Saints Qualify for the Euros and the World Cup (Team GB success round-up)

One of the great modern mysteries of multisport racing is how so many race organisers can set a schedule together as though one was waiting for a bus. You wait weeks for a signature race, then around 20 take place on the same weekend. And then on the second Bank Holiday weekend in May, the schedule is almost empty. As such, with only the St Helens GO TRI taking place at the Selwyn Jones centre over the past weekend, this week’s column is a review of all the St Helens Tri athletes who qualified for Team GB over the past few weeks with particular focus on the Southport Triathlon hosted by Epic Events.

We could start anywhere with such an illustrious list of names, but for simplicity purposes we will go in age group order and start with Emma Austin (Winner Fjunior), arguably the most exciting racer in the club at the moment. If you watch the BBC Sportsnight clip from November 1993 where Jimmy Hill describes the then-England national football team as a squad full of players who did not assimilate the required skills from an early age (the team which failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup under Graham Taylor), then perhaps you begin to understand why Emma is poised for a long career at the top level because of how early she began learning the technical aspects of multisport. Emma only started triathlon a couple of years ago having been a keen swimmer from a very early age. She took up running to help with her GCSE PE course and bought her first road bike 18 months ago, winning her division in the West Lancs Spring Triathlon on debut. In addition to repeating the victory last month and being first female home numerous times at the St Helens Parkrun she has also made valuable contributions to the club and was recently voted in as the female junior triathlon captain at the AGM. An overall “first lady home” title at a sprint distance triathlon is surely only a matter of time.

Next up we have Peter Fairclough (4th M30-34). A long-time runner with local club St Helens Striders, Peter really had his breakout season in 2017 when he won his age group at the Kendal Spring Triathlon and later led home team Splash Flash and Dash at the national club relays to eighth place in the country in the mixed 20-39 race. It’s rare that someone continually improves on all three disciplines while having such a strong focus for a sub-17 minute 5k but Peter managed exactly that towards the end of 2017, and translated that form into a carefully structured 2018 programme where he recovered from a difficult start to the year to really hit top form when it mattered most, his Southport Triathlon performance being crowned by a stunning 5k run split; for comparison only one person at the concurrent Nantwich Triathlon best the 18 minute mark (and not the person who won the race by nearly two minutes either). Peter is now looking forward to a summer of success with St Helens Tri as he also looks to further his coaching with his sister club.

In the same age group we had Jennifer Pybis (2nd F30-34). Jennifer has been a very quick runner from a young age and once starred in the Armagh Women’s 3k where she recorded a blistering 10:07. In 2015, having run for over a decade at Liverpool Harriers in Wavertree, she joined St Helens Tri shortly after the name change from Ashurst Bike Club and immediately impressed, winning her age group at the Wilmslow Triathlon on a wet and miserable spring day on the testing course near Manchester Airport. Jennifer’s skill set is similar to that of Peter Fairclough in that both could turn their abilities easily to draft legal triathlon (road bikes only and clip-on bars to go no further than the brakes); indeed another of her early successes was a fourth place in such an event shortly after the victory at Wilmslow. Plenty more opportunities to qualify for both formats of international racing surely await Jennifer in years to come.

Caroline Stalker (4th F35-39) has a rather different background to the three club members already covered, but made quite a name for herself in 2017 with a remarkable run of age group wins in the series of sprint distance events hosted by UK Triathlon, who host races as local as Nantwich and Shropshire and as far away as York, Birmingham and the South Coast. She has always been a very strong swimmer and, aboard a time trial bike, has slashed several minutes off her bike splits which is important in any race, but absolutely critical on the windswept arid lands of the north Merseyside coast. Also a member of the Splash Flash and Dash team from last year’s party in Nottingham, Caroline now deservedly gets her chance to parlay all of her race day experience into a result on the world stage.

Of all the pleasant surprises on Super Sunday May 20, perhaps the biggest feel good factor special came from Helen Broderick (8th F45-49). Helen took part in her first race for the club shortly after the aforementioned name change in the “race of the four seasons” at the Cheshire Triathlon in May 2015 but at the time no-one could have predicted what would transpire over the next three seasons. Come the autumn of 2016 she had posted on social media that she was entering Ironman UK just over a year after that unusually challenging race in Nantwich and immediately her posts turned into a plethora of (mini) panics about how to work her way up to the distances required. She not only managed exactly that, but she soaked up the support from the best supporters club in the world on Hunter’s Hill (to say nothing of the legendary banner a couple of superfans were holding up) and her long-distance strength made all the difference as she was off like a scalded squirrel at the Marine Lake to eventually finish fourth in her age group and earn her Team GB status, all driven along by the memories of that banner last July on the steep slopes of West Lancashire……….

Which brings us to the aforementioned banner-holder Dave Gaskell, the new club kit officer (4th M50-54). Dave has taken part in various sports, playing football as a goalkeeper and rugby until a prolapsed disc forced him out of the game. After a few years away he decided to attempt a marathon and one soon became four, with three in London and one in New York. It’s rare that someone begins their triathlon journey and attempts Ironman so early, but as per his marathon adventure he not only completed one Ironman, he managed seven before turning his attentions to qualifying for Team GB after numerous discussions with those who had qualified on previous occasions. Dave has not only made major improvements particularly in terms of short-distance running speed, but he has also been one of the first to put himself forward to help others in the club and together with Helen came up with one of the most popular results of a weekend that at times amounted to something of a sensory overload.

