And so it dawned, July 15 2018, the ultimate stage being set for the ultimate challenge, Ironman UK. This year’s roster of St Helens Tri entrants was markedly different to previous editions with a particularly pleasing array of first time participants, some being used to the middle distance variant, others coming from seemingly nowhere to make their mark on the biggest race of the year. Read More
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.
The third instalment of club results in two weeks rounded off the pre-Ironman fortnight in style, with landmark results in various single-discipline events as well as a breakout performance at the Deva Divas triathlon. Derwent Lake was the curtain-raiser on the Saturday where the club had five competing in the 1 mile race and one opting for the Ironman distance of 3.8km. Lynette Houghton went for the longer option and was rewarded in her first non-OCR event for quite some time with a time of 1:19:23, while her son George took part in the 1 mile and produced quite the surprise of the day as he clocked an excellent 27:52. In fact, the only club member who finished ahead of him was Paul Austin, who took time off from supporting his daughter Emma to have a race of his own and his 26:21 was good enough to put him in the top 50 and, moreover, 4th in his age group. Laura Banks also went home happy as she knocked over two minutes off her time from last year, 29:01 giving her 71st overall while it was a close run thing between Rachel and Anthony Bearon as they finished line astern, Anthony eventually coming out on top by just 14 seconds. A similar event was being held simultaneously at the Salford Quays where the Uswim Manchester was in full swing. Wendy and Stephen Webb took park in the 1500m distance held in this iconic location near the Granada TV studios and were very evenly matched. Stephen finished two places ahead of Wendy (24th to 26th) but Wendy’s performance was arguably the more memorable of the two as she beat her 2017 time by an astounding 12 minutes, not to mention finishing less than a minute behind Steve! She would also turn out the following day at the Griffin Grind 5 mile for Team Isabella; the St Helens Tri story of the weekend will feature from that very race later in this column.
The Sunday was more typical of an early season weekend as the club had one or two members at a wide variety of races around the North West. At the Deva Divas in Chester Carole James, who has rarely featured in the club results columns, was out of the water in just over 18 minutes and this gave her a strong platform from which to attack the bike stage. She held firm during the middle stanza and a strong run lifted her to 21st overall, and second in her age group. Her teammate Helen Curran was actually over a minute ahead coming out of the water having completed the 750m swim in a time of 16:50, but Carole made the pass on the bike and that is how they finished, however Helen was still able to crack the top 100 with a time of 1:50:56. Also making the trip over the River Mersey was Reuben Wilson who competed in the Wirral Junior Triathlon hosted by Mersey Tri. Results are not yet available at the time of writing but plenty more scores on the doors came in during the course of the day, including the final results being confirmed from the BTR Events Tour of Merseyside. A six-day, 52 mile race, it began with the Epic Events Southport Half Marathon and actually finished mere hours before England’s World Cup quarter-final win over Sweden on the Saturday, but by the Sunday several club members had turned their attentions away from the football and had already entered for the 2019 edition which begins on 30 June. Kevin Dunbar and David Isaac completed the week-long campaign for St Helens Tri and both were rewarded with a place in the top 30. Kevin was able to give David a run for his money on the technical courses such as Thurstaton and Stadt Moers Park but David’s straight line speed eventually proved the difference (though apparently fancy dress isn’t all that aerodynamic either) and he came out on top having remarkably finished in under six hours, while Kevin was 18:45 further back but was nonetheless delighted to place second in his age group less than a quarter of an hour behind the division winner. Meanwhile, Jennifer Miller took on a bit of multi-terrain of her own in the Northwich Festival of Running 10k where her time of 1:02:37 was more than enough for a place in the top half of the field.
