Almere, Anglesey and Ambleside – Epic Distance Season goes to Extra Time

At St Helens Tri, it is somewhat rare we run out of plaudits to bestow on a specific individual for their athletic achievements, but over the weekend the club saw another outstanding performance from Eddie Hirst at Challenge Almere. Held on the flat roads of the Netherlands, it offers the strong bikers a chance to make a break for it, something that is harder to achieve on the UK course. This would be the theme of Eddie’s race as he frequently recorded splits of close to 40kmh aboard his time trial bike. He planned his run to stay in Zone 1 with the Kona World Championships next month, but he still went under 3:45 for the marathon and placed an astonishing eighth in his category with a time of 10:04:12. A phenomenal achievement for the club’s most impressive and consistent athlete.

Closer to home, two triathlon festivals were taking place in Anglesey and Brighton. Patrick Neill overcame a virus to take seventh overall, and third in his category, at the Sandman Duathlon and he was joined by Mal Balmer who got off to a very good start in the Classic Triathlon which features a fairly flat bike course and a run through the woods finishing on the beach. His sub-20 minute 1000m swim was followed by a fine performance on the bike of just over 1:50 and a sub-50 minute 10k through the forest lifted him to 46th at the finish, while Paul Mcgregor rounded out an epic year of half and full distance triathlon with a time of just over six and a half hours in the Legend event, Mere seconds away from the top 100. On the south coast it was a somewhat chaotic race as Lynette Houghton, Myka Heard and Steve Williams were aiming once again for GB age group qualification in the draft legal sprint race. However, a crash on the bike course in an earlier wave meant that the trio were stuck in transition and though all finished the race, adjusted times are still being finalised at the time of writing. It wasn’t all long distance trips as Stephen Bolton took on his third triathlon in 10 days in Wilmslow, where he was joined by Chris Murphy, a long time club member and regular photographer at the Manchester Cross Country League races. Despite feeling like “the heaviest legs he’s had” on the run course Stephen’s recent experience proved key in enabling him to hold on for 61st place and a top 8 in his age group, with a particularly impressive bike split speeding him to a time of 1:30:58. Chris clawed some time back on Stephen on the run course, eventually coming home just over four minutes on arrears with 1:35:21.

For single sport events it was a tale of two races in Windermere and Hoylake. At the Epic Lakes Swim finale near Ambleside Mark Eccleston capped off an amazing endurance year with his first ever 5,000m swim, well over Iron distance. He has focused on stamina over speed since Ironman in July and it paid off as he finished the longest Epic Swim on the calendar in 1:54:11, with Andy Devaynes finishing around a quarter of an hour behind. In the mile race Tony Waine completed his “season subscription” to the “classic” distance with another solid sub 40 time. Over on the Wirral Peninsula Diane Taktak was on tour with the Isabella Rose Foundation, though she was running for St Helens Tri. Here, she completed the part tarmac, part grass course in under 65 minutes to round off a fine weekend of racing with star turns coming from Eddie for Almere, Mark at the Epic Swim and Patrick for his gritty effort in Anglesey. Next week’s offerings include the North West Triathlon at Barony Park in Nantwich and the Kendal Triathlon in the South Lakes as well as the Southport Seaside 10k. A backlog of postponed races also bunched the junior season into three successive Sundays from 15-29 September; an all-in junior column will be released separately at the end of the month.

The Saints Showpiece 2019 – #BeatShaleyBrow Edition

Five club members took the short trip north to Capernwray, near Lancaster, for the T2 Events midweek series season finale. James Nairn has regularly featured early in the weekly reports without ever quite being the one to lead the club home, but here he was star of the show, as his sub-14 minute swim and a pair of very fast transitions were pivotal in establishing himself at the front of the club cohort, and 21st overall with 4th in his category was a fine reward. Next up was Stephen Bolton, who only joined the club midway through the season and has bean a regular at the pool and open water sessions over the last two months. Here, he was warming up for the St Helens Triathlon with his first ever outing for the club, and a superb 36 minute 20k bike was key to him finishing in a time of 1:18:14 just a handful of seconds away from the top 30. Robert Courtley was not far behind as he put in a terrific performance in the water, however he had to give best to his teammates on the bike, nevertheless finishing in the top six in his age group. Team Taktak were able to go for it and not worry about the big show in town at the weekend as they would be among the many valued contributors to enabling the club’s flagship event to run smoothly. Azzam’s sub-13 minute swim and a promising bike split lifted him to 52nd overall less than half a minute away from the top 50, while Sarah set the only sub-10 minute swim of the Famous Five, eventually finishing 61st in 1:28:23, good enough to take another age group win to store in her impressive trophy cabinet.

