The fourth round of the Manchester Cross Country League rolled into deepest Cheshire on Saturday 11th January and for the first time in a long while, St Helens Tri had two full teams out in the men’s race. Before that, however, the juniors had their best outing of the season with Grace Hirst getting the day off to an encouraging start as she finished the U11 Girls race in under 13 minutes. Charlie Murphy recorded a 15:27 in the longer U13 Boys event while Holly Hirst matched her sister’s top 60 finish at U13 Girls level and Oliver Murphy rounded out the junior involvement with a time of 26:03 in the U17 event. After lunch it was the turn of the senior ladies and once again Claire Murphy was the leading light finishing in 171st overall with a time of 42:57; in addition she now has an unassailable lead in the club championship with one round remaining. Behind her came the ultimate example of team spirit as Sheena Shearman lost a shoe out on the course but was helped back into the race by Christine and Bethany Forber, and this carried on all the way to the flag, the trio all recording the same time! The finish line video has already gone down in club history as one of the most popular feel good clips in club history. Meanwhile Liz Spensley received a huge round of applause on her return to XC as she completed the course in just over 65 minutes, her spirit and enthusiasm never in doubt.
So on to the men’s race it was, and as mentioned earlier the club had twelve entrants and enough to form A and B teams. The tactic Robert Chesters used at Arrowe Park in December (sneak over to the left at the start and get a clear track) worked a treat as he was able to use the run to the first corner and the two long straights to stretch the legs and a final sprint saw him sneak into the top 100 overall in a time of 37:31. Running him much closer than five weeks earlier, Michael Forber who ran particularly well in the early stages until his team mate escaped, but a sub 40 time was a rich reward for his rapid recovery since his accident on the Cumbrian Cracker sportive. In fact Michael was also facing a bit of a hurry up from behind in the form of Kevin Dunbar and Patrick Neill who themselves finished only a minute apart; clearly the slightly shorter distance and less technical nature of the course had the desired effect of keeping the racing close and exciting. Chris Murphy hasn’t got a great deal of recent experience in XC but you certainly wouldn’t have known it based on his performance here, indeed him and John Wilson sprung a welcome surprise to round out the A team as both finished under the 47 minute mark. They both finished ahead of two who did the Friday track/Saturday XC double, namely Lee Stinch and Chris Hayes, the latter having improved significantly since he completed Ironman 70.3 Marrakech last October. In ducking under 48 minutes Chris also held off track session leader Terry Bates and long time rugby player Peter Rawlinson who certainly appreciated the long straights as an opportunity to power past his rivals. It was good to have Gary Birch back in the fold and indeed he ran commendably close to the club head coach for much of the race, eventually finishing in under 50 minutes while Andrew Bridge and his unmistakable yellow beanie hat rounded out the club’s involvement in proceedings with a gritty run to a time of 50:23.
The following week saw several members return to Cheshire for the Four Villages Half Marathon. In sharp contrast to the near summer temperatures experienced at Tatton Park, conditions were so cold and foggy in Helsby that there were doubts beforehand as to whether the race would go ahead hut in the event the show went on – and what a show it was for St Helens Tri. Michael Forber led the way as he had done on so many occasions in the past, cracking the top 250 with an outstanding time of 1:27:40. Fresh from being third club counter at Tatton Park, Kevin Dunbar ran a time remarkably close to what he did two weeks earlier on the Fylde, his chip result of 1:31:02 placing him 325th overall. He came home just over 17 minutes clear of Mark Livingston who opened his 2020 account with bs finish just inside the top 800, and it was a close run thing between Christine Forber and Helen Broderick. They both broke the two hour mark and Christine ended up ahead to the tune of just 18 seconds, but more importantly she recorded a new PB by over four minutes, while Gary Davies rounded out two weeks of racing as he finished in under two hours 20 minutes. All in all two excellent weekends of racing in deepest Cheshire, with stars of the show being Claire for wrapping up the ladies club XC championship and Christine for her landmark PB and first sub 2 hour half marathon in Helsby. The month of January is already drawing towards a close but there is still one more cross country at Heaton Park in three weeks’ time while the winter/spring duathlon season begins especially early with Oulton Park on February 16th.