Also qualifying in the sprint distance race was Myka Heard (2nd F50-54). Few club members have had quite so much fame and fortune in terms of wider (as in non-social) media as Myka, who has many years of swimming at Masters’ level behind her and was one of many who joined St Helens Tri at the perfect moment having also ran for many years at Penny Lane Striders in Garston. Myka has qualified for European and World Championship races on numerous occasions, and Southport 2018 was just the latest example, but after an off-season where she experienced the high of winning the St Helens Tri cross country title and the lows of being unable to run for a long period of time she made good on her goal of improving her speed and strength on the bike and as with Caroline this really proved decisive on the coastal road as she powered past many similarly experienced cyclists as though they were going backwards; the runner-up spot in her age group was a fine reward not only for her own work in training but the way she supports other club members including her son Che, who she famously presented with an Ironman entry on his 18th birthday.

Which leads us neatly onto the qualifiers from the standard distance race where the prize on offer was a trip to the 2019 ITU Standard Distance world championships on Australia’s Gold Coast, home of the recent Commonwealth Games. Che Heard (7th M20-24 in Southport) did indeed race on Marine Drive as something of a rehearsal for the big stage Down Under as he had already qualified earlier in the season at St Neots but he has improved immeasurably since that now legendary birthday celebration a couple of years ago and from completing the 2016 Chester Marathon in under five hours he crossed the line in Bolton last year just past the 14 hour mark. Since then he has been one of the stars in pretty much every discipline he has turned his hand to, including some increasingly fast times in the local 10 mile time trials, a star turn at the University Playing Fields cross country in Wythenshawe last December and being the recipient of numerous prizes at the club awards night in February. Che’s swimming has always been a major strength, indeed at Ironman 2017 he was easily the first club member out of Pennington Flash and his bike speed was never in doubt but from such a relatively modest beginning at the aforementioned 26.2 miler in Chester he has been recording sub-19 minute 5k splits with regularity in sprint triathlons. Now begins the long build-up process to the world stage in perhaps the perfect setting to complete the perfect story.

Mark Turner (5th M25-29, 3rd eligible qualifier) has a long and storied history of competing in various sports, including boxing and mixed martial arts but turned his attentions to triathlon after serving in the armed forces. He first rose to prominence in July 2016; on a weekend hen much of the focus was on Ironman UK he took part in the “Llandudno Duathlon” after the swim was cancelled and placed a stunning fourth. This confirmed him as something of a natural runner to go along with his fine technique in the water and after buying a very quick aero road bike, suitable for both versions of triathlon, he was all set to fly. And that is exactly what he has done since then, winning the 2017 St Helens Tri club duathlon, recording several sub-19 minute Parkrun times and regularly being at the sharp end of the field at the Manchester Cross Country league races. In Southprot he held off a later comeback from a Chester Tri Club member to place in the top five and after the results were dissected he found out that he was third qualifier allowing him to join Che in Australia.

Terry Bates (2nd M60-64) has been with the club ever since the Ashurst BC days and has coached more club sessions than most people have had post-race beers but in a similar vein to Myka he has a wealth of experience racing for Team GB mainly in Europe. In Southport he fought at the sharp end of his division throughout and after the bike stage looked to be in with a chance of a remarkable victory, before a particularly fast runner in his age group asserted his authority on the 10k run. Still, second place and a trip to Australia is a fine reward for someone who has put himself forward to not only be helpful but also a leader countless times (including his white pearls of wisdom about using toothpaste during the club relays last year, which no-one has quite worked out nine months later). His BeUrBest training programme and his warm weather training camps also become more popular each year and he is a fine example for fellow club members to aspire to.

And then there was Steve Williams (3rd M65-59), who did not race in Southport but was in Nottingham on the same weekend at the Outlaw half Ironman (did we mention the sensory overload earlier)……….Steve Williams only discovered the sport of triathlon a few years but has proven it is never too late to begin and competed very effectively aboard his first road bike against more experienced athletes. More recently he purchased a time trial bike from then-club member Mark Livingston and has been a proverbial rocketship aboard his new aero machine. In one of the more bizarre episodes of such a busy race weekend, he took his road bike to Nottingham not expecting to be able to race with bar-end shifters and then had to overcome a couple of mishaps before beginning the bike course but he still placed third in his age group which means he joins the sprint distance qualifiers from Southport in qualifying for the European Championships held later this year in Glasgow.

And so ends May 2018, probably the most memorable month in the four-year history of St Helens Tri. June has s similarly exciting schedule including the Deva Triathlon to kick things off, where various distances are on offer and Sarah Taktak attempts her first half Ironman distance. The ITU World Championship race in Leeds characterises the second weekend as the public race in the morning before watching the elites race for World Championship points in the afternoon, while the UK Triathlon season continues apace as they host the UK Ultimate Triathlon on Deva Day and they round off the month with the City of Birmingham Triathlon in Sutton Park on the day England face Panama in the World Cup. Entries for the Ultimate are now closed but Birmingham is still open at the time of writing.

Saints Rule the Roost on Royal Wedding Weekend

The third weekend of May has long been the busiest of the year for multisport athletes in the North West and 2018 was no exception as even two signature running races took a back seat to the crowded schedule. First off to race were Charlie Taktak and John Baden in the Pedalcover Slateman Triathlon. Set in picturesque scenery in the Snowdonia National Park, it is the first of three league races available as standalone entries, single day races or Savage double headers. John Baden was attempting the latter and put in a strong effort on the Saturday to finish in just over two hours which he converted to an aggregate time of 6:50:54 after the longer Sunday race placing him just outside the top 100 while Charlie positively starred on her first trip to north Wales since last year’s Sandman in Anglesey as she set one of the quickest times in the lake and finished second junior female in the sprint distance race.