However, the most inspirational story of the weekend, if not the entire season, came at the aforementioned Griffin Grind 5 miler. Several club members turned out to marshal and offer support for this ever-popular “middle sprint distance” running race which always sells out in advance of race day and this year’s helpers included several who have starred at similarly tough events, but Aaron Reading produced unarguably the most gritty performance by a club members all year as this was his comeback race following a lengthy illness. To even take on such a difficult race was a daring challenge in itself given that 5 hilly miles in such heat is probably twice as difficult as a morning Parkrun (you may also remember that he was the driving force behind the inauguration of the Stadt Moers Parkrun in Knowsley where the club took such a thrilling double win back in April) and here he was soaking up the atmosphere from the crowds lining the road. His outstanding effort to finish in just over 1 hour 10 minutes deservedly put him in the top 200 and cemented his place as a club legend. Speaking of which, the stage is now very much set in Bolton town centre for more legends to be made, not just for the World Cup Final, but for the biggest multisport event of the year, Ironman UK, starting at 6am sharp in the murky waters of Pennington Flash next Sunday. While some will take on the ultimate triathlon distance, other club members have already made their own three-stop plans including the lakeside, the Rigbye Arms and Bolton town centre for what could be not only the most epic day in English sporting history but also in the already-rich annals of St Helens Tri. Seven days and counting at the time of writing………
A couple of late results from last weekend plus two landmark achievements mean that that modern rarity a midweek column has been required to report on all the club activities ahead of a busy second weekend of July. The Abersoch triathlon festival took place last weekend on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales and Mal Balmer took part in this long-running event which offers various triathlons as well as 10k and 1k beach running races. Mal was in a hotly contested M50+ division and rolled with the punches from the off with a tough sea swim leading to a picturesque bike course and an off-road run to finish. He finished 13th overall in a very competitive field while also placing third in his age group, taking in some of the more bizarre occurrences all season along the way including a massed start run and dive into the water, followed by a house on fire during the bike course! There was more age group success to come at the Fergus Sprint Triathlon in Northern Ireland where Nigel Taylor flew the flag for St Helens and won his division.
It is somewhat rare that a bike time trial makes the headlines nowadays, but Dean Golba has made a remarkable transformation from racing with various forms of petrol engine to human-powered competition on two wheels having only purchased his first TT bike a few months ago. Those of you who read the reports weekly might remember that he set the fastest bike split at the club duathlon on Good Friday en route to third overall and since then he has steadily go this 10 mile times down on the Rainford course. On Tuesday night, while most went for the “night off” option also known as watching England beat Colombia at the World Cup, Dean took to the D10/1 course once again having made more tweaks to his position and lowered his previous best time by over a minute, recording an outstanding 22:32 which put him seventh overall on the night.
However, the biggest midweek story undoubtedly came from Fyn, Denmark where Mark Turner was competing in the world standard distance duathlon championships for the second straight year. Last August, in Penticton, Canada he placed 10th in the world after a relatively trouble-free season. The past 12 months have been more difficult including one injury which held back his training for seven months but remarkably, he repeated his 2017 result in a time of 1:55:49 while also finishing as third GB athlete home. Mark has reached this level unbelievably quickly having not raced at all before 2016 and his remarkable rise to stardom will only continue in nine week’s time at the world triathlon championships in Australia. Before then, however, there are a whole host of signature races, including the conclusion of the ongoing Tour of Merseyside, the Ullswater Triathlon, the Snowman Triathlon weekend (hosted by the Always Aim High events team who organised Abersoch), the club relays and the Sundowner Half Ironman, not to mention the biggest event of the year, Ironman UK, which is only nine days away at the time of writing. Cowbells and big screens at the ready for the World Cup Final in Bolton, then……….
