behind Christine five more club members would yet finish, with perhaps the biggest cheer in order for Paul Hazlehurst who has a rather unusual background to triathlon having previously excelled in power sports such as boxing. Luckily no punches were thrown in the lake but he did a creditable sub-33 minute swim to exit the water not far behind Bethany and his strong legs propelled him round the bike course in a little over 90 minutes. Although not quite able to hold such a rapid pace on the run he deserved a cheer equal to that of those who won prizes as his diligent approach to his training was rewarded with a finish time of 3:25:19; indeed if a coaches’ award was to presented at midseason for progress during the sessions it would be hard to think of a more deserving recipient.
The sprint distance race saw five club members take on the single-lap versions of each discipline. Richard Seville has long been one of the few “win at everything” club members and is perhaps best remembered for his heroics at last year’s Ironman Austria, but here he not only led the club home, he signed off with a blistering 18:17 run and won his age category! And he wasn’t the only sprint distance racer to mount the podium as Myka Heard returned from a long running injury to post an incredible sub-13 minute swim and still have enough in her on the bike and run to win her division too. Coming up on the rails fast at the end, but not quick enough to overhaul Myka, was Ian Orford whose rise to multisport prominence really began during the winter club duathlon season. Here, he began with a good strong swim and while not able to match Richard or Myka on the bike he would follow Richard’s lead in saving the best until last, a 19:06 5k elevating him to within touching distance of the top 50. Also racing the sprint distance were Tony Waine and Robert Saile. Tony was two minutes behind Robert upon leaving the water but put in a solid shift on the bike to nibble away at the deficit, and eventually his superior running speed lifted him past his teammate as the pair finished 106th and 132nd respectively. All in all a terrific morning of racing on the west coast, and the question now was, could the Outlaw half entrants repeat the dose in Nottingham?
Four club members made the trip to the East Midlands for this well-regarded half Ironman at the home of Robin Hood. All four members have been with the club for many years and as such had plenty of experience going into the race, but here Gary Birch stole the limelight as a sub-45 minute swim had him well up the field early doors and a sub-2:45 time for the 56 miles on the bike gave him a superb platform to build on for the run, which he duly did by completing the 13.1 miles in a little over two hours to eventually finish 626th in a time of 5:46:20. Gary Davies was marginally ahead as they got out of the water and extended his lead in the early goings, but eventually Gary Birch overhauled him during the bike course. Nevertheless, a two and a half hour 13.1 miler to finish meant that Gary Davies still got home in just over six and a half hours, very close to making the top 1000. If ever there was an example of “don’t give up”, Debra Rayment would be it. With her season seemingly over after a mountain bike accident in March, she would have been forgiven for pulling out of the Outlaw Half but instead she proved the doubters wrong with a gritty performance to finish in under 7:15. Caroline Bones rounded out the multisport proceedings for the week as she got home in a time of 7:51:38 but there was one more story on the other side of the Midlands as Lee Stinch tackled the Worcester Half Marathon in the Malvern Hills. On a tough, technical course a PB was never very likely but Lee, seemingly fresh from excelling at the club track session on the Friday night, put in an inspired display to complete the race in 1:38:24, good enough to finish in the top 50 overall and round off a thrilling day of racing where the star turns came from Richard and Myka in the Southport Sprint, Mark Glynn, Sarah Taktak and Bethany Forber in the standard race and Gary Birch in Nottingham. Next week sees the return of Go Tri to St Helens while Crazy Legs Events host an ETU qualification race at the Darley Moor Duathlon, comprising a two-lap run, 8 laps on the bike and a final run lap to finish on a blindingly fast race track near Ashbourne. Closer to home, the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll races, namely the 5k, half marathon and full marathon should provide plenty of cheer for those making the short trip to the home of the Beatles to either participate or offer their support.