The Sunday itself was a heartening one not only for triathletes but for those attempting the Liverpool Rock n’Roll half and full marathons and also for the runners competing in the most significant Great Manchester Run in the event’s history. On the Mersey waterfront it was a close run thing between Ian Orford and David Isaac. David ran the seasoned veteran to the wire and on another day may have come out on top, but Ian ultimately finished ahead by just over 90 seconds in a time of 3:25:09, and the pair were joined by Jill O’Connor who enjoyed her first crack at this ever popular race finishing around an hour later, about twelve minutes behind Neil Hunter and just ahead of Andrew Bridge who did a fine job taking a friend from outside the club round his first marathon. There were some promising performances in the half marathon as well, as John Wilson completed the course in 1:46:19 and Neil Wallace finished in 1:51:19 while Lisa Hirst competed in her first 13.1 miler and came home in well under two and a half hours not far behind Diane Taktak who has now surely completed every half marathon within 100 miles of St Helens! Jennifer Miller tried something altogether more enterprising and followed up a time of 28:37 in the Saturday 5k with a half marathon in under 2:15. Another terrific story was unfolding at the same time in Manchester as Dean Golba, for so long known as a bike specialist, took on the Great Manchester Half Marathon on a very emotional day for the city as a whole, and in the extreme urban heat exceeded his own expectations by finishing in an outstanding time of 1:33:39 – surely good enough for a sub 90 minute time on a cooler day – which placed him 161st overall. Meanwhile Lee Stinch braved particularly sticky conditions in the West Midlands at the Worcester Marathon and put in an excellent shift to finish in 3:45:40 which placed him in the top 25.

The main focus of the day, however, was undoubtedly the Southport Triathlon where it was as if most of the club had congregated either to race or give their support. In the sprint distance Peter Fairclough, who last year recorded his first sub-17 minute 5k, translated that form to the big stage as he finished in the top 10 overall thanks to his customary blistering final stage, 17:01 being the third fastest run of the day. Next home was David Gaskell who ran Peter close on the bike course, while Michael Forber’s trademark strongman running lifted him into the top 75 just ahead of Mal Balmer who was one of the top 50 swimmers. Jennifer Pybis’ second place in the F30-34 category set off a string of age group successes, the most notable of which was Emma Austin scoring another crushing age group victory as she has grown in confidence since being elected the female junior captain at the recent AGM. Emma’s dad Paul was just up the road as he edged a close battle with Caroline Stalker, the pair separated by just five seconds as Paul’s superb form on the bike made the difference. Continuing the theme of age group glory was Myka Heard, now aboard a time trial bike, and what a difference it made during the middle stanza, indeed with a slightly longer bike course she may well have won her age category but second in her division was still one of the standout performances of the day. It was a close run thing between Kevin Dunbar and Helen Broderick, two athletes with very different strengths, as Helen was more comfortable with the overall format of the race having much more experience, but Kevin put in a final run similar to that of Michael Forber to edge ahead. Next up was a consistent, well rounded performance from Chris Hayes while Christine Forber matched the swim times of many far more experienced entrants; while Sean Dalby got ahead during the second transition Christine powered past once more on the run to come out ahead by just 11 seconds. Meanwhile Christine’s daughter Bethany was following up her first half marathon back in February with her first open water triathlon and actually set a faster run split than Christine, her time of 1:36:23 placing her inside the top 300.

In a packed standard distance race Che Heard and Mark Turner were the stars of the show. Mark ran out of time to catch Che but still managed to secure the third qualifying slot for the world championships in Australia in the M25-29 group. Kevin Dudley overhauled Terry Bates for third club member home, but it was still a day to celebrate for the club’s leading coach as he took the silver medal in his age group and was fastest qualifier for the world title race. Adam O’Shea put in an excellent run to be next man home around six and a half minutes ahead of his brother, the pair separated by a fast running Paul Booth, an excellent bike performance from Mark Eccleston and a well rounded display by Dave O’Connell. Andrew Gaskell put in an excellent swim before dropping back to finish just inside the top 200 while Andy Devaynes and Mike Gregory were very closely matched out of the water before Andy edged away on the road. Cory Sandys may have been a little further back but he certainly captured the spirit of the day with his post race comments about how much he enjoys the sport and being a member of the club while recent new member Alan Mckeegan enjoyed his first outing with the club as he dug deep to beat the 2:50 mark. Just outside the top 350, but with an exceptional swim time, was Melania Sayed who has not had very long to turn her attentions to the multisport scene after her marathon heroics last month, while Azzzam Taktak and Robert Saile rounded out the club’s involvement in proceedings with a nice little duel of two athletes with contrasting strengths.

A few club members eager to test their early season triathlon form journeyed south to Nantwich and Nottingham. Results from the One Step Beyond events in the East Midlands have only just come in but Steve Williams overcame a comedy moment after the swim when he lost his number belt to place third in his age group and qualify for Glasgow later this year while it was an interesting day out for Will Bardin and Kevin Richardson in the Outlaw Half. Will has only recently joined the club but put in a spirited performance particularly on the run course to finish the 70.3 in just over five and a half hours, while Kevin might well have run him close if he hadn’t somehow ended up doing one and a half laps of the run course but he was still happy to finish in a time of 7:51:21 with recent new member Rob Dubelbeis neatly finishing between the seasoned duo in just over six and a half hours. It was a party atmosphere in Nantwich for the 26th Cheshire Triathlon at Barony Park where club reporter Robert Chesters joined over 550 other triathletes for a 500 metre swim in one of the few remaining brine pools in the UK, a 21km cycle route similar to the sporting courses favoured by early season time triallists and a four lap, 5km run around the “stadium” of Barony Park. It seemed improbable that anything special could come out of the day early on as first a loose brake block threatened to derail proceedings and a difficult swim stuck in traffic threw everyone’s rhythm off but Robert’s decision to fit new, grippy racing tyres for the new season paid dividends on a bike course full of road imperfections (not just potholes) and, against the backdrop of a heavy heat haze and an eclectic mix of music from the bandstand, he overturned a deficit of around one and a half minutes after the bike leg to take the M30-34 division title by just 28 seconds while also rounding out the top ten overall, thus completing a thrilling weekend of racing up and down the country where star performances came from so many in Southport plus Charlie Taktak in Llanberis and Lee Stinch in Worcester. Next weekend’s schedule is somewhat quieter but June brings the Deva Triathlon and the Leeds ITU World Championship weekend while UK Triathlon who organised the race in Nantwich host the UK Ultimate and Half Ironman races at the beginning of the month and, on June 24, the City of Birmingham Triathlon in Sutton Park for which entries and an ideal club trip south are still available at the time of writing.

