The Stickler - 28 October 2012
The three peaks, three views – Rich House, Wendy Kennedy & Steve Wyatt
With a good turn out of Wimborne runners the pre-race banter at
race HQ was not only around the pros and cons of a base layer to
deal with the cool grey damp conditions but also race tactics, as
vital club championship points were at stake. Needless to say
those of us in the same championship category as Mr Swindlehurst
The start of the race is down a narrow lane that gives the runners
a chance to get their legs warm before the first of the three
peaks rears up and welcomes you to the event properly. Myself and
Andy Porter hit this one running and pass Iain Donnelly about a
third of the way up, two thirds of the way up I’m walking and Andy
is pushing on. At the top we pass by Okeford Hill Beacon and are
on our way down to the woods.
The long fast descent is brought to an abrupt halt at mile 4 where
another hill appears, this one doesn’t even count as one of the three
peaks! After passing through a few villages at mile 7 the official
second peak, Hod Hill, looms. With the desire and ability to run up the
embankments of the Iron Age fort quickly disappearing, I am once again
walking up the hill. Towards the top I look back and see Steve Guy hot
on my heels.
Immediately after a crazy descent off this hill the runners face the
insanely steep third peak of Hambledon Hill - I didn’t even bother
trying to run this one. At the top of the hill it’s Jon Braund’s turn to
chase me down and offer wise words of support regarding the steep
descent off the hill, at which point I thought it prudent to have my
shoe laces tied! Being supportive club mates, both Jon and Steve went
past me, but support was just round the corner with Lynn and Sharon
Hutchings cheering everyone on. Steve was more cautious on the descent,
so there was another championship point back for me, but there was no
The final mile was along ankle twisting fields and a slippery footbridge
towards the old railway line platform, where great vocal support was
provided by fellow WACers at the finish. So good was the support that I
think Mike Hilborne sprinted faster the louder the crowd cheered!
Well done everyone that ran and a big thank you to the support provided
by others. It was a cracking race and definitely one for next year’s
Most sensible people would look at the race profile on the Stickler
website and quickly decide that it was not a good idea (think of a
cardiac monitor going up and down), luckily for the race organisers
Dorset is chock full of nutters who aren’t interested in a nice flat
race. It’s also a worry when Ian tells you that its one of his
favourites! I usually steer clear of any of those, such as the Beast or
After a quite a bit of humming and haahing about whether to run the
Stickler, I made the decision to go for it, being the last club
championship race of the year and the vain hope of snatching a few more
points. After a week of having a heavy cold, my preparations were poor,
but at least I had rested and hoped for the best. Having done the second
leg of the Ridgeway and also the TV10, I had a fair idea of what might
Upon arrival at the race HQ the first sight was the figure of the grim
reaper, just what you need to inspire confidence! It wasn’t long before
the hall filled with runners and happily the usual WAC suspects arrived.
There was a friendly but nervous atmosphere at the start line, which was
a crowded narrow lane about 5 minutes away from the hall.
There is a short ‘on road’ section at the beginning leading you towards
the infamous ‘Stickle Path’ which is accessed via a gateway, and from
the entrance to the path it quickly increases in gradient and ascends
into the trees – the path is rough and leaf covered so finding a good
grip was difficult and within a short time the majority were walking (as
briskly as possible), with a few die hards gamely running up on their
toes I was particularly impressed by Mike Hilborne who went up the path
like a mountain goat.
At this point it was social and whilst chatting was hard, due to lack of
oxygen, it was nice to exchange pleasantries with the other ‘runners’.
Angie Brown, from Poole Runners, had her not so secret weapon of Lulu,
her fostered Staffie cross, who was nimbly escorting her as she cruised
past me. The Stickler is one of the few races where dogs are permitted,
although they must start from the back (however, I don’t think any were
likely to finish last).
The first hill continues for about a mile and once at the top there is a
view point (apparently). The only view I had was of the Littledown
runner who stopped in front of me to adjust his black knee support, for
some crazy reason it looked like he was losing his underpants which I
joked to him with some hilarity. (Maybe altitude sickness had kicked in?
or just hysteria)
After running along a the crown of the hill the course loops down and
then back up past the Okeford Beacon, which in my opinion should have
been lit for the occasion. We then had a brief period of flattish
ground before the first downhill. The course got muddy and as most
people know I don’t do mud, so my pace slowed down while I tried to
avoid losing my trainers in the gloop. Luckily it wasn’t long before we
hit a firmer surface and the track went down a spectacular looping
downhill path, one of the longest I’ve ever run down, inevitably towards
a valley and again back uphill (this hill at 4m apparently doesn’t count
in the three peaks, as its just a pimple!).
My favourite section followed, a bit of downhill road into Durweston and
across a pretty mill and weir and then alongside a brook, although it
was running downstream as we were going up! The second peak then began,
again up a rough streambed, which was hard to get purchase of in my road
trainers. The surface is largely chalk, and in the drizzly conditions,
quite slippery. The climb was shorter that the first but just as steep
with an additional sting in the tail of a further short climb at the
hill fort at the very summit. The wind and rain now started to become
noticeable and my sympathies were for the marshals who were bravely
trying to avoid hypothermia.