Over the past week the St Helens Tri activity could be broken down into three distinct categories; long distance triathlon, obstacle course racing and how to survive 13.1 miles on the arid flatlands of the Merseyside coast praying for some desert rain. It’s rare that our report begins with an Ironman save for the annual showpiece in Bolton, but if ever there was an exception to be made it had to be for Richard Seville, who only joined the club from St Helens Striders just before the St Helens Triathlon last September. Richard impressed on that occasion and marked himself out as one of those career “strongman” runners who frequently feature at the sharp end of triathlons well into their 40s but he had never taken on an Ironman prior to last weekend. Sports fans in Austria who weren’t at the Red Bull Ring for the Formula 1 Grand Prix were able to turn their attentions to one of the most scenic long distance triathlons in the world as Ironman Austria rolled into town. Richard kept the club updated throughout the weekend with photos which looked more like the Florida Quays than the Styrian hills which must surely inspire those who have done Ironman UK and want to venture a bit further afield. Much of Richard’s training has been based on non-stop rides of over 80 miles and there really is no better way to prepare for the ultimate endurance test, as he proved brilliantly. His swim and bike times were right up there with the best in his age group and despite having to walk through the aid stations on the run course (as many do) and shuffling through the last few miles (as he put it) he still recorded a phenomenal time of 10:40:07 which instantly put him among the best Ironman performances in club history. In the short history of St Helens Tri, there are perhaps only two members who joined and made a similar impression within 12 months at Ironman level; one being Che Heard, the other Eddie Hirst. The latter was in action at the Outlaw Half in Nottingham organised by One Step Beyond events, who host the club relays next month. Eddie was quick as usual in the water but it was his bike time which really caught the eye, and event though Eddie has only recently returning to running following an injury he still completed the challenging course in under five hours, good enough to put him in the top 15 for his age group on a day when the exposed nature of the Nottingham course and the high UV made for especially challenging conditions.
Moving onto obstacle racing, George and Lynette Houghton were racing once again having qualified for the world championships thanks to the results of last week’s Spartan Super at Aston Downs. They didn’t venture quite so far afield on this occasion, instead settling for the Delamere Commando 10k which must feature as a possible option for a club day out in 2019. In a close run thing, George crossed the line just ahead of Lynette who was second female on the day. Both are now looking forward to the club relays weekend where plans are already afoot for anyone who wants to try obstacle course racing to have a go at Holme Pierrepont on the Sunday – let the battle for third place begin……….
While Lynette and George were enjoying the relative UV shelter and a bit of mud and water in Cheshire, Kevin Dunbar and Ian Orford joined a few friends who race for the Isabella Rose Foundation in part one of the Tour of Merseyside, a six day, 52 mile event comprising of various distances and terrains. Part 1 itself was the Epic Events Southport Half Marathon, held as per the opening line of the report in an area in the midst of a Saharan drought (hence the reference to desert rain). The conditions were probably the toughest ever for said event but Kevin and Ian were more than equal to the daunting task as they spearheaded the St Helens Tri challenge and completed the 13.1 miles in a time of 1:37:34, Kevin even having the energy to complete the mile race with his son before the main event. However, they were upstaged on this occasion by David Isaac, who has not been racing quite so much in 2018 compared with previous years but he made up for lost time in more ways than one as he powered round the seaside town in a remarkable 1:29:25, which put him in the top 70 while John Wilson took time off from supporting the juniors to round out the club contingent as he quite comfortably beat the two hour mark. Also in action close to home were Paul Stupples and Charlie Stirrup who competed in the Liverpool Phoenix CC 25 mile time trial on the Bickerstaffe/Melling course. Paul was among the first few off the starting ramp and dug deep to beat the 70 minute mark while Charlie showed why he is one of the club’s leading cyclists with a fine performance clocking 1:00:47 to round off a weekend where Richard Seville undoubtedly took the plaudits for star performance, with a respectable nod to Eddie Hirst for his sub-5 hour half Ironman. Next weekend’s signature events include the Ullswater Triathlon and the UKFast Manchester 10k starting and finishing at the Etihad Stadium which should serve as a fitting prelude to the biggest event of the year seven days later, Ironman UK.
The month of June has been very much the month of long distance triathlon for St Helens Tri and the third weekend was marked not only by Father’s Day but also by the Lakesman triathlon in Keswick, a fairly flat course ideal for novices and experienced triathletes alike. In the 2018 edition St Helens Tri had two entrants with Peter Jones and Will Bardin enjoying a superb battle in the half Ironman race. Peter made the early break in the water to get out of the lake 24 seconds ahead but Will had a quicker first transition to get a handy advantage on the bike course. However, Peter pulled past once again on the fast roads around Keswick and cemented his position on the run to finish his first half Ironman in an excellent 5:28:24, around eighteen minutes clear of his teammate. Meanwhile down south we had Tony Doyle competing in the Shrewsbury Half Marathon, a single lap race starting and finishing at the Shropshire County Showground. Tony was more than equal to the task and marked Father’s Day with a fine run to a time of 2:11:53 while closer to home Diane Taktak took part in the Port Sunlight 10k hosted by BTR Liverpool and was not too far off her PB, as she finished in 58:29 while also placing in the top 15 in her age category.