Four days later the club’s biggest race of the entire year rolled into town at the fourth running of the St Helens Triathlon held at Eccleston Mere. The race offered sprint and standard distance options; the former including one lap of the Mere, a lap of the bike route and a single lap run round Rainford, simply going to two laps per discipline for the longer option. In the sprint distance it was a fairly spread out race at the head of the field, but Emma Austin, fresh from returning from Lausanne, was out of the water right at the front of the overall field and her huge improvements in bike strength meant that she had more than enough in hand on the run to finish third overall, easily winning the ladies’ race outright to boot. Equally impressive was Mark Derbyshire, who broke out at last month’s Manley Mere Triathlon. Here, in a far less chaotic race, he was out of the lake in exactly 15 minutes, and although he left it too late to catch Emma he still took fifth at the line, winning the M40 category. He was just over a minute ahead of bike specialist Peter Leadbeater, who was third-quickest of anyone on the bike course and briefly looked like edging the intraclub battle, but in the end Mark’s much improved running form proved to be the difference. Sam Walton is always in the mix for fastest swim time and here he was once again, flying round the Mere in under 12 minutes, while he notably recorded the fastest T2 time of anyone which proved to be crucial in determining which of the club’s up and coming talents would follow Emma home; Sam finished 11th just over a minute ahead of George Houghton, wiith the pair sandwiching Brian Diggle who positively starred on his debut for the club; 12th place being a good first outing any day of the week, but an outstanding one set against the backdrop of his planned Ironman 70.3 debut at the end of the month! Also finishing in the top 20 were Stephen Bolton, nicely recovered after his trip to Capernwray, David Mellor, another promising debutant, and Carole James, who knocked over a minute off her Manley Mere swim time and was particularly impressive on the run. Behind Carole a furious battle was on between Chris and Bethany Forber, with Chris ahead as they left T2 but Bethany starring both in the photos (Helen Broderick’s photography and encouraging words getting the credit here) and on the 5k as she overhauled Chris to lead the family home. The complete results including the club’s remaining finishers are available to view at https://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=194217 where the sprint and standard results are listed in full.

In an exciting standard race, which saw former St Helens Tri member Sam Wardle win a thrilling battle with Alex Ward and Steve Hall for the overall victory, recent new member Dominic Pike led the current crop of Saints home, coming home just over five minutes ahead of his usual Friday night “partner in crime” Callum Bishop, as he asserted his authority on the race early doors with a blistering swim, followed it up with a bike time just over 75 minutes and rounded things off with a sub-36 10k. It was a close run thing between Mark Ashton and Dave Connor, as Mark edged ahead in the lake and put some serious daylight between him and Dave on the bike. A furious last-ditch effort on the run was enterprising but ultimately came up short for Dave as the pair finished 12th and 13th separated by just over half a minute. The next trio of Chris Connor, Neil Prescott and Paul Austin chopped and changed like an arcade slot machine as Paul held a big lead over his teammates in the water, but Neil and Chris battled past Paul on the bike and in the end it was a superior 10k from Chris that made the different as he grabbed a top-15 place to boot. There were plenty of highlights throughout the field, including Louise Johnson using her recent experience of long, tough, hilly bike rides to take second female home, and a welcome return for Gary Birch, who has made a name for himself at half and full distance Ironman races over the last few years, but here completed the course in under two hours 50 minutes enjoying a good battle with Paul Booth in the process. Another notable performance came from Chris Hayes, completing his first full season with the club, as he recorded his best 10k run performance to date elevating him into the top 50. Ultimately it was an exciting day of racing on the local lanes marred but the aforementioned accident for Kevin Dudley, but the club nonetheless did itself proud with valued contributions coming not only from those who participated but also the BeUrBest team, Rainford High Technology College and club members who gave their Sunday mornings to help with marshalling, the T2 drinks station and take photos. Next week’s main events are the final Epic Lakes Swim of the season at Windermere and the South Manchester Triathlon hosted by OP Events, while the Rainford 10k is just four weeks away and entries are still available at the time of writing.

