Sandman Success for Sarah on Saints Island

Regular followers of the club news reports will have noted the rise and rise of Sarah Taktak. Since joining the club a couple of years ago she has gone from participating in a nine-mile sponsored walk which at the time was known as “something mad” to completing numerous multisport events of various distances right up to half Ironman level. Rarely has someone under the age of 18 taken to such long events so well, especially the ones with tough courses requiring that special type of conditioning, but at the Anglesey Sandman Triathlon, a favourite among St Helens Tri members over the years, she was looking to put away the season series and take home the F23 title. It started well enough, with a swim time of just over eight minutes in the sea, but it was her character in recovering from a difficult first transition that really impressed, as she demonstrated improved strength on the bike course and made a crucial pass on the final 5k run to lift herself to 9th place in her category. Together with her results at the Slateman and Snowman triathlons earlier in the year her performance was more than enough to clinch the championship. Also racing was her dad Azzam, who was a little way behind exiting the water, yet really put the hammer down on the bike course and ran his best 5k for a while to place 232nd overall in a time of 1:38:20. In the classic distance race on Sunday Alan McKeegan was right out of the blocks with a sub-29 minute swim for the first stage and while he lost out al little on the bike, a good sub-50 minute 10k saw him home in a time of 3:40:34. He was joined in the classic race by Philip Hughes who had to give best to his teammate on the swim and run, yet was remarkably close on bike splits; in the end Philip’s time of 4:24:00 saw him sneak into the top 400.

While Sarah joined her mum Diane and a few of her friends from the Isabella Rose Foundation at the Totally Wicked Stadium the following morning for the St Helens Colour Run, the club excelled in four diverse events held in Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria. Will Bardin and Peter Rawlinson took part in the Ivan Percival Salthouse Dock open water swims, a low-key, friendly event open to all with all the proceeds going to charity. Results are not yet available at the time of writing but at Ormskirk Cricket Club the skies cleared just in time for both the start of the final day of the Food and Drink Festival and the ever-popular Ormskirk 10k. Here, Keith Ashcroft took on the rolling course around the local lanes and was rewarded with a time of 56:43, beating his previous PB by two minutes, leaving him suitably delighted with the result. In addition Michael and Sarah Hodgkinson made a welcome return to racing at the latest event on the Ulverston Triathlon Club calendar, the Lakeside Triathlon in Cumbria. A low-key event with that modern rarity of an open water swim in September, it is part of a local series which only recently became open to all. Michael proved that he has not missed a beat in the time away as he was third overall thanks to a particularly rapid run split while Sarah also enjoyed a profitable day out as she was in the podium positions throughout, finishing third lady home.

The juniors were out in force at the Deva Junior Triathlon hosted by Chester Tri Club. Racing in the boys sprint distance were James Evans and Thomas Mulhaney. James was a revelation as he made up places throughout the race and just ran out of time to snatch second place, but a bronze medal so early in his St Helens Tri career was a brilliant results to take into the off-season. Thomas was very evenly matched with James in the pool, before James took off on the bike course to pull away, however Thomas still managed a top-10 finish with a time of 17:44. Chloe Evans had a similar race to that of James in the corresponding girls’ event as she ran on the fringes of the top 10 for much of the race, but put in a great run that almost saw her grab 6th place, however in the end she had to settle for 7th position in a time of 18:34, a result matched by Sally Bearon in the Tristars Start race. The midfield was quite congested for much of Holly Hirst’s race in the T2 Girls event but a couple of rapid transitions helped her to finish 18th overall in 34:01, while Thomas Saile placed 24th in the same age group for the boys. Olivia Hague recorded the fastest swim time at T3 Girls level, and was very much in the hunt for a podium until the later stages as she eventually finished in fourth place, while Naomi Bearon and Hollie Saile had a good outing in the same race as they placed 9th and 11th to close out another superb week of racing with the star turns coming from Sarah Taktak at the Sandman, Michael and Sarah Hodgkinson in the Lake District and Keith for his efforts at the Ormskirk 10k. Next week’s two signature events are the North West Classic Triathlon in Nantwich and the Oulton Park Autumn Duathlon, while the club hosts the annual BeUrBest Rainford 10k the following Sunday, starting at 10am.


Gold Standards and Golden Memories on the Gold Coast

St Helens Tri have achieved much in European competition over the past few months but they have rarely enjoyed success on the world stage. This would all change however, as four members made the long trip to the Gold Coast Australia for the ITU World Finals, a part of the world where many top triathletes have emerged from ever since the Commonwealth Games 12 years ago. Team GB always feature prominently in these events and thanks to our own Fab Four of Myka and Che Heard plus Steve Williams and Mark Turner, 2018 would be no different with Myka and Steve racing in the sprint distance events on the Thursday. Myka was straight into the thick of the action as she was out of the water in under 14 minutes, finally getting the swim she has always hoped for, howvwer it was her bike strength that really caught the eye as she completed the 20km course in a time of 35:35. Her eventual overall time of 1:18:31 placed her 31st overall and third GB lady home in the F50-54 race thus setting the tone for another remarkable performance from Steve Williams. He also got off to a good start in the water but his bike speed was such that he actually set a faster 20km split than the person who finished second overall! He had to give best on the run to a fellow competitor gunning for a top-10 finish but he was still 11th in the world and 2nd GB athlete home at M65-69 level capping an outstanding season for St Helens Tri and Team GB.