The following weekend was a far busier affair with the seniors racing in Cardiff, Cheshire, Coniston and Birmingham while the juniors took part in the Denbigh Triathlon. Much has been written in recent months about Harriet King leading the juniors by example and the breakout graduations of Emma Austin and Sarah Taktak to the senior ranks. But almost unnoticed has been the rise of Charley Devaynes. She made the trip over the border into Wales on Saturday to participate in the Denbigh Junior Triathlon, a prelude to the senior’s event the following day. Hosted by Ruthin Tri Stars, it is an under appreciated midsummer classic with plenty of hills and technical sections for competitors to deal with. Charley took part in the 2017 edition but here she knocked an excellent four minutes off her time from 12 months ago to finish in 1 hour 27 minutes and is looking forward to more over the remainder of the season. Her father Andy was one of several club members to tackle the Coniston Triathlon the following morning as the Epic Events season kicked into a higher gear. One of the most scenic triathlons in the UK, it has gone from strength to strength in recent years as it has developed a reputation as a truly thrilling course to race on. Andy made up a lot of ground over the course of the race, gaining strength where others fell back in the heat and finished the testing course in a time of 2:58:40. Ahead of him on the road were speedy swimmer Kevin Dudley and fast finisher Mike Gregory; Kevin’s time of 2:40:29 was good enough for a top 30 placing while Mike edged his duel with Andy to finish just over a minute ahead of his teammate. Rob Preston also shadowed the duel ahead of him for much of the race, before dropping back on the run course to finish 126th in a time of 3:16:10. However, the standout performance of the day came from Andrew Mcglone, who has only recently joined the club from Kirkby Milers. He starred with a sub-25 minute swim, only just missed out on a sub-1:20 bike split and confirmed his star credentials by beating the 45 minute mark on the run to finish 21st overall. Enjoying a rather shorter event was Sean Dalby who went to the prestigious venue of Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire for the triathlon festival where he took part in the super sprint distance. Sean’s race was similar to that of Andy at Coniston where he made up considerable ground over the course of the race, eventually finishing 62nd in a time of 1:23:13.
Two events further south made up the rest of the club’s schedule for World Cup Sunday as four members took on the ITU World Championship Qualifier at the Suunto Cardiff Sprint Triathlon hosted by Always Aim High Events. After a mad rush to get his road bike for what was a draft legal event, David Gaskell came up trumps as the first St Helens tri member home; he has always been quick in the water and on the bike but here it was his run that caught the eye, as he pulled off an excellent time of 1:12:15, not quite enough for a top 10 age group placing but a fine result nonetheless. Jennifer Pybis recorded the club’s highest age group place in the Welsh capital as she shadowed David out of the water, and while he edged away on the bike her run time was very comparable to that of her more experienced teammate as she took fifth in the F30-34 category while going under 75 minutes. Myka Heard and Helen Broderick also took part, the pair being fairly evenly matched on the bike course as they revel on their new speed machines but in the end the gap Myka pulled out in the water together with a good comeback run proved to be decisive as she finished in a time of 1:22:47, just over four minutes ahead.
