Wythenshawe XC Race Review – the Myka and Michael Show

And so it arrived, the final round of the Manchester Cross Country season and the last chance to build off road strength ahead of the spring 10k and marathon season. The curtain closer in Wythenshawe would not only confirm the club’s best ever season in the league, but also offer the four contenders for the men’s club championship a real opportunity for honours at the awards ceremony in the evening. The Parkruns offered something of an appetiser to get things going and Steve Martin sneaked into the top 200 of the increasingly popular Warrington event while on home ground in St Helens Kevin Dudley placed ninth just over two minutes ahead of Mike Gregory and Tony Waine just missed the top 300 by mere seconds. That was it for terra firma as all attentions turned to the frozen slippery tundra of South Manchester. The juniors kicked things off in the morning with Joseph Duffy climbing into the top half in the U11 Boys race and Holly Hirst finding that two shoes really are faster than one in the corresponding girls race. More good efforts from Reuben Wilson and George Houghton set the tone for a great afternoon of racing with five ladies and eleven men set to face the massed start, the mad dash into the first corner, and the never ending battle to stay upright (lost by a couple of Stockport Harriers, notably) in the afternoon races. Myka Heard has dominated the club competition this year and another sub-45 minute time and first club counter position (in the top 100 overall and 5th in her age group) gave her a final tally of 118 points. It was fitting that Lynette Houghton, who developed her strength for XC on obstacle races around the world, should be next home for the club around three minutes further back while a fascinating battle was developing between Christine and Bethany Forber for third, the pair having arrived at Wythenshawe deadlocked on 32 points. They were closely matched throughout the race but on the final lap Christine pulled away to round out the podium while Bethany finished 39 seconds further back. Also racing was Liz Spensley who made the top 250 and must surely be a candidate for the MACCL inspiration award at the forthcoming AGM and presentation event scheduled for March 2 at Wilmslow Rugby Club, starting at 6:30pm.

Myka may have wrapped up the ladies club championship with a round to spare but four men arrived at the season finale with a chance to join her in the winner’s circle. Michael Forber led the standings going in and knew a podium finish would likely secure the title. He battled with Eddie Hirst for much of the early going and was probably always mindful of the shoe plate incident that cost him at least third if not second at Heaton Park. In the event the shoe held out when it mattered most and second place just over a minute behind Eddie confirmed him as the St Helens Tri men’s cross country champion for 2018. Behind him it was a close run thing and a real clash of three different styles as Colin Dobbs built on his recent performance for Penny Lane Striders at the Helsby half marathon to pull clear of a spirited battle for fourth between Robert Chesters, racing for the first time under the shadow of a balance condition known as vestibular migraine, and XC specialist Kevin Dunbar whose recent training schedule has been somewhat disrupted by injury. Given the ice rink conditions it was therefore a big surprise to Robert himself that he edged it by a mere handful of seconds especially after the aforementioned Stockport Harriers incident towards the end of the second lap – and just when you thought Robert was the more likely candidate to end up with a mouthful of mud. For his part Kevin still had more than enough to secure third in the club competition ahead of Che Heard and the tie for fifth between Robert and Colin. Speaking of Che, he turned up for the races this year with only two spikes in his shoes but despite his unorthodox approach to footwear choice and even losing his race number he still held off David Gaskell and Dean Golba to round out the A team, with Dean recording his best finish yet just seven seconds behind Dave who did a rather better job of dodging the precariously placed poles at the back of the circuit than one or two teammates………..Three more members rounded out our participation for 2017/18, with Lee Stinch finishing around a minute clear of Gary Birch and Azzam Taktak deservedly bringing the curtain down as one of very few members who participated in all five rounds.