With the weekend schedule being so busy, here we bring you the first part of a packed Saturday together with the midweek time trial results. Neil Prescott performed well on the bike at the winter club duathlon series but no-one saw his early eye-catcher coming at the St Helens CRC Wednesday night TT as he sensationally went under the 22:30 mark clocking a 22:13, good enough for a 5th place finish. Then it was onto Saturday with the main focus being the Keswick Mountain Festival plus a gentle nod to the Nottingham Sprint Triathlon. In our Splashworld Triathlon review, Lynette Houghton was described as perhaps the strongest “pound for pound” athlete in the club. As such a fast course with an opportunity to test out her new-found aero position was always going to be just the ticket and so it proved. She completed the 750m swim in a little over 15 minutes, good for anyone but outstanding for someone who, in her own words, “only swims at one pace” – well that is some standard for so many to aim towards! The bike leg was much improved as her newly-chosen aero road bike enabled her to climb the field, completing the four-lap course in under 36 minutes and a strong final run round the lake lifted her to a time of 1:19:06, 133rd overall and an excellent third in her age group.
Up north there were several members entered in the Keswick Mountain Festival, a long-running party comprising triathlon, lake swims, trail runs and much more. Unfortunately the warm weather brought on every swimmers’ nightmare – algae – leading to the swim being cancelled and swapped for a short duathlon including two tough off road runs and a technical bike course with plenty of climbs. Nevertheless the club was well represented, with the first member home being Paddy Lee, who aboard his new TT bike was very much at home on the technical bike course and managed to score a useful 72nd place finish, including the top half of his age group, in a time of 1:30:44. Mark Derbyshire and Helen Broderick enjoyed a cracking battle behind Paddy with Mark coming back from a sizeable deficit after the first trail run to close the gap to around 90 seconds at the end of the bike leg, and in the end it was perhaps his greater familiarity with his bike position (Helen having only recently purchased her new Giant Propel from Thatto Cycles) which made the difference, as he moved up to 102nd place at the flag in 1:36:19. Helen nonetheless scored the best age group result of the day among those travelling north as she placed ninth in her category. In addition Ann Gregory made the trip to Salford Quays for the USwim 1 mile race. Ann had a brilliant day out, coming good on her winter of consistent improvement at the Wednesday and Friday swim sessions and finished 115th in a time of 37:53 giving her a thoroughly deserved new PB. Part 2 of the report will follow tomorrow, covering the Southport and Outlaw Half triathlons as well as the Worcester Half Marathon in the Malvern Hills.
St Helens Tri are very much getting into the groove with open water season approaching and many people’s attentions turning to major league races like next week’s Marine Lake Triathlon. As such this week’s report reads very much like the calm before the proverbial storm but first off to race were Claire Murphy and KellyAnne Towns at Ironman 70.3 in Mallorca. Claire has been a mainstay of the club for years particularly on the long distance running scene and KellyAnne has much experience of racing on the continent. Claire averaged a superb 1:44 per 100 metres in the sea swim and a solid bike in just over three and a half hours set her up for a run which she covered in well under two hours, leaving her classified 33rd in her age group in a time of 6:07:30. KellyAnne was almost glued to Claire in the swim, even edging clear as they reached transition, and she made a bit of a break on the bike, but eventually Claire made the pass on the run to finish ahead. Still, KellyAnne managed to get home in under 6:10 cementing her place in the top half of her age group. Closer to home, Diane Taktak added yet another chapter to her recent history of intrepid adventures by participating in the Chorley 10k hosted by Fylde Coast Runners. The event promised a good atmosphere, an undulating route around a town normally known for hosting bike races and even a Chorley cake at the finish. In the event Diane enjoyed yet another grand day out and was rewarded with a time of 1:02:38 leaving her just outside the top 600. Also going the 10k route, albeit the Wigan Trail version, was Steven Bower, who starred at Ironman Barcelona last year but has had a mixed start to the 2019 campaign. Here, though, he was right into it from the beginning and his efforts in the heat were rewarded with a time of 1:11:29. Another result worthy of note was that of Ben Mason, who starred in the 6-day Supersonic Race Series. Last week we reported on his much improved performance at the Spring 10k and his final stage at the Crock n’ Roll 10k 24 hours later earned him a top-30 position in the inaugural series; it is to be hoped that Kirkby Milers keep this “Tour de France for Runners” on the calendar for 2020 (especially if the Oasis-inspired gin and tonic is on offer at the finish!)