Blazing round Bedfordshire, Born Survivor and the Balearics

It was a somewhat calmer weekend before the storm drives to glory we anticipate next week on Super Sunday but it was still a good weekend of racing for St Helens Tri as the fine weather from the Bank Holiday weekend continued. The main event of the weekend was actually on the Saturday as three club members made the trip to the Balearics for the latest major league event to hit the shores of Mallorca, which last month played host to the 312 sportive. Here, Shirley Fox was racing solo while Craig Abbott and Charlie Stirrup were part of the “Destroyers” team often seen at early season races such as the Belmont 2-up duathlon. The Destroyers were more than equal to the blisteringly hot weather on the island and completed the demanding course in just over five and three quarters of an hour while Shirley’s efforts in the heat were similarly impressive and in cooler conditions she surely figures to go well under 7 hours in the future. Closer to home, Capesthorne Hall was the stage for the latest round of George and Lynette’s UK tour of obstacle races as they took on the Born Survivor course. George has turned out to be one of the revelations of 2018 for his strength in completing such a diverse range of races and here he finished in a top 10 elite time of 1 hour 10 minutes, while Lynette was third elite lady home and was the recipient of a particularly impressive trophy.

The Sunday was marked by two classics of the early-to-mid season variety, one being the St Neots triathlon, the other in Chester at the Deva Junior Aquathlon. Reuben Wilson was our sole entrant at the junior event and overcame the warm conditions to make up several places on the run and lift himself into the top 25 at T2 level. Myka and Che Heard made the longer trip down to the historic county of Huntingdonshire (near the modern country of Bedfordshire as per the title) where they were competing in an Olympic distance triathlon serving as a warm-up for next weekend’s main event, which will be covered later. Both finished well up the order in their respective age groups and it was a triumph of spirit for both, with Che having fully adjusted to post-Ironman training with an especially quick performance on the bike while Myka was returning after being unable to run for much of the past few months; they are a fine example of the racing character that has come to epitomise the club over the past few years. And there will be plenty of it for all to enjoy next week as the club experiences perhaps the busiest weekend of the year, with triathlons in Southport, St Anne’s, Llanberis, Nantwich and Cambridgeshire while the Christleton 5k is well-known as a perfect race to hunt a new PB, the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll Marathon weekend offers a modern classic around the city’s most famous landmarks and the biggest race of all takes place on the streets of Manchester as 40,000 runners mark the Manchester arena attack anniversary weekend with one of the most popular races on the UK running calendar. The third weekend of May is always one for stories that are talked about many months into the future and also one for cool heads in highly charged atmospheres; in light of the proximity to May 22 it will be even more so this year. The countdown is on……….

Catching Fire in Chorley, Clumber Park and Cathedral City

The hottest Bank Holiday on record made for some very tough going but St Helens Tri still managed to record three memorable results in two local races and a modern classic rearranged from the “Beast from the East” winter. With Che Heard’s top 10 finish in the Wednesday evening time trial at Rainford being the only notable early doors race result attentions soon turned to the Liverpool Festival of Running, the Chorley junior duathlon and the Clumber Park English championship duathlon, three events with not a single swimming pool to cool down in on such a hot weekend! First off the starting line were the competitors at the Chorley race where the club had Harriet King competing in the TriStar youth race. Harriet’s experience of the Litherland circuit league proved vital as she carved out a blisteringly fast bike split and had enough in hand on the final run to edge a three way battle for the final podium spot. Meanwhile the ever inspirational Stephen Williams made the long trip south and east to Clumber Park for an English Championship qualifier. This event was due to be held in March but in keeping with a winter where snow and 50mph winds always seemed to arrive on race days it was one of many events rescheduled and the irony of now having to race in conditions more akin to Ironman would not have been lost on the competitors but Stephen was more than up to the task, as he progressed from sixth in his age group after the first run to launch into an outstandingly fast bike segment. This lifted him to second entering the final run stage where he stayed all the way to the finish, completing the course in a time of 1:13:45.

The streets of Liverpool were awash with office parties, music fans heading to Sound City and people heading to the Liverpool Vegan Fair but for thousands of hardened runners it was also race day at the Mersey Races Liverpool Spring 10k with a new route passing many of the city’s iconic landmarks including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Philharmonic Hall. Fresh from his stunning run at the London Marathon, Jordan Clarke used his experience of running rather further than 6.2 miles in tropical conditions to produce one of the fastest 10k performances in club history as he reached Sefton Park in an incredible 37:22 less than seven minutes behind runaway winner Degene Gezimu while it was also a welcome return to form for Chris Levy who put in a dogged shift to complete the course in under 45 minutes; we look forward to watching both members transfer their running speed to the upcoming schedule of multisport events, as while next weekend’s slate is rather sparse in terms of events, the busiest weekend of the year follows with the Slateman, Southport, St Anne’s, Nantwich and Grafman triathlons plus the Liverpool Rock n’ Roll races, not to mention the Great Manchester Run which is always a huge event with over 40,000 entrants but in light of its proximity to 22 May one year on, will be perhaps the most emotionally charged race of the season.