While most national sporting focus shifted to Twickenham for the England-Wales rugby match, our club awards night followed at the Eagle and Child in Billinge where the club’s top achievers of the past twelve months were honoured. A full hall of fame post will be uploaded in the coming days but many thanks are due to Adele and Wayne Fisher as well as Helen Broderick for organising a memorable night, as well as those who donated raffle prizes and also to Cottam’s for their expert catering. As if enjoying the club night wasn’t enough Diane Taktak rounded the weekend off with a trip to Stockport for the Crazy Legs trail half marathon where she battled Arctic conditions to place well inside the top 300 of a strong field in under 2 hours 8 minutes. What a weekend it has been for so many reasons, and more is to come as Terry Bates who hosted the awards like a true MoC is planning to reorganise the cancelled club duathlon from February 4 while the St Helens 10k takes place next month, and the Oulton Park and Bedford Autodrome Spring Duathlons offer members a chance to qualify for Team GB in the forthcoming world championships.

Double PB in a Deep Freeze + Wythenshawe XC race preview

It was a relatively light schedule for St Helens Tri last weekend as most attentions had been turned to the first club duathlon of 2018 only to be cancelled by the threat of black ice. Before that, however, we had Kevin Dunbar and Kevin Dudley starring in one of the most startling race start videos of recent times at the St Helens Parkrun. The pair both finished in the top 6, Kevin even getting under 20 minutes but they were also on the front row to watch a St Helens Sutton member to launch off the line like he was on a bike! The winner who clocked a staggering 15:20 must figure to be one of the favourites for next month’s St Helens 10k. Matt and Emma Shillabeer joined over 400 other runners at the Warrington event, both recording new PB’s with Matt placing 16th in under 21 minutes and Emma nudging into the top 250. As already mentioned ice put paid to the club duathlon so the only beneficiaries of ice cold conditions were Chris Forber and Tony Waine, the former recording an impressive sub-2:05 PB on a tough course at the Heaton Park half marathon, the latter doing likewise in a freezing crosswind at the Mad Dog 10k as his recent excellent Parkrun form on fast circuits translated perfectly to the long straights and sweeping corners of the Marshside course at the north end of Southport.

All attentions now turn to the second Super Saturday of 2018 at the final round of the 2017/18 Manchester cross country league at Wythenshawe Park. While the men’s team will be looking to lock up second place in Division 3 and promotion for next season, the club championship is still up for grabs. Myka Heard clinched the ladies’ title with one round to spare last time out at Woodbank Park but five club members (four of whom are competing on Saturday) still have a theoretical chance of becoming the men’s champion. The Wythenshawe course is the flattest and usually the fastest course of the season with only a short section on gravel so in normal circumstances would suit those with suspect balance who have long stride speed to burn, but the predicted wet conditions could yet prove to be the fly in the ointment to produce a thrilling conclusion to a season where the points leader has changed four times in as many rounds.

1st: Michael Forber (61 points, 0 wins) Despite not winning a race so far, Michael Forber heads the standings with 61 points. He’s been strong on all the courses so far and but for a loose shoe plate may well have been almost out of sight. A win on Saturday, amongst other permutations, will confirm him as the series winner. But will he come to rue that day at Heaton Park when his shoe plate cost him a definite podium and a possible win?

2nd: Kevin Dunbar (55 points, 1 win) Kevin put in arguably the performance of the season so far at the University Playing Fields in December to take the lead. Some difficult weeks of training and racing followed, but last week’s starring role at the St Helens Parkrun had set him up very well to come back to form at just the right time. Again, a win on Saturday will clinch the title.

3rd: Eddie Hirst (50 points, 2 wins) On paper, the early favourite to win on the day, as a previous first club counter at this venue. Eddie’s winter season has been marked by two particularly notable performances, winning last time out in resounding at Woodbank Park and even recording a time of just over 19 minutes at a Parkrun course he had never been to over the festive period. A win plus Michael Forber finishing out of the top three will crown him champion, and as such could make for a riveting final lap if, as is likely, the less technical nature of the course keeps the runners relatively close together.

4th: Che Heard (43 points, 0 wins) For Che to join Myka and make it an NRG4 Limar Helmets double in the winner’s circle the task is simple; come first and then see what happens with the three in front of him. He starred at the University Playing Fields holding off Michael Forber for second and nearly taking Kevin on the line for first. The win itself is far from impossible given how much his Ironman 2017 campaign has improved his running strength, but the other three permutations (Eddie no higher than 3rd, Kevin off the podium and Michael out of the top 6) seem more unlikely. Still, if the Philadelphia Eagles won last weekend’s Super Bowl from almost as unlikely a position, what’s to say the same couldn’t happen here?