Two club members took the road slightly less travelled, at least in St Helens Tri terms (not in that of Spaghetti Junction) and made the trip to the Midlands for the Birmingham Sprint Triathlon, the latest instalment in the UK Triathlon series. Held at Sutton Park just south of the city centre, it comprises a lap in what is known as “Sutton Pool”, four laps on the bike round the tight but traffic-free confines on Sutton Park and a two-lap off-road run round the trails and “beaches” which the race director described as the best run course on the UKT calendar. Racing for St Helens Tri were Robert Chesters and Paddy Lee, starting half an hour apart in different age group waves. For Robert it was a much more comfortable swim after getting lost at Roundhay Park, and once on the bike course it was time to make up as many positions as possible against the fast swimmers. This was not easy when the course is sometimes not wide enough for mode than two bikes side by side (all while hearing the spectators cheer the riders on as though they are in the Tour de France), but Robert was off the bike and onto the run course well inside the top 10 and the only sub-19 minute run of the day plus a thrilling sprint finish against a competitor from the next age group up sealed the M30-34 age group title, his first in open water, as well as 4th overall in a time of 1:14:46, while Paddy managed to keep his head where others got distracted by the presence of cows trying to cross the run course as he finished in 1:22:22, second in his age group and 18th overall as well as setting the fastest bike split in the M50-54 division to round off a cracking fortnight of racing around the country with star turns aplenty, not only from the dynamic duo in Birmingham but also from Peter Jones for his first half Ironman and Jennifer Pybis for her top-5 age group placing in Cardiff. Next weekend, as the second half of 2018 begins, attentions turn to the Ripon and Ullswater triathlons in the first two weekends, followed by the biggest event of the multisport year, Ironman UK, on 15 July.
St Helens Tri juniors have enjoyed back-to-back racing weekends in the North Lancashire area during the first half of June and come away with some encouraging results. On the weekend when most club members were in Chester at the Deva Triathlon, Holly Hirst and Harriet King made the trip to the north west’s own Varsity City for the City of Lancaster Junior Triathlon. Holly raced in the T2 event and made stead progress through the field to place 11th in a time of 28:42. However, Harriet stole the show with an emphatic victory in the youth race; it was a close run thing with her rivals out of the water but she put the race away on the bike course and could afford to relax a little on the run, even then she won by 90 seconds, a truly dominant performance.
The following weekend saw several of the club’s young stars make the trip to the Fylde for the Blackpool Trawlerman Triathlon held at Palatine Leisure Centre. This is a unique event as it aims to simulate the open water experience by having the competitors swim round buoys in a pool, followed by a cycle track for the bike stage and a fast flat run to finish. Harriet King, fresh from her heroics in Lancaster the previous week, was in a fierce battle for much of the race with a rival from Rochdale and the pair traded positions throughout the early going. In the end her rival pulled away on the run but a second successive podium finish was still a great return on a fortnight’s work. Grace and Holly Hirst enjoyed a family day out and both showed good signs of progress, Grace finishing with a flourish to narrowly miss out on a place in the top 20 at T1 level while Holly edged a battle to the line in the T2 race to claim 20th position. It was also a welcome return for Reuben Wilson who showed consistent pace across all three disciplines and demonstrated the importance of working on previous weaknesses to match Grace’s 21st position in the T2 Boys event.
While the Leeds ITU weekend was the focal point for St Helens Tri senior members last week, many more took on a variety of challenges starting with the great Swim in Lake Windermere. The venue hit the local news over the weekend on the topic of leisure and tourism but there were plenty of “tourists” taking part in perhaps the biggest mass participation swim in the country. Among the entrants were seven St Helens Tri members divided neatly into three “families”. The interesting life and times of Kevin Dunbar continued here as his armbands to Ironman journey took a giant step forward finishing the 1 mile swim in 44:44, and remember until last year’s Kendal Triathlon he had never even competed in a pool swim let alone a lake. The Forbers also had a day out to remember, with Christine putting in an outstanding performance to break the 32 minute mark while Bethany not only beat 40 minute but knocked a staggering 25 minutes off her time from last year. Perhaps the most heartening story was that of Molli Forber who has only just taken up competition and has already completed various running races for the Isabella Rose Foundation. Here, with St Helens Tri, she was joined by her dad Michael and completed the mile in a time of 46:58, an amazing achievement. In addition we had Steve and Wendy Webb taking on the 2 mile race and finishing in 1 hour 23 minutes and they were joined in the longer event by Meg Cowley who opened her 2018 racing account by finishing the tough course in 1:48:21 displaying true grit by hanging on in there when so many lacked the mental strength to get over the line.