Three days alter it was the turn of Mark Turner and Che Heard to race in the standard distance events. Mark Turner had a little ground to make up after a 24:05 swim but he was soon into his stride on the bike clocking an excellent 1:02:11, and a 37:22 10k comparable with his recent performance at the Aintree 10k lifted him into the top 50 in the world at the line. Che Heard has enjoyed a brilliant 12 months since his INUK 2017 performance and here he was again, straight into the action as he exited the water well up the field. A sub-21 minute swim was followed by a 1:04:34 bike split which did drop him a little way down the field, but an outstanding 10k run where he clocked 37:39 assured him of 27th place overall and third British M20-24 home, to round off an epic trip Down Under for St Helens Tri.

There was also plenty of interest closer to home with the two main events being the Kendal Triathlon and the Warrington Half Marathon and 10k. Garry Banks and Paul Austin have been regularly swimming in the upper lanes at recent training sessions and up in the South Lakes there was little to choose between them in the pool, Garry exiting the water just 12 seconds ahead. On the bike, however, Garry opened up a gap of just over a minute and a good final stage saw him take the honours of first club member home, in 1:10:49, 27th overall and second in his age group. Paul managed to finish within two minutes of Garry and his 35th position overall saw him secure fourth in his division. Emma Austin led a relay team to an outstanding sub-6 minute swim and on the bike they held firm before dropping back on the run, to finish just inside the top 100 in 1:23:11. Also racing at the home of Mint Cake were Laura and Karen Banks, with Laura making an early move to get herself over four minutes clear in the water, and she drew further ahead on the bike, her new-found form after the Ormskirk event proving to be no one-off as she rode confidently throughout. The run was somewhat tougher – she later described the climb to Kendal Castle as “a killer” – but her time of 1:38:00 saw her finish 179th overall and in the top 20 for the female open category, while Karen made up a little time on the run, however it was too late to catch Laura as she placed 214th in a time of 1:51:35.

Meanwhile, in Cheshire the ever-popular Warrington Half Marathon and 10k featured Mark Eccleston, Neil Hunter, Lynette Houghton and Diane Taktak. Diane Taktak competed in the 10k and her sub-56 time gave her a season’s best time by over two minutes, while in the half marathon Mark was suitably delighted with his 1:45:26 being over 12 minutes quicker than his previous best, and he credited Terry bates and BeURBest Coaching for the improvements in strength and conditioning to tackle the 13.1 mile distance at race pace (apparently far easier than running a full marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and over 100 miles on a bike). He was just 90 seconds behind Neil Hunter who seemed more at ease here than at the recent South Cheshire 20, and Lynette Houghton was happy with her time of 2:01:50 as the Warrington quartet off another amazing week on home soil and the world stage with the standout performances coming from the Fab Four in Australia plus Mark in Warrington and Garry in Kendal. Next week sees the Southport and Ormskirk 10k races take place, the latter offering free entry to the Food and Drink Festival later in the day, and the month of September concludes the following Sunday with the North West Triathlon in Nantwich and the Oulton Park Duathlon, while the BeUrBest Rainford 10k takes place on October 7, with entries still available at the time of writing.


Going Deep and Digging Deep in the Deep Valleys – Heroes of Haverfordwest 2018

The first weekend of September brought a quieter schedule than the August Bank Holiday bonanza but there was still several sources of cheer for St Helens Tri to enjoy. At the Sundowner Triathlon in Pocklington, North Yorkshire Charlie Stirrup and Gary Birch were out in force fighting high temperatures and testing crosswinds throughout the race. Charlie made use of his tight aero position to finish in a time of 5:24:10 leaving him just outside the top 100 overall while Gary opted for a cyclocross bike which apparently was an interesting experience in the shifting side winds but he still put in a good performance, narrowly missing out on a sub-6:30 time finishing as he did just as the festivities began on the banks of the lake at Allerthorpe Park.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the winter mud racing season had begun, or at least we were in preseason mode, as two off-road races took centre stage on the Sunday. Jennifer Miller was the sole club representative at the St Helens Dream Trail Race and was rewarded with a finishing time of 1:07:25 which placed her 117th. Meanwhile Lynette and George Houghton were back to their obstacle course racing after a few weeks away on their less familiar terrain also known as tarmac. Here, they were taking part in the Wolf 10k, and extremely muddy early autumn race full of tough obstacles and even some muddy water to have to swim through! Clearly their experience of the Nottingham club relays held them in good stead for that part of the course as George finished in the top 10 overall in 1 hour 9 minutes and Lynette’s time of 1 hour 15 was good enough for second female on the day.

Onto the next week and three events took centre stage, two being in Lancashire, the third in deepest Wales. Close to home we had the Lancaster Triathlon and the Wigan 10k. While results from Lancaster are not yet available at the time of writing, the streets of Wigan were treated to a very competitive race featuring thousands of runners from all over the North West. Six St Helens Tri members took part, with Andrew Bridge, in his first 10k for seven years, being first home, commendably breaking the 45 minute mark clocking 44:33 which put him in the top 10 for his age category. Neil Hunter, fresh from the South Cheshire 20 mile last week, his sub-46 time placing him 227th overall. As good as their performances were, in many ways the performance of George Houghton was better still; here we joined his mum Lynette on one of the few weekends when they were not racing OCR or a long open water swim, and in his first 10k he starred with an excellent 49:29 placing him in the top 500, while his mum recorded a 57:25 and with a bit more luck would have sneaked into the top 1000 finishers. Also racing for St Helens Tri were Helen Broderick and Diane Taktak, with Helen coming him in 52:02 just over nine minutes ahead of her teammate.