A St Helens Tri “triple double” – Mold, Mid-Cheshire and the Midlands

The final weekend of what has been an amazing April was marked by two long running favourite events and a terrific double victory in a relatively new form of racing which more club members will no doubt want to try in the coming months.As well as the Parkrun times we had two notable results at the Uventure obstacle course race in Kettering, Northamptonshire where George and Lynette Houghton were competing. Held three times over the summer months, it offers three distances, with a 3.5km junior race, a 6km adult beginners course and a 12km full distance special for seasoned obstacle course racers with obstacles including water slides, cargo nets and A-frames. George impressed by winning the junior race while Lynette was first in her category at the 12km distance. The next event in the series is scheduled for Saturday 14 July which should serve as an intriguing preamble to Ironman UK.

The two main events of the weekend took place on the Sunday, with the rearranged Oulton Park Spring Duathlon on the same day as the Mold Sprint Triathlon. At the Little Budworth circuit Che and Myka Heard took on the sprint distance, the former enjoying his post-Ironman “speed” season, the latter taking on her first race since returning from injury. She used it to excellent effect with a bike split very close to beating the 40 minute mark, indeed were it not for a disrupted build up she may well have been a contender for an age group win. Asit was she finished 110th and 3rd in her age group in a time of 1:24:10, while Che demonstrated tremendous improvements particularly on the two run stages as he made it home in under 70 minutes, 37th overall placing him fifth in his division. Full results are not yet available at e time of writing but Emma Austin was not only first junior lady home, but received the news on the same day from British Triathlon that her performance earlier in the month at Loughborough had earned her a place at the ITU Junior race in Leeds on 10 June when several club members will join her in the age group events.

Also making the trip to the England/Wales border was Nick Hall who took part in the Chester Half Marathon and ran a clever, negative split race to finish inside the top 4,000 with a time of 2:17:56, while closer to home Charley Devaynes competed in the Sefton Community Triathlon hosted by Epic Events at T1 level and showed promise especially during the final stage to complete the mixed terrain course in 31:30. Meanwhile Dave O’Connell ventured much further afield as he took on Ironman 70.3 in Marbella. Dave got off to a cracking start on the swim averaging under two minutes per 100 metres and carried his form through the bike leg and into the early stages of the run. The heat made for a tiring final few miles but he still completed the challenge in just over six hours which on another day may well have landed him in the top 1,000.

Five Go down to the Capital

An increasingly popular triathlon, a junior classic and the London Marathon were the three signature events on offer for St Helens Tri on St George’s Day weekend. First off the start line, however, were the time triallists, as David Gaskell made good use of the warm, fast conditions to post a 26:26 and open the club’s Rainford account for 2018. It was then into the Saturday Parkruns where there were highlights aplenty, including three in the top 20 at Stadt Moers where Robert O’Shea was just 15 seconds away from making the podium and Paul Austin getting within 15 seconds of his PB at St Helens where Tony Waine joined him to post a 35:33. At Edge Hill Charlie and Oliver Murphy were separated by around 90 seconds with both making the top 30, while Laura Banks found a big chunk of time in just seven days to record a promising 28:54 around three and a half minutes ahead of Liz Spensley.

The country was very much split into two halves the following morning because while it was sunshine and heatwave conditions for both the London Marathon and the FA Cup semi-final it was almost back to winter up north. Travelling furthest were the Kendal Triathlon entrants including Lynette Houghton, entering her first triathlon after years of specialising in cross country running and obstacle racing. Here, she recorded a 9:10 400m swim, good for anyone but excellent for a first time racer, and while the tricky bike course was somewhat unnerving for a newbie she made up some time with her run strength to place 245th in a very encouraging time of 1:27:39. Also travelling north were the juniors tackling the Blackpool Trawlerman Aquathlon as five of the club’s young stars took on the best of the north west. Grace Hirst was first to set off in the T1 Girls race and made up several positions with her fine Parkrun form to snatch a top 10 finish. Two juniors took part in the T2 Boys event, with Charlie Murphy racing for the second time in as many days to a top-20 placing as consistent pace on the swim and run lifted him to 16th while Reuben Wilson looked as though he might give Charlie a close race but ultimately Charlie’s Parkrun strength proved to be the difference as Reuben finished around two and a half minutes further back and in the corresponding girls race Holly Hirst looked as though she had the sprint finish to make the top 20 but ultimately fell just short. Last to race was Oliver Murphy at T3 Boys level and he overcame a difficult start on the swim to produce a terrific run that lifted him to 13th just ten seconds away from making the top 10. Meanwhile just down the road Lee Stinch was racing in the Blackpool Festival of Running in the half marathon and overcame the torrid conditions to record a satisfying 1:37:59 putting him in the top 25 in his age category and he was joined by Tony Doyle who opened his 2018 account with a time of 2:13:03. In addition Sean Dalby showed a major improvement over last year by beginning his season with an excellent fifth place at the Delamere Go Tri off road duathlon staged in the Blakemore Moss.

The big show in town, however, was the 38th London Marathon which had been the subject of many un-British weather warnings in the build up and although it was not as hot as first anticipated it was still a tough day for all who ran. On a historic day when Mo Farah broke the British record dating back to 1985 five St Helens Tri members took on the streets of the capital. Jordan Clarke, star of the Boggart Hole XC race last November, led the club home as he went off like a rocket at the start. He might not have kept his pace up all the way but a final push saw him record a time of 3:01:01. Further back an equally inspiring story was developing as Michael Forber was running 26.2 just two weeks after his 3:00:07 on the streets of Manchester. Here, he ran with Patrick Neill the whole way as the black and red of St Helens Tri combined with the pink of the Isabella Rose Foundation to finish together in a time of 3:33:05. Kevin Dudley was behind the dynamic duo at the halfway mark to the tune of just over three minutes but would eventually overhaul them with an excellent second half to beat the 3:30 mark and record a 3:27:17. To top off a day of inspirational stories in the capital Diane Taktak, who won a place in the VLM via a raffle of all things, enjoyed her day out as she finished strongly in 5:21:18 to round off another superb weekend with star performances coming from Robert O’Shea, Lynette Houghton, Grace Hirst and everyone who completed the London Marathon. Next weekend is a somewhat lighter schedule but the Bank Holiday weekend that follows is somewhat more significant as it includes the Liverpool Festival of Running and the Horwich Triathlon.