 

St Helens Triathlon marred by serious collision

The 4th running of the St Helens Triathlon was marked by a serious collision involving club member Kevin Dudley. Kevin was hit by a motorist on the bike course, and after receiving first aid from the medical team and fellow club member Mark Eccleston he was taken to hospital with a suspected broken shoulder and fractured wrist.

The accident was a particularly untimely occurrence coming on a day when Dave Gaskell, who suffered a similar fall last month at the Manley Mere triathlon, turned up and supported the club’s flagship event receiving good wishes from the multisport community. Our thoughts are with Kevin and we send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Saints Steamroller Keeps On (Swiss) Rolling into September

Emma Austin, Myka Heard and Steve Williams are no strangers to team GB and on Saturday they were joined in Lausanne by Jennifer Pybis for the first time at the ITU Age Group World Championships. They were also joined by a far greater turnout from around the world than at the recent European finals and this was always going to put Jennifer, who has made her name in close quarter racing over the last few years, right in her element. She was out of the water in under 14 minutes, and a much improved bike split under the 38 minute mark had her in good position to secure a top half finish if she could just produce her customary blistering 5k run split. She managed that, and more, in rising to 24th position in the F30-34 division less than half a minute away from the top 20. Meanwhile Emma was always going to plan her race with the precision of a Formula 1 team, and as such she dived straight into the thick of things with a sub-12:30 swim! Her bike split with her matching green race wheels was also a fine effort, similar to what Jennifer recorded in her race, and although she was overhauled by a fellow Team GB athlete on the run she was still third British entrant home and 23rd overall in 1:21:08. That Myka Heard even made it to Lausanne after such a disrupted season was a remarkable story in itself and she arrived ready to make the most of it fresh off a come-from-behind age group win at the Deva Aquathlon on Bank Holiday Monday. She has made huge strides over recent months shaving off considerable time from her already fast 750m swim mark, and a bike time easily under 40 minutes set her up nicely for the 5k, where she sealed 33rd position in a time of 1:25:16. However, the star of the show was Steve Williams, who recorded the highest position of all four St Helens Tri entrants (17th in his age group) and holding off a late charge from a Mersey Tri entrant to be third GB athlete home. There was also a little bit of racing closer to home on Saturday as Karen Kelly took part in the Sundowner Half Ironman in Pocklington, Yorkshire. A popular race, it starts at 12 noon and, as per the name, athletes are still finishing as the sun goes down with a party overlooking Allerthorpe Park Lake. Karen was more than equal to the breezy conditions and, in a cracking sprint to the line, held on for a top 400 place – to the tune of just three seconds! Meanwhile Will Bardin was positively starring at the Chillswim End to End in Coniston as he completed the 5.25 mile course in a little over 3 hours placing him easily inside the top 250. He was joined by Eugenia Kervin and Ann Gregory (pictured below) who have been regular attendees at the Friday morning swim sessions at Edge Hill Sport. Ann’s contributions to the club go well beyond her long-distance swimming ability as she regularly helps with coordinating the development lane, and here she had her second moment in the limelight (after her performance in Salford earlier in the year) as she finished the epic in just over four hours. Meanwhile Eugenia was having the race of her life, as she proved that doing the longer distances and those extra lengths at club sessions really do make the difference, as she finished in the top 400 recording an excellent 3:36:54, while also placing in the top half of her age group.

The following morning’s flagship race was the Wigan 10k, which has become one of the most popular late summer 10k races over the past decade. Diane Taktak joined her friends from Team Isabella for a warm, cloudy and windy day of racing on the undulating course which nonetheless produced a very fast race at the front. For her part Diane managed to cling on when the going got tough in the last two kilometres to record a 1:02:15 easily putting her in the top half of her category to round off the “party before the party” of next week’s big event, the 4th St Helens Triathlon, for which entries close at midnight tonight (Sunday 1st September). However, entries are still available for the Rainford 10k on October 6th, where the winner will be presented with the George Faulkner Memorial Trophy.