Two events south of the River Mersey made up the remainder of the schedule. Grace and Holly Hirst represented the club with real distinction at the Deva Junior Aquathlon hosted by Chester Tri Club. In T1 Girls Grace was out of the water in an excellent 2:52 and a rapid transition saw her into a sub-6 minute run which propelled her to a terrific fifth place just twenty seconds away from the podium. Meanwhile in T3 Girls Holly Hirst completed the much longer swim in just over seven and a half minutes before recording a 13-minute run split to end up 12th, but mere seconds away from a top ten finish. Meanwhile at Nantwich James Nairn and Robert Saile were taking part in the Cheshire Triathlon, an ever-popular event now over 25 years old comprising a swim in Snow Hill outdoor pool, a 20km bike route through the Cheshire lanes and four laps of Barony Park to run round at the end. James Nairn has really caught everyone’s eye this year as his enthusiasm has been very much akin that that of a kid on Christmas morning and here he used a particularly quick run to finish 52nd overall and 9th in his category with a time of 1:11:49, while Robert’s efforts were rewarded with a top-400 placing and a final time of 1:31:31 to bring down the curtain on a varied week of racing with plenty of stories to tell. Next week’s schedule is particularly packed with the Southport and Slateman triathlons as well as the Great Manchester Half Marathon and 10k.
While some choose to watch snooker or mow the lawns on May Day Bank Holiday weekend, St Helens Tri are often seen up and down the country racing far and wide and 2019 was no exception. First cabs off the rank were those of Michael Herbert and Mark Ashton at the Tuesday night bike time trial at Bickerstaffe hosted by Prescot Eagle. Michael made a welcome return to the fold posting a sub-24 time while Mark just missed out on beating the 25 minute barrier. Tracy Chapman also recorded a notable result the following evening at the St Helens CRC hosted event on the same course, as she was first lady home in a time of 25:27. The world championships from the week before weren’t quite over as Peter Fairclough and Mark Riley, both members of St Helens Tri and St Helens Striders, were participating in the aquathlon in Spain. Peter has improved markedly at swimming and was well up the field upon exiting the water. For once he didn’t make up as much ground on the run as on previous occasions, but his seventh place and fourth in the GB team was a fitting reward for months of hard work. He was joined by Mark Riley, who was actually out of the water even quicker in less than 17 minutes but later dropped back on the run, nonetheless joining his teammate in the top ten.
Four events, including three triathlons and a hugely popular Liverpool Spring 10k made up the Sunday schedule. Mal Balmer and Eddie Hirst took the long haul trip in more ways than one to Cambridgeshire for the Grafman Triathlon, which has gained in popularity as an early season classic distance race. Eddie was only a few days removed from returning to the UK after his own participation in the World Championships, yet here he was straight into the thick of things as he completed the 1000m swim in just over seventeen minutes. Mal wasn’t far behind him at this stage, but Eddie would pull away on the bike and run to the tune of nine minutes, finishing in a time of 2:06:27 which would place him 14th in his category, while Mal’s 2:15:24 was good enough for 8th in his age group. Closer to home, Wilmslow and Horwich played host to two spring triathlons. At the venue near Manchester Airport Jennifer Pybis and Shirley Fox were taking in the course featuring the fabled bike stage under the airport road and the run through the leafy houses near the leisure centre. Jennifer had considerable experience of the course from previous visits and it was no surprise that her swim and run were both fast (her run being the fastest in her category) but it was on the bike that she really caught the eye; from being unable to crack the 50 minute mark on her first visit in 2015 she recorded a 45:46, and as such her accolade of being the second fastest female on the day was well deserved. Shirley Fox has long been a strong cyclist owing to her many trips to ride hilly routes both in the UK and further afield, and her years of consistent riding brought her a third place in her category, a result matched by Caroline Bones who made a long-awaited return to multisport after many years swimming. It wasn’t purely a ladies day out either, as Gary Davies and Nick Hall also took part, Gary riding with particular distinction on his way to placing 85th while Nick recorded some very consistent splits and demonstrated his abilities as a well-rounded triathlete in taking 8th in his division.