The big road trip of the weekend was Ironman Wales, where Eddie Hirst and Andy Fisher took on an increasingly popular alternative to the UK edition, because it offers an ideal opportunity for those who want a longer build-up, while also taking in some picturesque scenery which more than makes up for the fact that it is one of the hardest Ironman courses in the world. Eddie Hirst had a fraught start to his day when the bike mechanic snapped a valve on his tyre trying to pump it up to maximum pressure and then had someone run into him during the sea swim knocking his goggles which meant he never quite got full sight of the course from there on. Despite this, he was out of the water in 67 minutes having averaged 1:46 per 100m. He was out on the bike before 8:30am and some particularly speeding pedalling just after the halfway point propelled him to a bike time under 6:30, good anywhere but excellent on such a hilly course. On the run he nursed a tightening hamstring and ran conservatively for a while before stretching his legs to finishing the marathon in just over four hours, his final time of 11:44:18 placing him in the top 40 for his age category. Andy Fisher ran Eddie close in the water and showed much improvement on the bike course, his recent speed work for the club relays really paying dividends, and while he dropped back from Eddie on the run, some judicious use of the aid stations allowed him to cross the line to huge cheers from several club members who made the trip down to Haverfordwest, as he finished in 15:10:37 placing him 1683rd overall. The racing over the next few weeks reverts back to rather shorter formats for the most part, with the exception of the Warrington Half Marathon, but with sprint triathlons in Kendal, Wilmslow and Nantwich between now and the end of the month it promises to be a classic sprint finish to another successful season.


Hurricane Turner Strikes Again – First Stop Nottingham, Second Stop Ormskirk

As mentioned at the end of part one of the weekend report, some club members decided to take part in both the Nottingham relays and the West Lancs triathlon at Edge Hill University the following morning, as Ormskirk hosted a triathlon-Motorfest double of its own. Mark Turner, fresh from leading his team to a top-5 age group place in the East Midlands, led the way as he was straight into the top 20 from the off, then recorded the fifth-fastest bike time and a top-3 run split to complete the course in under an hour and place second overall, a tremendous effort in the treacherous conditions. Also doing the double was Dean Golba, whose swim and bike times have always been impressive but here it was his running that caught the eye, his mid-20 5k split enabling him to finish 12th overall and seventh in just over 1 hour 4 minutes. Garry Banks edged Dean in the water before Dean’s superior bike power proved decisive but Garry was still able to place in the top 30 overall and fourth in the M50-59 category. The never-ending feel good story of Steve Williams continued on home ground as he was always going to be in his element given that the course is quite literally on home turf for him, and so it proved as a sub-35 minute bike split and one of his best runs in a long time gave him a resounding victory in his age group, while also placing him in the top 40 overall. He was over seven minutes clear of Paul Aspinall, whose bike split was a good indicator of consistent progress and it made that all-important difference in terms of squeezing into the top 100 on the leader board. In fact his swim time was matched to the second by Carole James, who then rebounded from a tricky bike stage to go under 24 minutes on the run and take third place in her division. The trio of Chris Wynne, Keith Ashcroft and Laura Banks were separated by just three minutes overall, Laura enlivening the gloomy conditions with a Mexico-themed tri suit and thoroughly enjoying her first triathlon in a long time, while the remaining club members came home just six seconds apart, Jill O’Connor being delighted to have completed her first triathlon after many months of starring at park runs and local 10k races, her time of 1:39:03 edging her clear of Karen Banks by the smallest of margins.

The juniors were also racing on Bank Holiday weekend, as Holly and Grace Hirst made their way to Blackpool Palatine Leisure Centre for a Sunday festival of racing. The event offered a relay race similar to that of the seniors in Nottingham but with insufficient numbers to form a team Holly and Grace simply entered the Go Tri event. Results are not yet available for this race at the time of writing but over at West Kirby Marina four more club members tackled the Wirral Open Water Triathlon, another long-standing classic hosted by Epic Events. Star of the show on the peninisula was Andrew McGlone, one of the breakout performers of 2018, as he was out of the water in under 13 minutes. The bike course, with its technical turns and deceptively tough climbs, saw him drop down the order a little but a terrific sub-19 5k into the freezing wind and rain on the shoreline enabled him to finish 12th overall and top ten in the men’s senior category. Peter Leadbeater broke the 90-minute mark and also recorded a top-90 placing with his strength on the bike proving particularly useful on the relatively unknown hills around Hoylake and West Kirby. Also racing for the club were Nick Hall, who was ahead of Peter exiting the water but eventually had to give best to his teammate once the climbing started, and Cheryl Pace, who continues to build her way into multisport after years of running at Penny Lane Striders; here she put in a particularly pleasing mid-22 run split leaving her within touching distance of the top 50 ladies overall. The Fab Four may have had to contend with choppy water in West Kirby but Paul Booth went one step further by taking on a 3km sea swim in Fowey Polkerris while on holiday, where he put in a tremendous show of endurance in awful conditions to place 92nd overall in 1 hour 2 minutes rounding off a thrilling weekend where Mark Turner was undoubtedly the star performer for his unique Nottingham/Ormskirk double, Dean Golba reminded us all why he is fast becoming the club’s strongest cyclist and Steve Williams’ incredible 2018 season continued with yet another win on home ground. The month of September is marked with several classics including the Kendal Triathlon on September 16th, the Ormskirk 10k on the 23rd (at the cricket club, all race entrants get free entry to the food and drink festival on the same day) and the North West Triathlon in Nantwich on the 30th. Meanwhile the cross country dates have been announced for the 2018-19 season, with the first round at Wythenshawe Park on October 13th providing the ideal curtain raiser to four more months of mud in Manchester.