There was plenty more happening up north over the weekend including the Keswick Mountain Festival where Neil Hunter, who has recently joined the club from Liverpool Phoenix, took part in the 25km trail race and cracked the top 200 in a strong field of 550 runners, a good result any day but a great one coming off the back of the St Begas Ultra. At the same festival we had Chris Wynne and Philip Hughes competing in the half Ironman distance, one of the most scenic in the country. They actually finished remarkably close on position and must have seen quite a bit of each other out on the course as they traded places in the early going but eventually Chris pulled well clear on the run stage to go top 20 in the super-vets race. Meanwhile, south of the Cumbria-Lancashire border, the EpicMan middle distance was the latest instalment in the Epic Events calendar which now boasts over 50 races. A very competitive field assembled for this increasingly popular race and the participants were treated to a scenic cycle ride over the Trough of Bowland plus a fair few “characters” on the run course who wouldn’t look out of place on the climbs of the Tour de France but Neil Jackson led the way for St Helens Tri finishing in the top 100 as he completed one of the toughest half Ironman distances in the country with a time of 6:31:47 and Ryan Hume was not too far behind either finishing in 6:50:19.
For those who wants the official “half Ironman” experience, however, there is little to rival the atmosphere of Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and it has only increased in stature and popularity since the organisers re-routed the run course to finish at Market Square in Stafford town centre. Three athletes from St Helens Tri made the short trip south to the Potteries County with Nick Hall, veteran of pretty much every triathlon distance, leading the trio home and feeling “a little bit chuffed” as he put it, finishing in 7:30:50 while recent newbie Steve Martin was joined by the inspirational Robert Saile; here, there was little to split the pair and they overcame the hot and humid conditions to cross the line in under eight and a half hours. Meanwhile George Houghton, fresh from his second place in Nottinghamshire, took on a second OCR race in as many days at the Hero Assault Course in Preston where he placed third, while his mum Lynette won the ladies race to round off another weekend for the senior members where the star turns came from Team Forber at the Great Swim, Neil Jackson at the Epicman and Nick Hall at Ironman 70.3. Later this week a junior triathlon round-up will follow covering the City of Lancaster and Trawlerman triathlons held over the first two weekends of June.
It was a world stage special for St Helens Tri at the weekend as several club members made the trip to Leeds for the biggest short distance triathlon festival of the year at the ITU world championships. Held over two days, the event includes a wide variety of races for all ages and experience levels, including junior races, elite youth competitions, a Go Tri and then regular sprint and standard distance races on the Sunday morning prior to the elite triathletes racing draft legal through the city centre in the afternoon. Some of the pro athletes appearing on the Sunday afternoon had been participating in an ITU relay event in Nottinghamshire on the Thursday night, where in an interesting parallel, George Houghton would kickstart the St Helens Tri weekend on the Saturday morning by placing second in his age group at the Warrior Assault obstacle course race to provisionally qualify for the world championships. Up north we had Emma Austin competing in the elite junior and youth race on the Saturday while Oscar Heard experienced his first open water triathlon in the Go Tri competition. Rarely do more than two weeks pass without Emma featuring on a club report and here she was hoping to carry her form from the Southport Triathlon over to elite level. She delivered in style, as she managed consistent splits which had her on the fringes of the first results page including a top-20 run segment, eventually lifting her to 21st female over the line in just over 45 minutes. Oscar Heard has long been a loyal supporter of the inspirational achievements of Myka and Che Heard and they would get their opportunity the following morning, but Saturday was Oscar’s turn to shine as he recorded a swim time of 4:13 for the 200 metres which had him within touching distance of the top 10. The bike was somewhat more difficult but he recovered brilliantly on the run to lift himself to 23rd place while beating the 50 minute mark with a great sprint finish.
