With the goal of producing a solid performance but without overcooking it, Jacek Cieluszecki headed over to Petersfield for the Salomon Serpent Trail 50k Ultra Marathon. He was looking to test himself find out what sort of form he was in in a race that would see him competing in quite a high calibre field.
The race was actually part of the Golden Trail National Series, along with Scaffell Pike Trail Marathon, Ring of Steall Skyrace, Trail Marathon Wales and a couple of races in the Netherlands. That meant even an athlete of Jacek’s standard would have his work cut out to finish in a high position.
His approach to the race was similar to the way he built up for the Anncecy Marathon, which he completed in 2 hours 36 minutes. He hadn’t been doing massively high mileage and had been using some local races to improve his fitness. That meant going a double race weekender where he won the 14km distance at the Maverick Dorset and then followed it up with a win in the Coombe Keynes 10k in the Purbeck Trail Series.
The weekend before the Serpent Trail 50k he recorded his fastest ever time at Durlston Country Park parkrun, getting round in a time of 18:19, which was outstanding for that course. He has been first in all six of his outings there so far.
It was a point to point route, starting just outside Petworth and finishing up in Petersfield heading along on paths and tracks through woodlands, greensand hills, lowland heath and river meanders. It isn’t a particularly hilly route, with the highest point of the race coming within the first three miles. Then it’s back down the hill after that, with the rest of the route containing smaller undulations.
For an athlete who’s used steep climbs and constant ups and downs on the kind of races JC usually does, the Serpent Trail race was a reasonable easy course. Starting off at a steady pace and not going out too hard, Jacek was trying to keep to an average pace of 7 minute per mile which was comfortable for him.
The first checkpoint was at Fittleworth which was around the 7 mile point. JC arrived there in 48:34 which put him in 9th place at that point. The second checkpoint was Grafham which was around 13.7 miles in and Jacek got there in 1:35:32. At that stage, he was still in 9th place. By the time he hit the next one though at Midhurst, he’d moved up to 5th in the standings. That was close to the 20 mile point and JC clocked in at 2:17:37.
The final checkpoint was Trotton and that was 24 miles in. Making it there in 2:46:12, JC had gained one more place and was now in 4th. He’d been steadily working his way up the field. There was still about 6.7 miles left to go through so perhaps still enough time to make further gains.
Putting in a 6:32 for his 25th mile, which was his fastest one of the race, JC was really cooking now. He followed that up with a 6:41 for his 26th mile and was certainly closing the race out strongly. With about a mile to go, Jacek moved up into 3rd place before going on to reach the finish line in a time of 3 hours 34 minutes and 34 seconds.
It was a really strong run, putting his average pace for the 30.65 miles at 6:55 per mile. And that was with an elevation gain of 2,133ft. His pacing had been remarkably consistent throughout the run, with his slowest mile being being the 28th mile which he did in 7:20. That one had a sharp incline. For most of his splits he was around 7 or under though.
The winner of the race was Luke Grenfell-Shaw who steadily climbed his way from 5th at the first checkpoint to 1st on the last checkpoint. His time was 3:20:55 so he was 13-and-a-half minutes ahead of Jacek. Nigel Hockin of Slaithwaite finished 2nd in 3:28:14. Jacek was 1st MV40.
Russel McGavock must have had some problem between the last checkpoint and the finish as he was nine minutes ahead of Jacek but he ended up losing 11 minutes over that section and conceding 3rd place. His finishing time was 3:36:22.
Joseph Morwood of Aldershot, Farnham & District had been first over the first two checkpoints but struggled after that and finished up in 5th in 3:52:19. Chelsea Creek of Bristol & West was 1st female and 8th overall in a time of 3:57:23. She was followed by Abigail Woolaston who was 9th in 3:59:57. Sophie Biggs was 3rd female and 1st MV50, crossing the line in 4:13:39.
Jacek’s wife Ela also ran in the 50km race, completing the course in 6 hours and 38 seconds. She was in 296th place at the second checkpoint and climbed up to 209th in the end. She was 55th female out of out of 227. 559 runners successfully completed the the route and there were 13 abandonments.
There was also a 10k, a 20k and a 100k on in the Serpent Trail event. The 100k was won by Nicholas Berry in 9 hours 23 seconds, with Pere Capdevilla of Stubbington Green taking 2nd in 9:37:39. Laura Nevill was 1st female in that race, taking 10th overall with her time of 11:21:30.
JC was pleased with his overall performance in the race and it had been another mightily impressive ultra marathon display from him, even though on this occasion he didn’t come out on top. Perhaps on a more hilly route, he would have done, as it is usually on the climbs where he can really make his superiority tell.