Karen, Laura and Garry Banks at Edge Hill

We Can’t Tri This at Home, So We Hit The Road – Club Relays 2018

August Bank Holiday weekend is always a seismic hub of activity around the country. Some choose to visit Creamfields, others make a trip across the channel to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, and triathletes from around the UK descend on Holme Pierrepont at the National Watersports Centre for the triathlon club relays hosted by One Step Beyond Events. St Helens Tri enjoyed a fine outing at the “organised chaos” in 2017 and this year they formed no fewer than nine team to race, one in the morning, the other eight in the afternoon. Conditions were a lot cooler than in 2017 but there was a noticeable breeze blowing from the west, which had the effect of making things more bearable on the bike and run course but made for a choppier swim than 12 months ago, a situation not helped by the need to treat the water recently to remove traces of algae which plagued other recent races at the East midlands venue. With more categories on offer than ever before, 3/1 gender splits were now permitted as well as the traditional 2/2, and one of these teams led the way in the morning. Team Damp Squib were in the midfield for the first portion of the race and for much of the cycle leg, but a blisteringly quick final 15km on the bike lifted them into a good position to begin the run with renewed impetus and a sub-18:30 run from Michael Forber lifted them to 37th in the non-BTF Open category and top 90 overall. Splash Flash and Dash was founded by Rachael Fairclough for the 2017 edition but with only Robert Chesters as a holdover from last year’s heat wave special three new teammates were required to spearhead the club’s afternoon challenge. Mark Turner, Maxine Rochelle and Che Heard all put their names forward and as such the crowd were treated to a diverse range of talent from all four, with Maxine enjoying her best swim to date completing the 500 metres in under eight minutes, Robert pulling off a sub-22 minute time on the bike course despite the best efforts of his bike’s cockpit to throw him off back into the lake, and Che and Marko recording sub-19 minute run splits as the team recorded a final time of 3:31:12, good enough for 11th overall and 5th in their age group. Also coming in well under four hours were Team Relay Tri-Ing Hard who were led by Richard Seville; he mentioned after the race that he had “no speed” after his Ironman Austria training but it is quite a thought as to what his definition of speed must be as he recorded the third-fastest “cycle 2” time and a sub-19:30 run as his team finished in 3:54:55, good enough for a top-30 in the non-BTF open race. Chafing the Dream were somewhat behind their club mates in the water but some very strong cycling and some tough running led them into the top 50 in the 3/1 mixed open race finishing in just over four hours, while it was an extremely close run thing for next club team home; “3 Fast 1 Furious” eventually edged a titanic scrap to come out ahead of Team Watts UP who were just nine seconds in arrears having enjoyed some particularly quick times on the second and fourth legs of the swim, and the opening stage of the run; their reward was fourth in their age category. The award for the best entertainers had to go to “Don’t Tri This at Home” comprising Emma Austin, Sarah Taktak, George Houghton and Bethany Forber. Emma’s blisteringly quick pace in the water and her recent major step forward on the bike proved pivotal in their push for a high placing and their reward for their energy, enthusiasm and months of hard training was a time of 4:24:52 and a 128th placed finish. Drown, Crash and Stumble did anything but live up to their team name (thankfully) as they made up multiple places towards the end of each segment and make it home in under 4 hours 45 minutes. Rounding out the club’s entrants were Team Two Cobbled Twogether, who were formed with two separate duos to make a quartet as a late entry. They certainly put in a dogged effort and crossed the line to the cheers of all their club mates; with a bit more luck they easily would have broken the 4:45 mark as the clock struck 6:30pm. After that the club made their way to the campsite, and while Jennifer Miller was 200 miles away completing the Blackpool Illuminations 10k in a creditable 55:38, the East Midlands crew enjoyed a hearty barbeque and some well-earned celebration drinks around an “endless campfire“ as provided by Dave Gaskell. That is, as long as they had the rest of the weekend free. As will be discussed in part two, some opted to make it a double header with the West Lancs Triathlon in Ormskirk, which will be covered in the next instalment as well as the Wirral Triathlon in West Kirby, the Blackpool Junior Go Tri and the Fowey Polkerris 3km sea swim.


Bethany’s brilliance steals the show in Stockport

St Helens Tri began a varied week of racing with two turning out at the the midweek 10 mile time trial, the last Tuesday event of 2018. Debra Rayment and Helen Broderick faced the timekeeper and both managed to beat the 29 minute mark, setting the tone nicely for a Saturday of two contrasting races, these being the Lions Trail Marathon and the Bassenthwaite Triathlon. The former is a long-standing staple of the midsummer long distance running season, the latter an ever-popular triathlon which always sells out months in advance of race day. Lee Stinch was on form at the 26.2 mile event as he placed 14th overall with a fine performance which saw him duck under the 3:45 barrier, while Mark Derbyshire starred in the Lake District, where a combination of a strong swim and a couple of very speedy transitions lifted him into the top 50 by the end of the race. In keeping with the Lake District theme, four club members rounded off a very wet and windy weekend in the UK’s favourite National Park by participating in the Epic Lakes Swims at Coniston the following day, with the Semer Water Swim having been cancelled the day before. Carole James continues to improve posting a time of 42:26 for the mile distance, but the star performance came from Andrew McGlone who has proven to be one of the revelations of the 2018 season. Here, he completed the 2.4 mile event in an astounding 1:07:29, nearly twenty minutes ahead of Ironman Will Bardin, while Mark Eccleston crossed the line a further eight minutes in arrears at the end of one of the toughest long distance swims he has participated in.