 

Awesome Foursome, the Dazzling Dozen and the Speedy Seven – a Bank Holiday Symphony in Three Movements

Bank Holiday weekend in August is typically characterised by three things; the Challenge Cup Final, Creamfields and the triple-header of the triathlon club relays, the West Lancashire Triathlon at the club’s adopted swimming home of Edge Hill in Ormskirk and the Wirral Open Water triathlon at the Marine Lake in West Kirby. At Holme Pierrepont National Watersports Centre the club had just one team this year, comprising of Myka Heard, Shirley Fox, Paul Booth and Mal Balmer. The Awesome Foursome (their choice of name) did the club proud with some particularly forceful swimming honed by years of long distance sessions at various open water venues and powered their way to 84th place overall finishing the course in just over four hours.

It was an altogether busier morning at the West Lancs Triathlon at Edge Hill Sport. The club’s 12 entrants set off at various times during the day but the Ralfs family led the way on the results table, with Thomas being the only one from the Saints to dip under 70 minutes, his experience in short-course swimming proving pivotal in establishing a fast start and his contributions to the run track sessions paying dividends with his 24 minute 5k split giving his second in his age group. His dad Alan was mere seconds behind, having inched ever closer to his son’s time during the bike and run course he was just less than 20 seconds behind at the finish, his 1:10:12 nevertheless placing him just outside the top 50. Peter Leadbeater has gone a bit under the radar since his sparkling early season form, but having gone well at the April triathlons he went even better here, a sub-34 minute bike split elevating him into the top 60 overall and seventh in his category. Robert Courtley had Chris Dyson for close competition together with Andrew Beacock and Chris Wynne, as the quartet somewhat managed to concertina having been pretty spreadeagled after the swim, Andrew and Chris catching the eye on the 5k in particular. After this closely matched quartet there was a gap of a couple of minutes to Sam Walton, who battled like a man possessed to beat the 80 minute mark and did it to the tune of just nine seconds; he was glad of his blistering 6:02 for the 400m swim once the heat hit out on the bike and run course, and fourth place in his age group was a just reward. He was just over three minutes ahead of Mark Syratt, candidate for “under the radar” improver at the Friday night track sessions, who came up with a tight, consistent race plan and stuck to it, eventually finishing in a time of 1:23:06. He was followed home by Sean Dalby who obviously enjoys the concept of racing short distances frequently; he improved from his showing at Manley Mere particularly on the run to clock a 1:25:51 just seconds away from the top 250. Rounding out the club’s registered entrants was Keith Ashcroft, who went under ten minutes on the swim and dug in deep in the near-oven like temperatures on the top of the hill during the run course to finish in just over 90 minutes.

Over on the Wirral the open water triathlon was in full swing, with its trademark hilly bike route and run along the marina proving a hit with both the entrants and locals alike; a far cry from other such events where Bank Holiday disruption is seen as a major nuisance. Leading the was for the Saints sextet were the dynamic duo of Andrew McGlone and Richard Seville. A trip to the bookmakers a year ago might have got shorter odds on Richard leading the club home but Andrew positively starred in the marina, out of the water in under 13 minutes! He enjoyed two particularly rapid transitions as he put his name forward as a dark horse for 2020 GB consideration and despite Richard’s best efforts on the bike and run he could not catch his teammate, the pair separated by just twelve seconds at the flag. The pair were nearly a quarter of an hour ahead of recent new member Ian Wright, who has been prolific in running races for years as a member of the IRF but here he was right into the thick of things for his new club, as he was out of the water in just over 18 minutes and proceeded to clock 45 minutes for the bike before a solid mid-21 run time saw him home inside the top 150 just under five minutes ahead of a relay team featuring the club’s very own Neil Wallace. In the midst of this passage of play Mark Eccleston added another sprint triathlon to his varied 2019 resume as he recorded the fastest 5k in his long and storied career finishing in the top 70 with a strong run to 1:22:28, although he mentioned in his post-race comments that his 20mph+ average aboard his Giant Propel from Thatto Cycles was even more satisfying (the value of a good bike fit if ever we needed evidence!) Rounding out the club’s entrants on the Wirral were Azzam Taktak and Wendy Webb who were both closing out race seasons largely marked by long distance events; Azzam finished in just over 90 minutes while Wendy recorded a 1:56:07 to close out a weekend where the star turns came from Thomas at Edge Hill, Andrew and Richard at West Kirby and the Awesome Foursome at the relays. The schedule for next weekend is rather more sparse but entries are still available for the St Helens Triathlon on September 8th and the Rainford 10k four weeks later.