If you want a calm, sunny day to do a triathlon in early May, then Horwich might not be the race for you. However, you would be missing out on a cracking course, with a pool swim lengthened to 500m, a 40km bike course taking in some of the best scenery on the West Pennine Moors, and a run to Rivington Pike. Of course, it always seems to coincide with a day plagued with changeable weather (such idiosyncrasies being magnified in an area known for having a micro-climate) but such a factor often separates the pack out markedly and so it proved in the 2019 edition. Mark Turner was back in the fold after a few weeks away from competition and he was right up and at it straight away, completing the 500m swim in a little over eight minutes. His bike time was also encouraging given that he comes primarily from a running background, and indeed his 8.6km run was one of his trademark fast cadence sprints to destruction as he recorded the sixth-fastest run of the day to lift himself to 17th at the finish. Mark Eccleston’s season has been a story in itself, as he has particularly enjoyed the long, tough versions of traditional distances, particularly the Parbold Duathlon in March. As such it was little surprise that he excelled on the lumpy bike course, his newly-improved strength and fitness enabling him to finish in the top 125 with a time of 2:18:33. Steve Bower bounced back nicely from a few difficult races of late to edge Sean Dalby, the pair both finishing the testing course in under three hours.
If the triathletes competed in fairly remote locations, the same couldn’t be said for Azzam Taktak, Ben Mason, Neil Wallace, Ian Wright, Brian Diggle and Jill Littler who joined over 4,800 other runners at the Metropolitan Cathedral for the Liverpool Spring 10k hosted by Mersey Races. This course has become incredibly popular in its short time on the calendar, featuring an opening stanza past the Philharmonic Hall, a middle stint into Sefton Parkand a final flourish onto Princes Drive. There was little to choose between them and all had a story to tell. Ian Wright has recently joined the club and marked his first appearance in the results column with a fantastic debut time of 40:55. Ben Mason was taking part in the race as a participant in the six-day Supersonic Race Series; the final round, the Crock n’ Roll 10k, takes place at Croxteth Park tomorrow. As such he was able to start in the first wave of runners competing for the series title, and he did his chances of a high overall placing no harm whatsoever by ducking just under the 50 minute mark, showing some particularly dogged determination on the run out of Sefton Park. On Team Taktak Diane and Sarah have enjoyed most of the limelight in 2019, as Azzam has preferred to train, rather than race, his way towards his next Ironman. However, he stepped out of the training room and onto the stage in fine style, crossing the line just seven seconds behind Ben but actually recording a quicker chip time to the tune of over a minute, his 48:42 being a new PB by over 20 seconds. keeping in with the theme of “after you, sir”, Neil Wallace started behind both Ben and Azzam, yet ended up with the second-quickest time of all the St Helens Tri runners, with 48:17 as his final time. Jill Littler was in fine spirits ahead of the start as she continues to diversify her weekend racing activities away from the Ormskirk Parkrun, and she was rewarded with a chip time of 50:20, just 24 seconds behind Ben while also placing in the top 30 in her age category, and it was an encouraging debut for Brian who was reruenore from a plantar fascia injury yet managed a new PB of 51:55, a fine time on a day when so many runners from “partner clubs” such as St Helens Striders and Penny Lane Striders took part in what is now surely the biggest 10k race on the Merseyside running calendar. Next week’s main event is the Cheshire Triathlon at Barony Park in Nantwich, while the Howgills Triathlon and Trail Races offer something for those who like their races tough and off-road, before the next Super Sunday follows in a fortnight’s time with the Southport Triathlon at Marine Lake.
It has been a quiet few weeks of action, but to round off the month of April the club was here, there and everywhere in the UK and beyond. On Easter Weekend Diane Taktak and Jennifer Miller provided the only cheer for the club, with Diane taking part in the Caldervale Good Friday 10 miler which she completed in a little over 90 minutes, and she was joined by Jennifer for the Hale 5 organised by Interval Races on Easter Sunday. The dynamic duo faced a high quality field and extremely hot conditions for mid-April but ran their best races in a long time, Jennifer recording a time of 47 minutes on the nose while Diane came home just over two minutes further back.