There was plenty of racing action in somewhat less scenic locations as the Birchwood 10k and the Stockport Open Water Triathlon at Manley Mere also took place on Sunday. At the little New Town just outside Warrington Ian Orford and Diane Taktak took on their latest 10k challenge, with Ian making a welcome return to the racing circuit as he placed 125th in a time of 42:27 while Diane Taktak overcame the morning of the four seasons (at least in terms of weather) to clock a 59:18. Ian’s right hand man Kevin Dunbar was one of many tackling the Stockport event and it may yet be the first chapter of a long story to be told in 12 months’ time that Kevin’s Ironman 2019 journey started at this small venue which is perhaps the opposite of Bassenthwaite; it rarely attracts large numbers of entries, yet it is very conducive to fast times for all abilities whether new to the sport or very experienced. Kevin may not have much history to fall back on at multisport but here he was right into the thick of things as he clocked a sub-20 minute swim followed by a solid bike and a terrific run even quicker than one of the overall podium finishers, as he climbed to 18th place in a time of 1:24:13 at the finish line. He was only three places and just over 90 seconds behind Michael Forber who was participating in his first triathlon since Ironman. Here, he recorded a swim of just over 16 minutes, which set him up nicely for a top 15 finish overall and 5th in his age category, as he held off a fierce late comeback from Kevin to be first club member home. Entering the midweek 10 must have been an inspired move on the part of Helen Broderick as she was third of the six Saints over the line, with that all-important form on the bike lifting her to second in her age group and a top-40 overall placing. Ben Mason is relatively new to the club, but here he passed numerous people once out of the water with a strong bike performance and some good running off the bike to finish in just under 1 hour 36 minutes, coming so close to the top 50. Chris Forber had to give best to Ben on the final stage but her time of 1:37:35 was still good enough for third in her age group. However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Bethany Forber, who has made a strong impression with her coaching abilities at recent club sessions. Here, she exited the water in tandem with Helen, and though she dropped back somewhat from her teammates on the bike, an excellent run on tough off-road terrain not only placed her 61st overall, but first in the F20-29 age group by over seven and a half minutes, as she swept the board recording the fastest time in her age group on all three stages of the race; she had no competition whatsoever for the star performance not only in Stockport, but of the entire weekend. And Bethany will get another opportunity to shine next weekend as the signature race of the August Bank Holiday weekend is the national club relays at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham where the club has six teams of four entered in a unique race where all four members of each team have to complete the three disciplines, with plenty of recovery time between stages. With the West Lancs Summer Triathlon and a similar event taking place in West Kirby on the Sunday it promises to be yet another packed weekend of racing action.

The Sarah and Steve Show in Snowdonia and Scotland

St Helens Tri got off to a storming start in the first two weeks of August, and how timely it could prove with the club relays only twelve days away. On the first day of the month Richard Seville, Paul Booth and Emma Callery made the trip to Capernwray for the last of the midweek evening triathlons hosted by Epic Events. The trio were remarkably evenly matched in the water coming out of the lake less than five seconds apart, but on the bike course Richard pulled away brilliantly on his Giant Propel and a run which went tantalizingly close to beating the 20 minute mark saw him ease to first club member home and 12th overall in a time of 1:05:28. Paul and Emma were very evenly matched on the run course but ultimately Paul’s quicker bike split proved decisive as he rolled home 35th in 1:11:11, Emma placing 66th some four and a half minutes further back. For those wishing to return to this iconic venue in north Lancashire, it is worth noting that the aptly-named Fireworks 500 (metres) open water swim takes place on the evening of November 3rd, the Saturday before Bonfire Night. It was very much the second coming of the Three Amigos three days later at Capel Curig in north Wales as the second round of the Always Aim High events adventure triathlon series rolled into town. Among the many competitors in this ever popular race were Sarah and Azzam Taktak plus John Baden, for whom this event has become something of an annual favourite. Azzam Taktak was the first club member home in a time of 1:52:21 as his Ironman strength proved decisive on such a tough course but Sarah stole the limelight as she was out of the water in a little over eight minutes, put in a much improved bike performance in comparison with previous races and held firm on the run to win the female under 23 division and crossing the line just a minute behind her dad! It was also a welcome return to form for John Baden whose customary big effort on the bike course was rewarded with a time of 2:00:43 placing him just outside the top 100.