Emma joins the elites, Team Isabella go Totally Wicked

After last week’s improbable drive to victory at Stadt Moers Park the only thing that could have put the cherry on the cake would have been the club defending its title, but thanks to the ever improving Robert O’Shea that is exactly what happened as he came out on top by 15 seconds in a closely fought race. A meteoric rise indeed for someone who had not finished in the top 10 before last Saturday’s fourth place. That set the tone for the rest of the weekend beginning with the other Saturday morning runners including Joseph Duffy cracking the top 35 in Ormskirk where he was joined by Chris Murphy recording a time of 27:19, Laura Banks sneaking into the top 150 off the back of a last minute push for the line and Liz Spensley making it home in under 35 minutes. At Victoria Park in Warrington Emma Shillabeer got very close to her PB and with a little more luck will soon go under 30 minutes while this week’s intrepid travellers were Oliver and Charlie Murphy at the Omagh Parkrun in Northern Ireland where on previous occasions it had been a close run thing between the pair of them, but this time Oliver came good finishing just over a minute clear.

Three short haul road trips and a journey to the East Midlands characterised Sunday as well as the big “community team” effort of the spring at the St Helens 10k. On the road it was the turn of Myka and Che Heard to excel at the Chirk Triathlon. Che has always been known for his ability on the first two stages of a triathlon but here it was his running that really caught the eye, as he recorded a 19:16 5k to finish in a remarkable 1:07:05, while Myka overcame a disrupted build-up to the triathlon season by finishing second in her age group which will undoubtedly please the team at Limar and NRG4 Cycling. Neil Wallace also raced well off the back of his top 12 at last weekend’s Stadt Moers Parkrun and made up a little time on Myka during the run, however he eventually ended up around three minutes further back but still in the top 150. Making a shorter trip south was Anthony McLaughlin who was running the Mersey Tunnel 10k. It was a close run thing for a sub-50 time but he managed it by all of one second, that must have been some sprint to the finish. Travelling north for the Clitheroe Triathlon were Eddie Hirst and Dean Golba. Eddie opened his season account with a fine performance, 1:40:09 being good enough for 22nd place as he distanced himself from fellow pedalling powerhouse Dean on the run stage to the tune of around three minutes, Dean still finishing in the top 35. Taking a rather longer trip south was Emma Austin, one of the stars of last week’s Edge Hill triathlon. She was taking part in the junior national championships at Loughborough University and was up against a whole new level of competition, but PB times on both the swim and bike stages helped her to 45th overall.

Eddie’s wife Lisa would be one of the stars of the show at the rearranged St. Helens 10k held at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Up ahead on the road Adam O’Shea came good on all the promise he has shown over the winter XC season by cracking the 40 minute mark and placing in the top 50. His brother Robert, still on a high from his stunning victory at Stadt Moers Park, was next up just over three minutes in arrears while Paddy Lee, Chris Levy and Tony Waine finished just 35 seconds apart. It was even closer between Emily Ashton and Wesley Brown as Emily edged that duel by just six seconds on the run in to the finish line. After a wait of around six minutes the first of last weekend’s marathon heroes crossed the line, Melanie Sayed improbably managing to go under 55 minutes just seven days after her remarkable performance in Manchester, and she was joined in the sub-60 club by Paul Brown. As previously mentioned, Lisa Hirst opened her 2018 account in style and was very unlucky to miss out on the sub-hour club, no doubt she will beat that mark with plenty to spare on a flatter course, while Kevin Dunbar joined his wide Rebecca and the Isabella Rose team in jogging round in a time of 1:08:01.

As it turned out there were plenty of IRF runners and the dual-registration members who really caught the eye were the ones also known as Team Forber. Out front it was a close run thing between Bethany and Chris Forber as they fought to beat the 55 minute mark but in a thrilling finish Bethany got the nod at the line by just two seconds. Meanwhile Molli was joined by dad Michael who was still getting last week’s inspirational effort in Manchester out of his legs as she took on her longest ever race, off the back of the Hale 5 two weeks earlier and here she was more than equal to the task, finishing as one of the many stars of the weekend show clocking a time of 1:08:34 to join Robert O’Shea, My,a Heard and Eddie Hirst as the star performers of the weekend. Next weekend’s Epic Event is the Kendal Triathlon, while the summer bike time trials begin at Bickerstaffe on Tuesday and Wednesday evening and the big one, namely the 38th Virgin London Marathon takes place on what promises to be the warmest weekend of 2018 to date.