A full report will be written on Sunday after the race results and the awards night, scheduled for a 7pm start at the Eagle and Child in Billinge, where there will be a raffle with generous prizes donated by various club members together with hotpot supper before the club recognises the members who have achieved and inspired the most over the past 12 months.

Title for Tony in Wintry Widnes

Two weekends of Parkruns and the latest Appley Bridge duathlon hosted by the Endurance Store rounded off January nicely for St Helens Tri ahead of a busy opening to February. On January 20th we had Oliver and Charlie Murphy plus Jill O’Connor at Edge Hill where Oliver just about got the better of his brother by less than twenty seconds and Jill recorded a 27:21 just outside the top 100. At Victoria Park in St Helens it was another close run thing as Kevin Dudley came home ahead of Mike Gregory by 18 seconds, the pair separated by twelve places in a very close field. As has often been the case, Tony Waine was the one to buck the trend and decided to visit the slippery temple of speed known as the Widnes Parkrun where any frustration at missing out on a sub-23 time was forgotten when he realised he had won his age group on his first trip to this little known but fast and flowing course just north of the Runcorn bridges.

Tony’s travels took him to Highbury Fields the following week where he just missed the top 100 but got within half a minute of his time from Widnes. On the local circuit we had Paul Austin leading home the dynamic duo from the week before in St Helens as he also recorded a new course PB into the bargain. With no-one opting for the Edge Hill course the remaining results came from Matt and Emma Shillabeer in Warrington, Matt recording a PB once again and coming close to breaking the 21 minute mark while Emma came close to achieving a PB of her own. The weekend wasn’t over just yet as Louise Hogg finished in the top 30 overall and sixth lady home at the latest round of the Endurance Store Winter Duathlon races. Their series continues in mid-February but the St Helens Tri members only duathlon is the main event for next weekend provided the predicted snowstorm misses the local area, while the final round of the Manchester cross country league and the cub awards night take place the following Saturday.

My Experience of Cross Country – Holly Hirst

For the past few years my dad and I have taken part in an event for all ages (from 11-80), Manchester and Cheshire Cross Country League. Through our triathlon club, my dad and I have taken part in just a few of these hard-core races which are not for the faint-hearted.

Dad had started doing cross county around 3 years ago and he would come home with legs covered in mud and I just wanted to have a go. So last year, I did my first cross country and I loved it; I went on to do several more after that.

Last Saturday, I was just one of the many people in St Helens Tri that took part in the race in Stockport. Including a massive downhill, a killer up hill and lots and lots of mud. Along the way, people were falling over and getting stuck but luckily, I had turned round the last corner and therefore nothing could go wrong …

Although, in the last fifteen seconds of the race, my shoe was sucked up by the colossal amount of mud along the finishing straight.  Skidding in the mud, I turned back around, making sure to scoop my shoe out of the boggy mess before finishing the race with only one shoe left on my feet.

After the race, it was time to get warm by wrapping myself up in several blankets and eating loads of sweets and cake: so I guess it wasn’t all that bad!

Success for Scuderia Limar in Stockport

The past weekend was something of a three course classic; Saturday 9am Parkruns to get the ball rolling, the Tatton 10k on the Sunday, and a landmark Manchester Cross Country event at Woodbank Park in Stockport. A select few, in fact a Fab Four, faced three timekeepers at 9am and all four stayed close to home, Wesley Brown managing 115th in under 28 minutes at the St Helens event while Matt Shillabeer smashed his course PB in Warrington, 21:17 placing him fifth. Emma Shillabeer also managed a PB of her own and will surely go under 30 minutes soon. Chris Murphy was our sole entrant at Edge Hill and placed 33rd with a time of 24:02, but that was it for terra firma as the focus shifted south of the Trafford Centre for the fourth round of the Manchester Cross Country League.