After Dean Golba used his waxed chain to great effect in recording a 21:39 for the Tuesday night 10 mile TT at Rainford (lubricant now available at Thatto Cycles), the final weekned of April was characterised by the ITU Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain as well as two triathlons and the London Marathon. On the Iberian Peninsula Eddie Hirst was going for glory in the standard distance age group race, and came good on his years of running strongly and consistently on all terrain as he reached T1 in a little over 40 minutes. The bike course saw him make further progress and while he was not quite able to hold position on the run, he still managed to place in the top 25 in the world. HIs result would be quite a way to light the proverbial touchpaper for David Isaac’s mission to complete the London Marathon. David has mainly excelled at running during his time at the club and was first noticed when he completed the Southport Half Marathon last year in a little over 90 minutes. His build-up to the VLM was characterised by a top-5 position in the club XC standings and a phenomenal run at the Wrexham Half Marathon shortly after. On the streets of London he was straight into his stride, completing the first half in 1:32:22. Amazingly he came within two seconds of recording a negative split, almost unheard of in London, nonetheless he easily cracked the top 3000 and vindicated the club’s decision to hand him the ballot place with a stirring run to a final time of 3:04:56. he was joined by Craig Abbott who must have run out of superhero suits as he resurrected the Superman outfit of years past which he took to a time of 4:36:11. However, Mike Goulbourne stole the show as his epic running career took yet another improbable turn; he has finished many marathons in under three hours but that was before a major accident on his bike a couple of years ago left him sidelined for many months. However, he was out of the blocks like a scalded cat and his final time of 2:48:00 was absolutely extraordinary. No better result possible for no quieter spoken man, well done Mike, exceptional effort.
The Blackpool Festival of Running is a regular favourite amongst those who failed to get a ballot place for the VLM, so much so that if you enter both and the London ballot comes up good for you, the Fylde Coast Running organisers up north will even refund your entry fee! Lee Stinch took the trip to the Irish Sea coast and was pleased to overcome the strong winds and finish in just over 1 hour 35 minutes. He wasn’t alone in making the trip to this oft-forgotten backwater area of Lancashire as several juniors were in action at the North West Clubs and School Trawlerman Aquathlon at the Palatine Leisure Centre in the Pleasure Beach town. Grace Hirst ran a great race to edge into the top 10 (by just one second) in the T1 Girls event while it was a family day out for Thomas and Holly Saile as Thomas beat the 20 minute mark in the T2 Boys race and Hollie completed the T3 Girls race in 26:49, where she was joined by Grace’s sister Holly who was unlucky to be edged out of the top 20.
Two triathlons made up the remainder of the weekend schedule in Chirk and Southport. At the mid-Wales early season classic, Sean Dalby was joined by Mal Balmer and Myka Heard as they took on a course suited to those who like a challenging bike leg, somewhat unexpected in this “flat” part of Wales near the border. Sean showed considerable improvement particularly on the bike course as he finished 240th and was unlucky not to beat the 75 minute mark but the big hand of the day had to go to Myka, who was out of the water in under seven minutes before using her time trial bike to best effect on the testing roads of Wales, and her run was one of the most encouraging in a while as she not only recorded a 1:02:24 but was also second in her category. Meanwhile, Mal got within twelve seconds of Myka in the water and indeed the pair were out onto the bike almost line astern, but Mal would edge away during the course of the race and even dipped under the hour for good measure, finishing 58th overall and third in his division.