Seventh (70th?) Heaven at Stadt Moers, Team Isabella Triumph in Trafford

On 26th May 1999, Manchester United completed the first “treble” with their stunning comeback to win the Champions League Final. Amidst the disbelief at the sheer improbability of their triumph it was almost unnoticed that it had been achieved on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. A member of St Helens Tri had his own once in a lifetime opportunity of a similar kind on a much smaller stage on Saturday as Robert Chesters took the start line of the Stadt Moers Parkrun together with 45 other entrants on the weekend of what would have been his mother’s 70th birthday. In his seventh Parkrun it was very much a case of seventh (70th?) heaven as it was straight into a thrilling contest with a long distance specialist who has completed the Manchester Marathon four years running (but not in 2018). The duo traded places during the course of the first lap but Stadt Moers Park has a testing incline just before the last corner leading onto the start/finish straight. In a spooky throwback to that match at the Nou Camp Robert came from behind to take the lead (rather earlier than Ole Gunnar Solksjaer did that night in Barcelona, to say nothing of what happened later on Saturday at the Etihad) and despite having to battle through dreadful conditions in which he has not always excelled previously, he came away with an emotional, unforgettable one of a kind victory in 18:03, 15 seconds clear of his nearest rival. It was also a fantastic race for Robert O’Shea who scored a career-best fourth place in a new PB of 21:03 and also a fine performance from Neil Wallace who placed 12th but less than half a minute from the top 10. Elsewhere Oliver Murphy was the school holiday tourist park runner this time managing a sub-24 at the Hove Promenade race, while Emma Shillabeer sneaked into the top 200 in Warrington and Kevin Dudley followed up last week’s club duathlon title with fourth place less than 20 seconds away from the podium at the St Helens event where he was joined by Molli Forber, last week’s hero from the Hale 5, as she powered round the hilly course with her mum Christine in under 35 minutes as she looks forward to next weekend’s rearranged St Helens 10k.

Sunday’s weather was far more pleasant for the first local triathlon of the season at Edge Hill in Ormskirk and the Greater Manchester Marathon. Daniel Jones has been one of the club’s most prolific juniors for many years now and stepped up to the plate admirably here, as one of the fastest swims of the day and a flyer of a 5k run lifted him to an astonishing fourth place, while Emma Austin and Harriet King also flew the flag for the original junior “class of 2015” when the club was inaugurated as they finished mere seconds apart, Emma overhauling Harriet on the final stage to finish in under 70 minutes and the pair being split by Emma’s dad Paul. Elsewhere it was a major leap forward for Anthony Bearon to finish in just over 65 minutes, while Nick Hall actually got off to a quicker start, however Anthony’s bike and run speed made the difference with Nick finishing in 1:17:25 just over 90 seconds ahead of a strong man’s effort from Parkrun regular Tony Waine. After the dynamic duo it was a gap of a few minutes to recent new members Harvey and Paul Brown, the pair being split by the super veteran Tony Dagnall. Another new member Pauline Taylor led the remaining members home as she managed a gap of around three minutes to a closely fought battle between Paul Neale and Joanne Jackson to round out the entrants at Edge Hill, while just up the road in Skelmersdale Holly and Grace Hirst were setting new PB’s at the junior Parkrun, finishing in 10:03 and 10:48 respectively and Holly also taking the bronze medal in the girl’s race.

Over in Manchester the hordes were out in force at one of the UK’s favourite flat marathons which sells out well in advance of race day every year. Racing for the St Helens Tri/Team Isabella collaboration were Michael Forber, Kevin Dunbar, Melanie Sayed and Kevin Richardson, a Fab Four with what appeared to be a Fab 40 supporters and photographers lining the route to cheer them on. The standout performance to go alongside the previous day’s “seventh heaven at Stadt Moers” story was undoubtedly that of Michael Forber who followed up his recent PB at the Wrexham Half Marathon with an outstanding performance to finish in 3:00:07 over five minutes quicker than his previous best. Kevin had endured a very disrupted build-up to the big event and is more used to running 26.2 in fancy dress rather than the IRF pink so was more than happy to record a 3:41:31 having not been far of Michael’s pace for much of the first half. Melanie Sayed has only recently joined the club but was rewarded with a fine run to a 4:25:25 while Kevin Richardson was glad of a winter of XC racing as he rounded out the club entrants in 4:49:40 to finish off a thrilling weekend full of epic stories at Stadt Moers Park, Edge Hill and on the streets of Great Manchester. Next week’s special is the rearranged St Helens 10k while the Clitheroe Triathlon featuring the fabled climb of Jeffrey Hill marks the third sprint race in as many weekends hosted by the Epic Events team.

Easter Eggscellency in Skelmersdale, South Liverpool and the South Lakes

At long last the first club event of 2018 arrived, the postponed club duathlon. Originally scheduled for the first Sunday of February it was one of the many victims of the dreadful winter and as such was held on Good Friday, when 28 members took to the start line of a race comprising two 5k runs through the walkways of Pimbo and five laps of the Pimbo road race circuit on the bike. Adam O’Shea set off quickly and was the early leader but it soon became apparent that it was instead a three-way battle for the win between Kevin Dudley, Gez Roberts and Dean Golba on his new Giant Trinity. Dean was the only one to go under 34 minutes for the bike leg and looked as though he might take it, but Kevin put in a remarkable final run to seal the deal ahead of Gez and Dean. David Gaskell actually came close to taking the final podium spot continuing the Thatto Cycles Trinity connection with a very strong bike split and good run performances came from Andy Devaynes and the unfortunate Emma Austin, who was sadly destined not to finish. This left things wide open for the accolade of first female home and in the event it was won by Carole James who overcame a sizeable deficit after the bike course to take the victory. Notable age group performances came from Andrew Gaskell, Paul Austin and Steve Williams, the latter undoubtedly looking forward to another year of attempting to qualify to represent Great Britain. It wasn’t a purely multisport Friday either as Diane Taktak took on the first of two races she would enter over the weekend as she ran the ever popular Salford 10k, and recorded a time of 1:03:21 just missing the top 600 on a day when the first five elites were all under 31 minutes.