The downhill at 7m (Hod Hill) was tricky, the narrow track was cambered
and steep, but going onto the grass was equally treacherous, having been
made slick with several hundred runners already going down. It was
sobering to see across to the next hill in the distance, knowing that it
was soon to be next. Immediately you hit the bottom, with only a brief
moment to cross the road, then you commence Hambledon Hill, peak No. 3.
By this time my calves and lower back had started to complain, and my
energy levels were feeling low, the gel I’d had at 5 miles already
seemed a long time ago. I opted to use the path rather than the grass,
which gained me a little momentum on some of the other ‘runners’, as it
was drier and less slippery. At the barn near the crest the marshal told
me the usual porky of it being the top (when it clearly wasn’t!) with a
rise for a further half mile around the corner.
This section had the worst conditions, the wind and rain biting hard,
the track was very narrow and we progressed single file for a little
time, dodging the cowpats. This led to the most challenging part of the
whole race, the last downhill, the course steeply descended with grass
and mud giving no grip and making it very scary. The momentum carried
you forward but I was constantly trying to check my speed as I knew it
would be suicidal to risk ‘running’ this section. I opted to using an
odd gallopy action (it seemed to work) but I kept suppressing the images
of broken legs, splints and air ambulances out of my head, there was
also a fair amount of language. Eventually after what seemed a very
long time, the path goes into thick mud which thankfully slows your
descent a little, although I still had to bounce off of a marshal at the
bottom to avoid running into the middle of the road.
Yay! At last a bit of road, shame my legs were like jelly and my
trainers were covered with half a field of mud. With just around a mile
to go and I was now getting a second wind and even managed to pass a few
runners, whilst negotiating through a last bog and a herd of sheep (a
first). The last 600m is on a section of railway trackbed and thankfully
the easiest portion of the race, with the finish at the pretty restored
railway station. The cheers from across the tracks of the other WACers
were greatly appreciated, along with the support from the Hutchings
family who were out en route. Well done to all the other WAC runners, a
really good turnout.
The Stickler is probably my slowest 10-ish miles and was definitely my
hilliest. The route takes you over the most beautiful Dorset
countryside (on a good day you might even get to see it), and presents a
host of challenges, mud, downhills, more mud, but its very satisfying
and I might even do it again (maybe).
With this being the last run out for the Club Championship this year,
there was a good turn out of runners in and around the top of their age
category as we quietly tried to seek a few extra points on a final push
for minor glory. Dropping that sub-40 score for a high 40s score proved
to be a popular way to spend this particular Sunday as we gathered in
the church hall. Of course no one wanted to admit that’s why we were
there but what other reason could there be to discard the coffee and
Sunday papers for a drizzly morning in Dorset?
Amongst us were both veterans and virgins, (a bit like vicars and tarts
only with red vests on). As a self confessed virgin I did my usual kit
on-and-off thing and waited nervously for the main event. So did 400-odd
others and in another type of recreational event this would be called an
orgy. In Dorset though they call it The Stickler and a very satisfying
experience it was too …
I normally only see two peaks but on this occasion three appeared before
my eyes as we run, nay climbed, three significant hills in the
Shillingstone environs. The first one, Okeford Hill almost laid me to
waste and a small amount of power walking was required before we’d even
got to mile 2. Our reward was the most fantastic run down a forest track
between miles 3 and 4. No restraint was shown in my group as we reversed
life and enjoyed the downs far more than the ups!
After a small climb there was another good long run down into Durweston,
across the river and on into Stourpaine. After some earlier shuffling
for position I had settled into fourth spot, next to a Gurkha from the
local Signals Regiment. He didn’t say much but let his legs do the
talking. I had to ask him to stop shouting each time we got to one of
those hills as he was running like a machine each time we went up one.
(I suspect that it may be hilly in Nepal?!?)
At Hod Hill he pulled away again and the relatively short respite we got
on the downhill leg made Hambledon Hill even trickier. It was great
though to get a cheery ‘gee up’ from Lynn Hutchings somewhere near the
top. In my race plan I’d noted that after 8 miles it was mainly
downhill to the finish. This of course seemed so logical from the
comfort of the kitchen but the reality was a 1-mile bog soaked stretch
of field, the world’s most slippery footbridge and the most delightful
finish in the old station at Shillingstone. I’d come under pressure from
the fifth- and sixth-placed runners late on, but for the first time in a
long while I had the legs to see them both off. Perhaps turning that
concept of training into some actual training is starting to pay off?
On a sunny day we might even have been able to see the view from top of
some of those hills! A challenging 10 mile course with a real mix of
terrain, good organisation and simply great fun (in retrospect!).
Well done to one and all with your championship points calculations when
you arrived home!