That was it for the Saturday but for those who had been spectating or driving over to Yorkshire during the afternoon it was a bit of a scramble to get everything set up in transition where you were allowed to leave your bikes and any other equipment of your choice overnight in a secure location; after all the entry fee of £79 might seem fairly steep (though BTF members can save £10 in the 14 days after entries open with priority booking) but for the standard of organisation and atmosphere it is hard to imagine a short distance race providing the same value for money. As such the club was in good spirits despite the 4:30am alarm call to get to the start line for the standard distance swim waves which began for some as early as 7am. Among the early starters were Che Heard and Mark Turner. Che needed to borrow Oscar’s bike after a last-minute fault was found on the rear wheel of his Giant Propel but he coped with the challenge admirably and with a bit more luck might well have been the first club member home. As it was, the honour fell to Mark who placed in the top 100 overall, however Che was still very happy with his result particularly his 37:12 10k run split which was over five minutes quicker than he managed on a flatter course last month in Southport, and would surely translate to a time of 36 minutes or less at the fast and flat Leeds Abbey Dash which is scheduled for 4 November. Myka Heard and Steve Williams were also racing the standard distance and both featured well up the order in their respective age groups, Myka placing fifth in her division thanks to a huge improvement on her time trial bike while Steve recorded his first sub-50 minute 10k split en route to fourth in his age group. The club’s sole representative in the sprint distance was Robert Chesters, who after failing to push off properly from the pontoon got rather disorientated in the water trying to swim with basic pool goggles and somehow mistook a yellow canoe for the first turning point while trying to stay afloat against faster swimmers (insert yellow submarine joke here) but the fifth-fastest bike time lifted him back into contention and eighth overall on the run including some decisive passes on the long straight past the retail parks into the city centre secured 18th overall and 4th in the M30-34 division at the finish line, where as one of the sprint distance entrants he was one of the first to appear on the BBC finish line camera set up prior to a thrilling afternoon of elite level racing in the park and the city centre which saw local athletes Vicky Holland and Georgia Taylor-Brown take first and second in the elite ladies’ race and give Emma Austin, and indeed all the St Helens Tri juniors, a fine example to aspire to for the future. In part 2 of the weekend round-up we will cover all the remaining results, including the junior Trawlerman Triathlon, Ironman 70.3, the Lakesman, the Great Swim and the EpicMan Middle Distance.
The first post-Southport Super Sunday arrived on the first weekend of June with the flagship race being the Deva Triathlon hosted by Chester Triathlon Club. Set in one of England’s most historic cities famous for its Roman architecture and horse racing, the 2018 event offered both an Olympic and half ironman distance to choose from while also being the second round of the St Helens Tri club championship. With so many having excelled a fortnight earlier in Southport, would they repeat the dose in the Deva City?
In the standard distance 19 club members took part including many who qualified for Team GB last month and some taking part in their first Olympic race. Che Heard and Peter Fairclough were kept apart on Marine Drive two weeks ago in separate races but here they were locked in a battle for supremacy and what a duel it was as Che was out of the water nearly two minutes ahead and set about clocking an amazingly fast bike split. Peter made a thrilling late comeback bid to catch him but Che held on to be first club member home by just 15 seconds. After that it was a wait of around twelve minutes for Terry Bates, whose battle with David Gaskell was almost a carbon copy of the Che-Peter duel as Terry got away on the bike and held off his rival over the 10k to not only place third in the interclub standings, but also finish second overall in the M60-64 group. Two quick swimmers Mal Balmer and Steve Elliot also showed their diverse strengths as they finished less than two minutes apart while also being split by Mark Ashton, who recovered from being a few minutes behind the dynamic duo out of the water to clock an excellent sub-47 10k run and split the pair at the finish. Other highlights further down the field included the continuing improvement of Myka Heard, Helen Broderick and relative newcomer Christine Forber on the bike and Shirley Fox placing in the top ten for her age group thanks to a particularly impressive run split under 50 minutes, while Wendy Webb and Robert Wilson were delighted to complete their first Olympic distance race in under four hours and with such a relatively short history of competition compared to her teammates, so they deserved it, as they immediately pondered afterwards where her next such race might be!