Easter Saturday always sees the appearance of the Parkrun tourists and one would shape the outcome of the Stadt Moers event in Whiston. Adam and Robert O’Shea used the event as a recovery run after their heroics the day before and were rewarded with top 15 finishes, Adam even using his excellent powers of recovery to nudge into the top 10. Meanwhile Robert Chesters tried to chase down a Lancaster and Morecambe fell runner and while the pair were evenly matched on the paved sections, the runner from up north had that bit extra in hand on the technical sections and took the flag in 17:50, with Robert still managing 18:08 on his first trip to the multi-terrain venue which is popular with cross country leagues and cyclocross riders. The club also appeared at their usual haunts of Ormskirk and St Helens, Callum Bishop collecting yet another top-8 at Edge Hill just six seconds away from his PB in less than ideal conditions while Liz Spensley finished 206th in just under 34 minutes. Meanwhile at Victoria Park Paul Austin got one over Kevin Dudley after the previous day’s racing as he cracked the top 40 in just over 24 minutes while Kevin came home just over 90 seconds ahead of Mike Gregory. For once we had an entrant at Croxteth Hall, as Neil Wallace cracked the top 100 finishing in just under 27 minutes.

Easter Sunday dawned, as did April Fools’ day, and two events took centre stage with the Ulverston Triathlon kicking off the Epic Events season and the Hale village 5 miler offering a party closer to home. Mark Turner was on a road trip to the South Lakes venue as a comeback race. He was quickly into the swing of things flying both in and out of the pool looking particularly purposeful as he set off like a true pro with blue (not suede) shoes already in his matching blue Boardman on which he posted a very fast time and while unable to really push on the run course as much as he would have liked a top 30 was still a fine reward. Meanwhile the Hale 5 mile road race has become a popular replacement for the old Runcorn bridge event which clearly cannot take place in a day and age when you have to register to cross. Instead, over 500 people took to the roads of south Liverpool including seven from the St Helens Tri/Isabella Rose Foundation collaboration with some choosing to run in fancy dress. Four came from team Forber with Bethany following up a breakout first quarter of 2018 with a top-250 placing aided by Michael the Tiger (yes really) while Molli was accompanied by Christine Forber and the pair finished together in a time of 52:47. In addition, two St Helens Tri entrants ran in costume with Kevin Dunbar finishing just twenty seconds ahead of Jennifer Miller, while Diane Taktak not only had enough energy after Salford to come in just four seconds adrift but also to go for a bike ride with daughter Sarah afterwards on the back of a long run home! The secret seven rounded off a three-part weekend full of surprises at every turn with excellent performances coming at the club duathlon, the Knowsley Parkrun and the Ulverston Triathlon. The month of April includes many signature races including the postponed Oulton Park Duathlon and the London Marathon while the evening bike time trials kick off, Southport CC hosting their season opener at Tarleton this coming Thursday while the Tuesday evening TT’s begin on April 17th.

All you need is Love, Liverpool and a Lionheart – Runners Relief special

It is somewhat rare that St Helens Tri venture to Croxteth Hall for a Saturday morning Parkrun but Tony Waine and Neil Wallace took on the technical, twisty confines of this iconic Merseyside landmark on St Patrick’s Day as they finished just seven places apart both cracking the top 40, Tony leading his teammate home by just over 50 seconds. At the more familiar venues of Ormskirk and St Helens Garry Banks enjoyed one of his most productive runs for a while as 23:20 was good enough for a top 30 placing while at Victoria Park Paul Austin repeated Garry’s result, minus one second and also one position, how’s that for a bit of symmetry. The mini Beast from the East put paid to the rest of the weekend schedule so it was on to the following weekend where the main focus was on Craig Abbott tackling the double Gin Pit marathon to raise money for the Isabella Rose Foundation. Held over two days, it is a long standing favourite among marathon specialists and ultra runners alike. Craig put in a remarkable performance as he soaked up the support of his club mates who even supplied him with true athletes nutrition 15 miles into the day. A pie, in case you were wondering. Results for the two day event are not yet in at the time of writing but his fundraising page is open for donations and has garnered much deserved support.

Craig wasn’t the only one running on the Saturday as Callum Bishop was just 10 seconds off his PB in placing seventh at a hotly contested Ormskirk Parkrun, Charlie Stirrup came within a few lengths off joining him in the top 10 and Liz Spensley made a welcome return to her favourite course. Meanwhile Kevin Dudley was 16th, but just 25 seconds away from the top 10 in St Helens where he was joined by a sub-26 performance from Mike Gregory and Tony Waine’s Tour de Parkrun continued as he recorded a sub-22 and top 20 finish at the Southport event in Hesketh Park.

Those who weren’t running the relays for their various second claim clubs at Birkenhead Park had the choice of the Liverpool Half Marathon or the Harlech Triathlon as the multisport season which awoke a couple of weeks ago finally kicked into top gear. Over on the Lleyn Peninsula Mal Balmer and newcomer Philip Hughes were taking on the first triathlon on the Saints 2018 calendar, a testing early season race with a run along the beach and some steps to finish. Both enjoyed their day out and have recommended it as a season curtain raiser for 2019, with Mal completing the course in 1:22 just over 15 minutes ahead of his new teammate. On the Liverpool waterfront six club members took on the first local 13.1 miler that actually went ahead since the Central Lancashire New Year race, the Wilmslow half marathon having been rescheduled for 24 June. Dave O’Connell, who has specialised in 10k races for many years, led the club home with an excellent run to a time of 1:33:29, but there were plenty of feel good stories further back, including the next member home, Emily Ashton, one of the club’s strongest young runners, who recorded a 1:42:35 which put her in the top 1000. She was just over 90 seconds clear of newbie Neil Wallace who led Parkrun regular Jill O’Connor over the line to the tune of around four and a half minutes, both placing inside the top 1500. Robert Saile was kicking off his 2018 fundraising campaign as someone who has overcome a brain infection and in arguably the performance of the day he blew away his previous PB with a determined run to a time of 2:08:43 around four minutes ahead of the returning Nick Hall, to round off the first variety show of 2018. The Easter weekend promises to be just as diverse with the club duathlon, the Salford 10k and the Ulverston Triathlon on the schedule.