Mark, Andrew and Keith at Edge Hill

 

Six from the Top – Countdown to #BeatShaleyBrow Part 1

The past week has been one of those classic “in between” ones with relatively little in the way of actual racing but with several notable results coming in, just enough to fire everyone up for the packed Bank Holiday weekend and the final stretch run in September, including the #BeatShaleyBrow St Helens Triathlon. Two late results came in from the latest round of the North West Junior Series, where Grace and Holly Hirst were taking part in the Tameside Duathlon. Grace and Holly have improved in leaps and bounds thanks mainly to their regular participation at the Friday night track sessions, which are currently focusing on short, sharp efforts to prime everyone for the Rainford 10k and Fun Run. The sisters must figure to finish at the sharp end of the latter given how well they performed in East Manchester as while Holly placed ninth in the TS3 Girls race, Grace took a top 5 at TS1 level finishing very close to the podium. Read More

Super Cup Win for Carole in Chilly Cheshire

Quarry Bank Mill is a popular tourist destination for families as well as school trips and last Wednesday it provided the backdrop for the first St Helens Tri outing of the week. Diane Taktak, who had enjoyed a packed season of running on and off road joined friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation to take on the Run North West trail race. Such has been the variety of events on Diane’s schedule, here on a particularly testing course she ran strong where others faltered and completed the course, just over five miles long, in a time of 51:52. Three days later it was the turn of Violet Costello to star at the Dee Mile swim hosted by Chester Tri Club. This event now offers a half mile option for juniors to participate in and Violet, a regular attendee at Friday morning swimming and the Friday night track run session, performed brilliantly to take third in her category. Where Emma Austin and Sarah Taktak have progressed from junior to adult racing, Violet is set to follow! Read More

Serious accident at Manley Mere Triathlon

The Manley Mere Triathlon on Sunday 11 August was overshadowed by a very distressing accident at the start of the bike course involving longtime club member Dave Gaskell. Dave had entered the race hosted by Stockport Tri Club as preparation for the World Championships and was looking forward to the trip to Lausanne. However, he fell on the first corner of the cycle stage in Cheshire and suffered a fracture of his femur bone. The Stockport marshals were on the scene immediately and were a credit to themselves, their club and the triathlon community as they were there to help Dave in his state of shock while they awaited the arrival of the ambulance. Further to this, a helicopter airlifted him to Aintree Hospital where he underwent surgery on Sunday evening.

As such we will hold back from publishing any race reports from the past week until the time is appropriate. In the meantime, we all at St Helens Tri wish Dave a full and speedy recovery.

Stars of Salford, Snowdonia and the Soyembika – Double Gold Medal Edition

It is easy to forget sometimes, but as recently as the end of 2014 St Helens Tri did not even exist as a club. Within the first two years of existence the club had already racked up many wins on a local and national level as well as organised the first ever St Helens Triathlon, for which entries for the 2019 edition are still available at the time of writing. However, even as the starters’ orders were given on 13 September 2015, some club members were already taking their first steps towards representing their country on the European and World stages. There have been many such episodes of Saints greatness in the last two years in particular but none quite like what the club experienced at the home of the fabled Soyembika Tower in Kazan, Russia on Sunday morning. Read More

Silver for Stephen in Salford Scorcher – “Not the Post Ironman Blues”

During the weeks immediately pre and post Ironman, various members have been flying the St Helens Tri flag at a wide range of venues across the UK. First of those was Steve Howe who claimed a top-six age group finish at the Sport in Action Ullswater Triathlon, while on the same day George Houghton was once again climbing ropes and cargo nets aplenty at his latest OCR event, this being a 15k Spartan held at Market Harborough in Leicestershire. Read More