For such inspiration, Wendy and Robert might have wanted to look no further than the half ironman distance. In last weekend’s Southport Team GB round-up, Emma Austin was mentioned as the most exciting athlete the club has at the present moment. And that statement certainly rings true – for short distances. For longer distances, look no further than Sarah Taktak, who has quietly gone about building up an outstanding record of age group successes as she looks to emulate Che Heard as someone who reached Ironman level at a young age. On the strength of Sunday’s performance on the shores of the River Dee you certainly wouldn’t bet against her, as she matched and even beat the swim times of many club members with years of experience, and she added a much-improved bike performance and some very gritty running to win her age group in just over 6 hours 10 minutes, a fine reward for a 2018 already filled with more highlights than most athletes can pack into ten years. Meanwhile it was a case of “2017 here we go again” as Charlie Stirrup, perhaps the club’s most improved long-distance athlete last year, continued his upward trajectory into the new season in his first major race in quite a while. Here, he was out of the water over two minutes ahead of anyone else in the club and a sub-2:30 bike split, averaging well over 20mph, simply confirmed his status as the club’s leading long distance athlete with his final time not only being well under five hours) but also place him sixth in his age category However, he was nearly caught in the final stages by Michael Forber, who has hit the headlines many times already this year for his amazing performances at the Manchester and London Marathons, and here he was on top form as he recorded a stunning half marathon time of 1:31:28 (on a day when no-one else from the club broke the 1:40 mark) to finish eighth in his division and less than five minutes behind his much more experienced teammate. Patrick Neill also made up a little time on Charlie on the run course but not quite enough to dip under the 5-hour mark, however his solid run plus two very quick transitions ensured he was next club member home while also in the top 80 overall. Behind Patrick a fascinating battle was developing between Andrew Gaskell and Dean Golba. Andrew matched Sarah’s swim time and looked to be well ahead but Dean put in an inspired performance on the bike to really put the cat amongst the pigeons. However, Andrew would make up enough time on the run course to re-pass Dean for position and finish ahead by just 52 seconds. Other standout performances included a rapid bike time from 10k specialist Dave O’Connell to dip under the 5:30 mark overall, an encouraging run from Mike Gregory as he overcame a couple of sticky transitions and a much-improved run from Azzam Taktak as he shrewdly saved his energy for when it mattered most. All in all a terrific day out and a perfect advert for the club on yet another scorching Sunday (full results including details of all members who took part are here: https://chestertri.niftyentries.com/Results/Deva-Triathlon-2018) and not just for those who made the trip to Chester either, as Lee Stinch took on yet another marathon, this one being in Huddersfield. It was so hot in West Yorkshire that even the local press alluded to it being “the ultimate challenge” but Lee was more than up to the task, finishing in well under four and a half hours, a good performance in any situation but an excellent one on a hilly course in very un-British conditions. Also “going long” were Richard Seville and John Baden who took on the UK Ultimate Half Ironman in Shropshire hosted by UK Triathlon Events. Richard put in a stunning performance particularly on the run where was whole minutes quicker than many of the top 10, indeed he almost caught the second man in his age group but just fell short by les than a minute while John Baden’s power on the bike enabled him to beat the eight hour mark before driving for almost as long down to Cornwall for a well-deserved holiday after two half Ironman distance races in the space of a fortnight.
Other events over the weekend included Robert and Adam O’Shea taking part in the Montrose Sprint Triathlon. It’s nothing new for our two intrepid travellers to find a race that few would know exists in sunny St Helens but unusually it was a pool based triathlon including 30 lengths indoors instead of the usual 16. Robert managed a quicker swim and bike time on this occasion and while Adam’s trademark speed on the run gave his brother a real hurry-up to the line, Robert held on to finish ahead by just 33 seconds. Epic Events took over most of the northwest once again and those club members who were not at the Roman Road cycle sportive in Ormskirk were making the long trip north to Ullswater for the first of the Epic Lakes Swims in 2018. Cory Sandys has been in fine form ever since his breakout performance at last year’s Ironman UK and was prolific here as well as he took on the 1 mile swim and beat the 30 minute mark by 12 seconds. while Cheryl Pace, another member who has recently joined from a long running history at Penny Lane Striders, was not too far behind as she finished her first Epic Lakes event well inside the top 200, rounding off a weekend full of star performances. Next weekend’s flagship special is in Leeds City Centre as several club members make the trip to the latest round of the ITU World Championships where the public race in either a super-sprint, sprint or standard distance race on the Saturday or Sunday morning before the best in the world take to the streets in the afternoon to effectively turn the proud Yorkshire city into the world’s biggest stadium for the weekend.
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.