The following weekend was characterised by four contrasting events; the Howgills Triathlon and ETU Sprint Championships in Glasgow on the Saturday, and the Leigh 10k and Preston 10 mile road race on the Sunday. First to race were the hardy souls attempting the Howgills event, one of the toughest sprint triathlons in the country with an out-and-back bike course split between the east edge of the Lake District and the western fringes of the Yorkshire Dales; few courses are as fast as they are scenic (or vice versa) so it is am absolute treat to be able to experience such an adrenaline rush if given the opportunity. Charlie Stirrup certainly made the most of it, as he was right back into the thick of things in a year when he has not featured as frequently as in the past, but has always come up with standout results on race days. Saturday’s outing was no different; his bike performances have been strong for a good few seasons now but here it was his running to the top of Howgills Fell and back which caught the eye, as he powered his way into the top 10 to lead the club home, an excellent result. Mark Eccleston continued his post-Ironman tour of the North West with a fine run to 46th place while Cheryl Pace ran Mark very close in the pool and actually took a minute and a half out of him on the run course, however Mark’s experience on the bike proved the difference as the pair were split by around ten minutes. Also racing was Lynette Houghton, who has been a star performer at many a swim and OCR race since joining the club. Here, she outpaced Mark and Cheryl in the water and got close to them on both the bike and run courses, as she marked her first sprint triathlon with a top 80 placing and a time of 2:29:14.

Meanwhile a Fab Four of Myka Heard, Shirley Fox, Mal Balmer and Steve Williams were up in Glasgow for the ETU Sprint Distance Triathlon Championships. They enjoyed two days of familiarisation to get used to the tricky, technical course and on Saturday they were set off to compete with the best of Europe once again. Mal and Myka were always going to end up with solid midfield finishes thanks to their natural swimming ability and Shirley Fox has improved immeasurably on the bike over the course of the past year, but Steve Williams once again stole the show as he was the second quickest on the bike and came very close to snatching second place, but eventually had to settle for bronze. Nevertheless, two podiums in two European championships three weeks apart cemented Steve’s place as the most inspirational member of 2018 and a near-certainty to win many awards at the next club prize giving. Lee Stinch and Diane Taktak rounded the weekend off the following morning with Lee coming out of nowhere to “sprint” ten miles in Preston and finish in the top 50 with a time of 1:14:22 (anything less than 20 miles in Lee’s book counts as a sprint distance) while Diane recorded one of her best times in a long while at the Leigh Community 10k where she finished in under 59 minutes to round off a fantastic fortnight of racing with the star performances coming from Sarah for her win at Capel Curig, Steve for yet another podium finish in the European Championships and Lee Stinch for his sub-75 minute time at the Preston 10. Next week’s schedule features the Semer Water lake swim and the Birchwood 10k, which comes just days before the start of the August Bank Holiday Weekend, where some choose Creamfields, others visit the Ormskirk Motorfest………and at St Helens Tri we go racing in the National Club Relays at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham!


Boy George no longer the Chameleon – well done champ!

The month of July was rounded off for St Helens Tri in style as the club achieved numerous successes across the UK in running, long distance open water swimming and triathlons at a variety of locations. Azzam Taktak was first to roll on the Tuesday night time trial at Rainford and despite having had only a week to recover after his heroics at Ironman UK he still managed to go comfortably under 29 minutes and set the tone for a weekend where team days out would very much be the order of the day. On Saturday Lynette and George Houghton did a little recce of the venue for the upcoming club relays, namely the National Watersports Centre at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham, where the BlueSeventy Big Swim was being held. Lynette competed in the 5k distance and crossed the line in well under two hours, but George stole the limelight with a terrific performance at 2.5km level where he not only recorded a time of 46:21 but also won his age category; their respective teams for August 25th will no doubt take heart from their performances and see this as an ideal opportunity to make up early ground on a triathlon course where passing on the bike stage is notoriously difficult.

On the Sunday the club was well represented at three diverse events, two close to home, the third on the North Sea coast. The first of the more familiar locales was Aintree Racecourse where there was a choice of 5k, 10 and half marathons on offer. Clearly nobody told some poor unfortunate that the 10k involved two laps (not one) because he crossed the line in second place only to be disqualified. It’s rare that such an occurrence happens and even more unlikely that it would benefit a member of St Helens Tri, but Mark Turner had already been fourth over the line, or so he thought, only to get promoted onto the podium when he was informed of the aforementioned disqualification and as such his new PB of 37:35 placed his third, just 16 seconds adrift of the runner-up! Meanwhile Diane Taktak managed to get into the race at the last minute and performed very well in her first 10k since Port Sunlight in the middle of June; with better conditions she would certainly have dipped under the hour with room to spare. At the Manchester end of the M62 a few multisport regulars, including two who only recently competed at Ironman UK, were at the MediaCity complex for the Salford Triathlon. In the sprint distance we had Mark Eccleston, fresh from his awesome result in Bolton. His swim and bike speed were certainly not affected despite the rain and strong winds plaguing the race, and while he had to drop a little of his usual pace on the run course he was still more than satisfied with his time of 1:24:18 which placed him 52nd overall. Patrick Neill was flying in the standard distance, completing the 1500m swim in a little over 26 minutes, and he continued to make up places on the bike course as well. As per Mark, he was not quite at his usual pace on the run but his 2:31:02 still put him into the top 40, while just up the road from him Andrew McGlone, who has starred at various standard and half Ironman distance races in recent months, was flying through the water as he was into T1 in just 21:18. Eight increasingly quick bike laps followed, and a well-drilled T2 launched him into four consistent run loops placing him 26th overall in a time of 2:27:04.