First to race in Stockport were the U11 Boys, and Charlie Murphy and Joseph Duffy served up a taste of things to come later as they finished just 13 seconds apart. Holly Hirst provided some entertainment in the corresponding girls race as she lost a shoe just before the end, picked it up and ran across the line carrying it! In the event she finished in under 16 minutes, before a solid run from Reuben Wilson in the U13 Boys race and a similarly dogged effort from both George Houghton and Oliver Murphy in the U15 event.

After lunch the field of 300 ladies set off to take on the famous hill and the jaw-dropping descent Woodbank Park is so well known for. We had six entrants in the race, with Myka Heard and Claire Murphy leading the way. The end result was not only Myka coming out on top by just over a minute, but she also finished inside the top half of the field and, in being first club counter home, wrapped up the ladies championship with a round to spare! A perfect way for Myka to go into her second year as a Limar helmets athlete (hence the Italian themed title) and after she and Claire had caught their breath at the finish line attentions turned to the remaining runners headed on this occasion by Lynette Houghton who has undoubtedly improved over the course of the season, Helen Broderick who won both a wild three-wide sprint finish and “the Apprentice” award for most committed race face (at least until the usual suspect left the start line at 2:30pm) and then Chris Forber and Jennifer Pybis, the former cashing in once more on her consistent training and diverse racing schedule, the latter making a welcome first appearance for St Helens Tri this season after years of running road and track elsewhere.

At 2:30pm the men set off for the latest instalment of what is proving to be an epic back and forth season where nobody has held on to the top spot in the points standings for two consecutive races. Here, the returning Eddie Hirst made use of his experience on hilly, technical courses by placing first club counter in just under 44 minutes, keeping himself in contention for the title by moving to within 11 points of leader Michael Forber, who followed up his recent sub-7 hour Liverbird double marathon performance by finishing within two minutes of his teammate. Behind Michael Adam O’Shea edged a furious battle for the final podium spot with Colin Dobbs, as the pair finished just nine seconds apart, the same gap which also separated Patrick Neill from Kevin Dunbar to round out the A team. First to count in the B team was David Gaskell who, like Adam and Patrick, put in his best performance of the season as he overtook Che Heard to place seventh. Next up was Dean Golba who spent most of the Friday prior to the race playing a game of rock-paper-scissors over which shoes to bring (you’d never guess he’s also a champion go-kart racer) but ninth club counter represented a huge improvement, and he led home Robert O’Shea by over 90 seconds, while Gary Birch, Lee Stinch and Mal Balmer finished in a tightly bunched part of the field within a minute of each other. Rounding out the club’s finishers were Parkrun tourist Tony Waine and ever-present Azzam Taktak who made it fifteen over the line, and with several unavailable runners hoping to make the finale in three weeks’ time, the club may yet have enough to field three complete teams at Wythenshawe Park, while Michael Forber goes into the final round just six points ahead of Kevin Dunbar in the race for the club championship.

The Tatton 10k was held the following morning under clear skies, if rather breezy conditions, and Jennifer Miller opened her 2018 account with a fine run to a time of 55:46 around the leafy lanes of Cheshire, in an event that promises to be almost as much of a semi-regular staple as the cross country races, because the organisers are looking to stage a 10k several times throughout the year, with the next event scheduled for Saturday February 10th, the same day as the final round of the MACCL and the St Helens Tri awards night, for which members can still buy tickets at the time of writing.

The joy of racing – Eddie Hirst

After a summer period dominated by injury, I was thrilled to represent Great Britain as an Age Group athlete and experience an international race at the ITU Multisport World Championships in Penticton, British Columbia. The human body has the capacity to repair itself fairly quickly from some sporting injuries, fortunately this allowed me to get myself to a level of fitness which would make me competitive at the event. My family and I also decided to target the World Championships as a family holiday destination as the dates landed squarely in the UK school summer holidays. Happy days!

