Jacek Cieluszecki in the OCC

It was a trip back to unmistakable peaks of Mont Blanc for Jacek Cieluszecki as he competed in the 56km OCC race

One Bournemouth AC man who has experienced all the highs and lows of running in the Alps is Jacek Cieluszecki. Being something of a steep slope specialist, JC loves his inclines and in general, the more of them there are, the better he tends to perform.

Running the Alps is very different to the Purbeck though which is his usual hunting ground. It’s a lot more technical and requires a different level of skill, particularly on the steep, death defying descents.

Of course, Jacek had competed in the OCC before. It’s a race that forms part of the world famous Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, regarded by many as the pinnacle of ultramarathons and mountain running. The OCC features a 55km route going from Orsières to Champex to Chamonix.

Finishing 23rd out of 1,565 starters that day, Jacek got round in 5 hours 54 minutes and 56 seconds. He was also 3rd vet on that occasion which was back in 2017. The year before that he successfully completed the CCC which goes from Courmayeur to Champex to Chamonix and that was 101km with 6,100m of ascent.

Getting through it in 16 hours 36 minutes, Jacek finished 91st out of 1,386 that day. He’s even had a stab at the full UTMB, which is 170km with over 10,000 metres of elevation. It’s undoubtedly one of the most challenging races in the world, as well as one of the most prestigious.

Unfortunately he started to fell unwell whilst he was running though and in the end was forced to abandon the race 126km in after 21 hours and 17 minutes of running. Perhaps he will return to conquer that and go the full distance one day.

This time round though, it was the OCC for JC, so the 55km route from Orsières to Champex to Chamonix which incorporated 3,425 metres of climbing. The climbing in the OCC race starts from the gun and continues throughout the race, meaning you are always either going up or coming down.

It isn’t going up the mountains where JC struggles though. He’s so strong on the hills that he can compete, even with the high calibre of field that the UTMB serves up. It’s on the descents where he can’t quite to compare to the top runners. The fact he isn’t used to training in that type of environment makes a huge difference. The Purbecks are great but they can’t quite compare to the magnitude and terrain of the Alps.

Jacek’s goal was to complete the course in under six hours, which is no mean feat in such a physically demanding event. His legs weren’t feeling 100% fresh on the day but he was ready to give a good go. His aim was to run his own race and be smart about it and ensure he doesn’t get carried away at the beginning. You have to always respect the peaks of the Alps and the challenges they bring.

JC racing in the OCC

The OCC would be a stern test of JC’s resolve with some very tough slopes to scale

There are essentially four high mountains to scale on the OCC route. The first checkpoint comes 7km in at Champex-Lac with the elevation gain already having reached 670m. Arriving there in 44 minutes 14 seconds, JC was in 93rd position at that point. Of course, there was still a very long way to go.

JC heading round the lake

It was one of those rare occasions where Jacek actually had runners ahead of him

The second checkpoint comes at La Giète, 18.7km in. By that point, Jacek had got through 1,564m of ascent and had been running for 1 hour 57 minutes and 25 seconds and he was still in 93rd place. Next up, it was Trient, 23.8km in. Arriving there in 2 hours 22 minutes and 43 seconds, JC had now dropped to 100th place, losing 7 places on the descent.

By the time he reached the Col de Balme though at 30.6km, he’d gained 14 places and had moved up to 86th in the rankings. He’d now accrued 2,537m of elevation. There was another long descent to come though. JC managed it well this time and didn’t lose any places, arriving at the next checkpoint in 4 hours 24 minutes and 57 seconds. That was Argentière, 41.4km in.

Jacek Cieluszecki with the Alps in the background

The Alpine setting provided a mesmerising backdrop

After that it was the final climb, with the last checkpoint of La Flégère to follow. JC improved his position by four places this time, arriving in 5 hours 13 minutes and 52 seconds, meaning he was now in 82nd place. That was 46.3km in and the elevation gain had now reached 3,403m.

From there it was all downhill to Chamonix with a short bit of flat on the approach to the iconic mythical finish arch. Gaining one further place before the end, Jacek made it across the line in 5 hours 51 minutes and 15 seconds. That was after covering an official distance of 53.3km and 3,482m of climbing.

Jacek Cieluszecki in the mountains

The high altitude didn’t seem to effect JC as he powered up the inclines

It was a magnificent performance from JC and he’d finished in 81st place out of 1,643 participants. He was 2nd in the 45-49 Male category. The winner of that category was Jordi Bes of Spain who clocked a time of 5:31:09, so he was 20 minutes ahead of JC. He finished 42nd.

Although he knew the standard of the competition was going to be high, Jacek was actually surprised just how strong then field was. He was well down on where he finished back in 2017 but he’d actually gone close to four minutes quicker.

Jacek Cieluszecki in action at the OCC

JC enjoyed getting another opportunity to race in the Alps

It was another remarkable achievement from JC and he was pleased with how it went and rates it as a very solid performance. Above all, he was very happy to have another opportunity to race in the Alps.

JC tacking the mountains of the OCC

It was the descents that proved the most tricky for Jacek to manage

The winner of the race finished 1 hour 8 minutes and 34 seconds ahead of Jacek. That was Norwegian runner Stian Angermund who completed the course in an astonishing time of 4:42:40. That put him just over two minutes ahead of his main rival Francesco Puppi of Italy who got over the line in 4:44:58.

Spanish athlete Antonio Martinez Pérez took 3rd place in 4:45:19, 30 seconds ahead of Chinese athlete Yousheng Guan who was 4th in 4:45:49. Robbie Simpson was the first British runner, finishing 6th in 4:55:33.

JC races through the streets of Chamonix

Jacek races through the streets of Chamonix

Toni McCann of South Africa was first female, clocking a time of 5:18:21 which put he 22nd overall. Andres Viedma Munoz was first in the 40-44 category in a time of 5:23:05, putting him 27th overall.

Katie Schide was 2nd female in 5:26:25 and she came 32nd overall, with Miao Yao of China finishing 3rd lady in 5:27:07. She was 34th overall. Scarlet Dale was the first British woman over the line, finishing in 6:15:07 which put her 124th overall and saw her place 22nd in the female rankings.

Jacek Cieluszecki finishing the OCC

JC arrives on the home straight after 5 hours 51 minutes of gruelling exertion

On much flatter ground in his next race, JC will be representing Bournemouth AC at the Round the Lakes 10k in Poole Park next Sunday and it will be a treat to see him back in action at a Dorset Road League event.