In the North East the club had several GB qualification regulars at the Redcar Sprint Triathlon hosted by TriHarder events. There was considerable doubt in the days leading up to the race as to whether the swim would have to be cancelled and replaced with 2.5km run but in the event the full race was run. Che Heard was quickest club member on the day as he performed his usual trick of getting to the front during the swim, rolling with the leaders in the front pack during the bike stage and keeping as good a form as possible on the tricky run course. This netted him 72nd place in a time of 1:10:36 as he edged a close duel with Dave Gaskell for first club member home, Dave nonetheless placing the top six at M50-54 level. Emma Austin has featured at the sharp end of the big races all year long and Redcar was no exception, a rapid swim and a much improved bike performance on her new racing machine propelling her to 2nd in her category and third in the BTF 17-20 development race. She was just over two minutes ahead of her dad Paul, who had the now-legendary Steve Williams to chase down in the final stages, as the pair were separated by just twelve seconds at the finish despite Paul making up over a minute on his illustrious teammate during the 5k run. It has been said before “change nothing – nothing changes” and perhaps the best example all weekend was that of Myka Heard, who has been focusing on improving bike speed and strength in recent months. It paid off brilliantly as she set the fastest bike split in her age group, indeed the only sub-40 minute time, which lifted her to third in her category less than two minutes adrift of the winner, while Pete Leadbeater, who has only recently joined the club, made up a lot of time from the opening leg with a particularly fast 5k run to finish less than two minutes behind Myka and round off a suitably varied weekend where the star performances came from George in Nottingham, Mark in Aintree, Andrew in Salford and Emma on the North Sea coast. As the calendar turns to August, the first signature race of the month is the Snowman Sprint in Capel Curig, North Wales while the month is rounded off on Bank Holiday weekend with the club relays in Nottingham

A post-Ironman week like no other – Arise Sir Steve

As the dust settled and the banners were taken down on Monday morning in Bolton, there was no reason to believe that the following week would be anything other than the quiet one after the most monumental day on the 2018 UK multisport calendar. After all, there is a shortage of signature races until at least the club relays at the end of August and the St Helens Triathlon on September 9th. However, July 21st would be a date like no other, one which would change the status of St Helens Tri forever and establish them as champions like never before.

It all started so quietly with the midweek time trials coming up with little other than Robert Chesters setting his second-quickest time over the last three years on Tuesday night as he stopped the clock with a 23:07, good enough for equal 12th place with Arthur Winstanley. Things got a little warmer, in more ways than one, two days later as Kevin Dunbar, who is looking to take on long multisport challenges of his own in the near future, placed third and won his age group at the Scorcher 50k ultra run in Salwick near Preston. So with two results to get the ball rolling the second half of the season was underway nicely, but they would all be forgotten about just 48 hours later.

With a myriad of qualifying races and both European and World Championships to participate in, navigating the ETU/ITU qualification process can be very difficult to keep up with, and as such, after Mark Turner’s spectacular top ten in the ITU Duathlon two weeks ago, the ETU Standard Distance Triathlon Championships had been overlooked by most club members, but not by Steve Williams, who made the trip to the former Soviet Republic of Estonia for the 2018 European Championships held in Tartu.

Featuring a 17th-century university, a “kissing fountain” in the Town Hall Square and a ruined cathedral, Tartu has positioned itself as the cultural capital of Estonia in recent years, but on the weekend of 21-22 July it took on a very different, modern image as it played host to hundreds of athletes from all over Europe starring in age ranges from 15 to 84 years old. Racing in the 65-69 division for St Helens Tri was Steve Williams, who only joined the club a couple of seasons ago having been a keen cyclist for many years. A regular at the Tuesday night “brick” sessions comprising bike and run courses, he has become particularly rapid on the time trial bike he bought around 12 months ago from then-club member Mark Livingston, and that would become a major factor in the almost indescribable drama that was about to unfold. The competitors were set off in their respective age groups……….and then it was time for Steve Williams to being the 1500m swim, 40m bike and a 10k run. Of course, Steve had only recently played a starring role in a race of similar description having come ever so close to getting on the age group podium at the ITU public race at Roundhay Park in Leeds six weeks earlier but here on the world stage he was right into a barnburner of a race from the opening swim stroke, and was out of the water with every chance of coming up with a result for the ages. Anyone who has been to the Tuesday night brick sessions will know that Steve has been in the form of his life at recent gatherings – indeed his time over five laps of Pimbo on July 10th would have put him in the top 5 of the club’s TT championship a couple of years ago – but what he came up with in this tiny former Soviet Republic was unlike anything a club member has ever done, as he completed the 25 miles on the bike in under 65 minutes (which would have beaten several competitors at the Liverpool Phoenix 25 mile TT on the night he was powering round Pimbo) and another sub-50 minute 10k run confirmed the seemingly impossible:


Let that one sink in for a minute or two. It has happened. The club has a European champion. Now, this would be a special story no matter who won their respective age group. However, we should also remember that few, if any, Team GB competitors rise to such status off the back of only a few years of experience, many will tell you that the results they earn as they advance through the age group ranks are the fruits of many decades of swimming, riding and running, if only one or two depending on their chosen sport. While some club members are rarely out of the weekly reports simply for their regular achievements amidst a near-weekly schedule of racing, Steve has shown how committed training, an enthusiasm for the sport and focus on the events that matter the most can make even the most improbable of success stories a reality.