Canada is a beautiful country and the people are friendly, humble and resourceful. I was quite taken by the whole experience and it has to be one of my favourite destinations. The Multisport World Championships covers a range of events from the ‘Iron distance’ swim, bike and run to Aquathlon and Duathlon. I competed in the Sprint Distance Duathlon event which was a fast and furious experience which included a roller coaster bike leg, not for the faint hearted!

I was more than happy to finish 15th in my race, it was a real honour to race for GB and the support from my family and teammates was awesome. There were some real acts of human kindness on display, one of which involved two of my GB teammates who stopped during my race to attend to a fellow competitor from the USA who had taken a very bad fall during the cycle section. Effectively sacrificing their race to attend to the needs of another person who needed urgent medical assistance. They were OK, thankfully and my teammates have since received recognition for their acts of kindness.

All in all, an amazing trip which at one point looked doubtful for me, but I persevered and made it!

Rhys roars out of the blocks, Diane defeats the deep freeze

As 2017 closed and 2018 began Parkruns dominated the club racing schedule with a notable exception at the Liverpool two day event held over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. On the eve of New Year’s Eve St. Helens Tri managed two in the top 6 at Stadt Moers Park in Knowsley, Adam O’Shea leading his brother Robert to the tune of just under 90 seconds, Adam finishing around a minute behind the winner. At Edge Hill we had our usual good turnout with Dominic Byrne’s 13th place and time of 22:15 putting him just over two minutes ahead of a furious battle between Chris Murphy and Joseph Duffy. Chris got the decision by just two seconds around half a minute clear of Oliver Murphy while Charlie Murphy was only around another minute in arrears highlighting the stretch in depth the club now has. Kevin Dudley was our sole representative in St Helens as he took a top 15 placing in a competitive field while Eddie Hirst decided to take in a new course on his travels to the capital as he tackled the Southwark Parkrun. In a very fast event where the winner clocked a sub-17 time Eddie was right at home in illustrious company and finished just outside the top 10 with a time of 19:05, a great time at any point in the year but particularly impressive during the festive season.

The double marathon runners weren’t the only ones out in force as the strains of Auld Lang Syne were fading into the back rooms of pubs and clubs because a few Parkruns teamed up to offer a double option where you did one event at 9am then drove or rode your bike to a second event at 10am. While it appeared as though nobody from the club would take on a double, Tony Waine was part of a surprisingly large entry at Edge Hill and was rewarded with a mid-25 time and a top 100 finish while Emma Austin started 2018 in much the same way as she finished 2017 by starring at Victoria Park in St Helens. She won her age group and was fourth female while her dad Paul turned out as well and creditably finished with two minutes despite his lack of experience with the hilly course. The next club member home, to everyone’s surprise, was Tony Waine who must have had the drive of his life to make it down the A570 in time but he was remarkably close to his Ormskirk time while Wesley Brown completed the course in just over 28 minutes.

Onwards to the first Saturday of 2018 it was then, and no sooner had the clock struck 9:18am then we had a new winner to celebrate, as first time entrant Rhys Thomas took on the Ormskir Parkrun and scored a brilliant victory in 17:49, on a day when only other runner beat 19 minutes! He deservedly stole the headlines on a day when we also had good results elsewhere including a top 10 for Kevin Dudley and a top 20 for Mike Gregory at St Helens (the pair finishing just 45 seconds apart) and a first outing for Matt and Emma Shillabeer in Warrington, Matt crossing the line in a time of 21:38 around ten minutes ahead of Emma. Diane Taktak rounded off the first weekend of 2018 with a trip to the Fylde coast for the ever popular Central Lancashire New Year Half Marathon. Held every year on the first Sunday in January it has been played out in some pretty inhospitable conditions over the years and as such the 2018 edition featuring “only” icy roads was one of the less daunting curtain raisers of recent times. Speaking of chip times Diane enjoyed both the course and the huge medal awarded at the finish as she completed the 13.1 miles in just over 2 hours 10 minutes which should set her up nicely for next weekend when the club takes on the fourth, and arguably the toughest, round of the Manchester Cross Country League at Woodbank Park in Stockport.