After having his two previous attempts at winning The Stickler cruelly foiled, when he lined up for the 2021 edition, Jacek Cieluszecki was hoping it might be third time lucky on this occasion.
The disappointing aspect of not winning his two previous attempts was that it wasn’t his fault. On both occasions, it was due to marshalling or course mix ups that prevented him from realising his objective.
The closest he came to winning was in the 2018 race, where he was way out front and was on course for an emphatic victory. The problem was though that he was going so fast he actually beat one of the marshals to their post and as a consequence, missed the turning and carried straight on.
By the time he realised he must have gone the wrong way, it was too late and he would’ve had a long way to go in order to get back on track.
The following year he was out front again, but this time he was with Lee Dempster and Stuart Holloway of City of Salisbury. Soon after the first big climb up the Stickle Path, they got sent the wrong way by a rogue marshal, masquerading as one of the official race crew.
One of the real marshals then noticed they had gone the wrong way and rushed over the tell them. They turned to find their way back to the designated route but it caused complete chaos and some of the runners ended up cutting off a section of the course and thus not completing the full distance.
Jacek did do the full distance but he had to claw his way back towards the front of the race from quite far back and it scuppered his hopes of winning. This year he was determined to get it right though.
Jacek had already won one very hilly 10 mile race this year when he claimed victory in the CapTEN, a race that incorporated two of the highest points in the South West, Thorncombe Beacon and Golden Cap.
Setting a new course record that day, he finished over six minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
There had been a lot of rain the night before The Stickler, as well as on the morning of the race itself and that had left the course waterlogged and muddy in places.
It was actually the same day that the Bournemouth 10 was cancelled on, partly due to the conditions. Luckily The Stickler started a bit later though and the storm had cleared by the time it was due to get underway.
The course is just over 10 miles in length and includes 1,700ft of climbing, beginning with the infamous ‘Stickle Path’. There are three massive peaks to negotiate during the race. They are Okeford Beacon, Hod Hill and Hambledon.
What’s impressive about JC’s running is that he’s still able to go at a very quick pace, even on an incline. For instance, the first mile is almost all uphill, with some of it being very steep, yet he still managed to get through it at under 7 minute mile pace.
Then when he gets to the top of the hill and he gets back on the flat or on a descent, the hill doesn’t seem to have taken that much out of him and he’s still able to run really fast.
His third and fourth miles were done at 5:36 and 5:20 pace before he headed back up the smaller climb on the 5th mile and 6:09 pace. He was then back at 5:37 pace for the sixth mile as he headed back down.
Although Jacek was in the lead, Chris Peck of Egdon Heath Harriers was hot on his heals throughout the first half of the race so he knew he couldn’t afford to let up.
On the last two crucial climbs though, which were Hod and Hambledon, JC managed to exert his authority and extend away from Chris.
Managing to get through the next two miles that included those two climbs in 7:30 and 8 minute mile pace, Jacek managed to open a gap of almost two minutes between himself and Chris.
From that point on it was all academic. He headed back down Hambledon at 5:31 pace for the 9th mile. The last mile took him through a grass field that was extremely waterlogged.
In fact a small river had risen up and flooded the field which left a very large and very deep puddle that the runners had to wade through, or swim through if they so desired, as Sarah Swift of Poole Runners did. Luckily she’d brought her goggles and swimming hat just in case.
Despite all that, Jacek got through the last mile in 6:11. That saw him hit the finish in a time of 1:04:46 to take a resounding victory, with Chris arriving at the line almost two minutes later in 1:06:42.
Tristan Cooper took 3rd place in 1:07:27, which Charles Ford laying claim to 4th place with his time of 1:09:37.
Jacek’s average pace for the run was 6:26 minutes per mile which, considering he’d tackled almost 1,700ft of climbing and had to face some very tough conditions, was an amazing result.
Mark Packer of Littledown Harriers was also in the mix, finishing in 9th place with a time of 1:15:11. Matthew Bosanquet of Lytchett Manor Striders was 11th in a time of 1:16:39 with Steve Claxton of Poole Runners taking 12th in 1:17:11.
Paolo De Luca, also of Littledown Harriers crossed the line in 19th place in a time of 1:19:43.
Molly Rasch took first female spot, getting round in 1:19:48 which put her 22nd overall. The next women to reach the finish was Jenny Lee Marshall of Purbeck Runners who was 36th in a time of 1:22:47.
Tracy Cook of Dorset Doddlers was 3rd female, registering a time of 1:25:23.
A total of 383 runners took part in the race. It would have been more but the floods and road closures prevented some of the runners from getting to the start line.
It was both a relief and a moment of great joy for JC to finally get the victory he’d been craving for three years. He can now put the mishaps of 2018 and 2019 behind him, knowing that he can finally call himself the official champion of The Stickler and, after what has gone before, never has there been such a worthy winner.