The club could have been forgiven for arriving at the Manchester Tri Club Boundary Breeze Triathlon the following morning with the equivalent of a mental hangover but eight members went to this relatively rural setting for an event that has very much become a staple of the midsummer calendar over the years. Rarely does a week’s worth of reporting go by without at least one of Che Heard and Emma Austin (pictured below) featuring at the sharp end and this race was no different, as they were out of the water separated by mere seconds. Ultimately Che’s greater familiarity with his bike proved to be the difference as he pulled away to be first club member home (6th overall and under the 70 minute mark) but Emma’s first outing on her new bike was still a memorable one as she was first under 20 female home, while the pair were split by Dave Gaskell, his sub-38 minute bike split lifting him to just outside the top 30 and fourth in his category. Myka Heard managed to keep the tearaway two in sight in the lake and a combined bike and run time similar to that of Emma lifted her to second in her age group, while she was joined in the top 100 by Paul Riley who was particularly speedy on the bike. It was a very close run thing between Carole James and Rob Preston for next over the line and at one point it looked as though Rob would catch his teammate at the finish, but Carole held on to be sixth club member home by just 18 seconds, also beating the 90 minute mark into the bargain. Cheryl Pace and Tony Doyle rounded out the day’s action, with Cheryl continuing to improve with every race since she joined the club from Penny Lane Striders and Tony running Cheryl close for much of the event. A fine way to end a very special weekend where Steve Williams wrote his name in the club record books as the first ever to win a European Championship. Next week’s signature race is at MediaCity UK for the Salford Triathlon, where a 10k road race is also held in early September. With several Ironman entrants somehow recovering in time to take to the murky waters of the Salford Quays, it promises to be a fitting finale at an iconic venue to round off one of the greatest months in club history.





Emma pulling away from her competition en route to winning her age category



Pre-Ironman Prizewinning Party at Pooley Bridge

With the start of the biggest multisport race of 2018 mere hours away, here comes the first of two reports over the weekend, this one focusing on the midweek time trial at Rainford and the Ullswater Triathlon. On Tuesday evening club reporter Robert Chesters arrived at the Liverpool Phoenix race HQ, Bickerstaffe FC, to learn that instead of a 10 mile time trial, it was one of only two 2018 Tuesday night 25’s on the D25/3 course, featuring two loops of the M58/Rainford Island section book ended by a blast up the A506 from Mossack Hall Golf Club and a little bit of the Bickerstaffe road race circuit thrown in for good measure to make the mileage up. Having removed the bags and, more disastrously, the bottle cage in the pursuit of more speed this looked like being a train wreck of a performance for someone who had never raced his time trial bike over more than 21km before (for sprint triathlons) so it was with some trepidation that Robert pedalled down the A506 on his warm-up to join 27 others on the start line. Starting off at number 9, with most of the faster riders going later, it at least offered a good opportunity to close in on the one, two and three minute men and Robert managed this with room to spare as he grew into the event, not easy on a windy night when many riders reached 50km/h on the run to Rainford but were struggling to break 30km/h on the northward stretch to what is still known as the “Little Chef” roundabout. He also had to contend with two near-misses, one when a 4×4 driver pulled out onto the A570 after he circled the Little Chef turn for the second time, the other when his four-minute man wobbled so badly due to lack of energy that he ended up almost on the wrong side of the lane and nearly got taken out by a motorist! The last few miles were particularly arduous in terms of holding the aero position beyond the usual distance but the slight downhill into the finish gave Robert a real boost, and having aimed for a sub-1:05 time he was delighted to record 1:01:41 for his first 25, which placed him 13th overall just inside the top half on debut.

12 months ago the talk of the club was Che Heard making his Ironman debut as one of the youngest competitors in the race. Since then Che has made the best possible use of his strength to develop a blistering turn of speed and he would take it to Ullswater for the annual triathlon weekend hosted by Sport in Action. It’s not clear whether the Heard family’s newly qualified driver took on the chauffeur duties a mere 24 hours after passing his test, but he would not get the opportunity to blow away his opposition before the bike leg here because due to a last-minute appearance of blue algae the organisers had to substitute the swim for an additional run of 2.5km but Che was out of the blocks like a cheetah as he was into transition in less than eight and a half minutes. The bike course was quite lumpy and after recent mechanicals he must have felt a bit of trepidation in such unfamiliar surroundings but he then made it two blistering transitions out of two and confirmed a top-5 overall placing and a resounding age group win to the tune of nearly 15 minutes as he completed the second run in 21:14 to cap off a fantastic 24 hours. Che’s mum Myka wasn’t left out of the party either as she was similarly dominant in the F50 division, holding a 2:40 age group lead into the pit lane, but then going on to blow her opposition away on the bike course and follow it up with one of her best 5k runs in a long time as she won her category by a staggering 24:44! In the standard distance race we had Peter Rawlinson, a relatively new member who was very quick indeed on the bike course, as his spinning speed propelled him to a solid 66th position in a time of 2:40:25 to round off a cracking “first half” of Ironman week when one club member went into unchartered territory (almost literally thanks to a couple of near-misses) and two of the club’s all-time legends set about making some more room in an increasingly crowded family trophy cabinet. At the time of writing it is to be assumed that most of the club’s Ironman entrants are probably resting before their big day out in Bolton tomorrow but we wish them all the best with their epic endeavours which will include a 2.4 mile swim in Pennington Flash, a bike course cut short to 95 miles due to the recent wildfires on the West Pennine Moors, and a marathon finishing in Bolton town centre on a day which, together with the World Cup final and the Wimbledon men’s title decider promises to be one of the most epic sporting days in recent memory.