The biggest club outing of the day, and the second-biggest of the season so far after Edge Hill two weeks ago, was at the Southport Splashworld Triathlon hosted by Epic Events. Splashworld opened nearly 15 years ago and has been host to many events including parties and swimming galas. The running joke doing the rounds in the weeks leading up to the race was that the competitors would have to go down the slide to start the swim, but that might have been a little too frivolous even for an entry aimed at first timers, and indeed it was great to see so many newcomers tackling their first triathlon, whether for St Helens Tri or for another club (or unattached, just dropping a hint there). Robert Chesters might have had the honour of leading the club home in 13th overall with a time of 1:05:40, but his was a strange race; first off, he enjoyed a marked improvement on the swim, thanks in no small part to joining the club’s nucleus of BTF course qualified coaches (a terrific investment not only for triathlon success but also for developing professional skills). He was out of the water in around eight minutes but was soon struggling to hold position on the bike, and a mediocre performance on two wheels only got worse when a Honda Civic who obviously didn’t understand the “ROAD CLOSED” sign overshot the roundabout, did a three-point turn on Marine Drive and nearly took him out! Perhaps the “red mist” helped, as given he was nowhere near any accolades up until this point he did at least record the third-fastest run split of the day to lift himself up the order, but to say he got out of jail is an understatement. Perhaps a bike fit is in order soon. One person who has seriously improved on the bike over the winter is Emma Austin, who is used to racing at the sharp end. Here, she was out of the water in her customary sub-6 minute time and got within three minutes of the mark Robert set on the bike. She is still coming back from a running injury so for once it was just as well that the “attack the bike” pacing strategy was the right one, as she finished as third female in the open category (the junior division having mysteriously disappeared from the awards here) and 37th overall in a time of 1:11:04, 37 seconds ahead of her dad Paul who nearly made up the lost ground to Emma over the course of the race, but ultimately had to settle for third club member home, however he still placed 41st overall and fourth in his category. If there was an award for good guys with great character Chris Dyson would probably have locked it up for the next decade’s worth of awards nights; his was a great opening swim as he was out of the water in under eight minutes (proving once and for all the benefit of regular attendance at the club swim sessions) and having exchanged greetings at 25mph with Robert at least four times on the bike course he pulled into T2 with a very satisfactory sub-42 cycle stage time. This made for a very entertaining finish as he made a hilarious attempt to snatch the “best finish line pose” award while Robert closed in trying to look everywhere but ahead (or was he just pushing so hard?) but in any case Chris thoroughly deserved his top-100 placing and time of 1:19:01.
Chris isn’t the only one who has benefitted from the Friday morning swim sessions; Carole James has consistently held her own, and more, in Lane 2, indeed it will make for very interesting viewing to see if either or both can make the step to lane 3 in the near future. Carole was out of the pool in under nine minutes and used her low, aggressive race position on her bike to great effect into the wind on the coast road. Her run split of 25:15 was an improvement of over 30 seconds on her final stage at the Parbold Duathlon last month, and her eventual runners-up spot in her age group was a fitting reward, and quite possibly the performance of the day. Next up was Sam Walton who recorded a blindingly quick time in the pool of under six and a half minutes and he put in a determined shift on the bike and run to record a final time of 1:23:48. Lynette Houghton recently credited her strength improvements to a programme of bodyweight workouts and lighter, but higher quantity reps in her training. It paid off in style as her swim plus T1 time was comparable to what Robert and Chris managed, and her final time of 1:26:06 put her in the top 10 for the V40 category. Kylie Barlow was quick to pay tribute to the club after the race as until a few months ago she had never managed 50 metres of front crawl. Well what a difference a winter’s training makes; her sub-10 minute time in the pool was her personal best and although the bike leg proved somewhat more difficult she ran a terrific 23:57 for the 5k, the second-quickest St Helens Tri member on foot, as she recorded a 1:31:20 and came very close to cracking the top 200. Rob Chalmers has been at the club for longer than Kylie but also had a good outing, with a particularly encouraging bike split propelling him to a 1:36:36 finish, while Keith Ashcroft was back in action as he nearly caught Rob’s time at the finish, but eventually had to give best by just sixteen seconds. All in all a terrific weekend of racing, where the star turns came from Eddie in Pontevedra, Mike and David in London, Myka and Mal in Chirk and Emma and Carole at Splashworld. Next week’s Epic Triathlon is the long-running Horwich special, including the race to Rivington Pike on a course best suited to those who run long distances on a variety of terrain. With the Liverpool Festival of Running and a variety of other races on the schedule, the World Snooker final Bank Holiday Weekend promises to be action-packed for everyone, including St Helens Tri!
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.