Apr 3, 2020

Nicky Spinks: Historic hat-trick, a gruelling challenge and a film star

2019 was a busy year for inspirational fell runner Nicky Spinks, we take a look at two of her outstanding challenges the Double Paddy Buckley Round and the Barkley Marathons

You’d think that being a farmer in Yorkshire would be tough without throwing in extra hardship.

But Nicky Spinks has always been ready for a challenge and last year she added further accolades to her running career.

After having battled cancer and won it seems that nothing can stand in her way. She has set women’s records for the major fell running challenges the Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round. She is also the holder of the overall record for the double Bob Graham Round.

And, last year, Nicky ran the first-ever Double Paddy Buckley Round, a 122-mile run in the brutally-tough mountains of Wales.

This completed her treble of British Double Rounds, an unprecedented achievement and one of the most remarkable British sporting stories of the last few years.

In her final Double Round, the 51-year-old inov-8 brand ambassador ascended over 56,000ft (almost two times Mount Everest), summitting 94 peaks including Wales’ highest mountain Snowdon, on the historic Double Paddy Buckley Round which took 57 hours and 27 minutes.

Nicky said: “Since finishing the Double Paddy Buckley I have felt an immense sense of contentment. With the Double Charlie Ramsay and the Double Paddy Buckley I experienced new types of ‘low points’ and they lasted for a long time. Coming out the other side of the lows on both rounds and continuing on to enjoy and finish the Doubles has shown me that I am capable of bigger things than I thought possible. Being the first woman, I hope that many women around the world are just thinking ‘If she can do that, then maybe I can do what I would love to do to’.”

The ‘standard’ 24-hour Rounds are notoriously-tough challenges which see mountain runners attempt to run between 58 and 66 miles over remote, often trackless mountainous terrain ascending upwards of 27,000ft in a circuit of the designated peaks.

Having completed sub-24 hour ‘standard’ rounds of all three classics on multiple occasions, Nicky decided to do a Double Bob Graham Round to mark ten years of surviving cancer.

She said: “The Double Bob Graham came about because I wanted something special to celebrate surviving ten years of cancer. After the DBG went so well, the idea of doing the Double Charlie Ramsay and the Double Paddy Buckley came into my head. The distances and the time on my feet were completely new areas that I hadn’t pushed myself to before. I’ve also never done anything that no-one else has done before and so doing the three rounds as Double’s would mean that I not only had the record for one but technically for all three!”

Nicky set a new overall record for the Double Bob Graham Round (132 miles and 54,000ft of ascent). In 2016, she rounded all 42 Lake District peaks twice in a time of 45hrs 30mins, taking more than an hour off Roger Baumeister’s previous best from 1979.

In 2018, Nicky became the first person to complete a Double Ramsay Round in the Scottish mountains. Twice summitting each of the 24 peaks (23 of which are classed as Munros – Scottish mountains over 3,000ft), running over 116 miles and ascending over 28,500ft in 55hrs 56mins.

Nicky hopes that her achievements will inspire others to get outside and challenge themselves.

She added: “I’m not a superhuman, natural athlete. I started late in my thirties and have worked hard at training but also at managing myself. I’m not a full-time athlete who can train whenever I like. I have a full-time job and enjoy a beer. I hope that runners, and especially women, can see that it is possible to have a normal life and achieve what you think you can only ever dream about.”

Nicky recovered from breast cancer in 2006 and uses her running challenges to help raise money for cancer charity Odyssey. She has raised over £19,000 and was rewarded for her services to sport and charity with the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Nicky has worn inov-8 shoes for all three of her Double Rounds, wearing the brand’s pioneering graphene grip trail running shoes for her Double Paddy Buckley Round, switching between the super grippy Mudclaw G 260 and the cushioned Terraultra G 260 shoes for the epic challenge.

Last woman standing

But that wasn’t the only feat that she took on last year, Nicky also took part in the Barkley Marathons 2019 in the USA – a race which no-one finished for a second successive year. Only 15 runners have completed the full 100 plus miles since it was first staged in 1986.
She was the last woman standing alongside fellow participant Stephanie Case in the 100-mile mountain event, widely-regarded as the world’s toughest ultra-marathon.

Nicky’s feat has now been immortalised in inov-8’s film Last Women Standing: The Barkley Marathons 2019.

The film, shot by Summit Fever Media, can be seen at www.inov-8. com/last-women-standing Spinks and Case completed the first 20-mile lap together, before dropping out partway through lap two amid plummeting temperatures and appalling weather conditions.

Only 15 runners – all men – have finished the full five laps of the notorious Barkley Marathons inside the 60-hour time limit since its inception. Last year saw five male runners complete three laps, but none achieved four, let alone five.

The race, made famous by a 2014 Netflix documentary, saw 40 selected runners self-navigate their way around an unmarked course, tearing pages from hidden books as they went, and returning them to the enigmatic event organiser. Staged in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, USA, each lap included around 10,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland.

Nicky said: “The Barkley Marathons was extremely tough, in many ways. The first lap was run in really hot conditions, too hot for my liking, and then the second lap was the opposite, unbelievably cold with lots of rain.

“I ran with Stephanie, who is a Barkley veteran, and she was brilliant in helping me learn about the unique elements of the race. Lap one took us about 11-and-a-half hours, which was longer than I had hoped, but the temperatures, the difficult terrain and the time spent trying to find the well-hidden books all played a part.

“Together with male runners called Micheal Panhuysen and Billy Reed, we all had a quick turnaround with our support crews, and then set out as a foursome on lap number two in the dark. The weather forecast didn’t really detail just how cold it was going to be in the mountains and none of us had extreme winter kit in our race packs. It turned out to be incredibly cold and wet which, together with the darkness and fog, made for slow-going.

“When we realised we had no chance of completing lap two inside the time limit, we took an escape route back down a valley to the camp. At this point there were three of us, as Michael was behind, having decided to go slower. I’m not one to give up on anything, but I’m glad we made the decision we did. It was the right decision. Even coming back down the valley, away from the higher ground, we were still struggling with the cold. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that cold.

“We returned to camp in the early hours, though I’m not sure when exactly as the watches Laz (race organiser Gary ‘Laz Lake’ Cantrell) made us all wear didn’t tell the proper time!

“I think that to complete the full five laps is, well… I can see now why only 15 people have done that in 33 years. Laz makes the race harder and harder, changes the course so even the Barkley veterans don’t know where the books are, and last year I think he added in even more uphill climbs! That’s all part of what makes Barkley Marathons the race it is.”

Asked if she’d like to return and give the race another shot, Nicky, who wore inov-8’s Mudclaw G 260 shoes with the world’s toughest graphene-grip, added: “I do think that to finish Barkley Marathons, you need to go back a second or third time to do so. I talked to Stephanie about this as we hiked back to camp in the cold and I said I was unsure about returning. She said words to the effect of ‘see you next year!’”

Facts panel

The Barkley course was designed by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell. The race was inspired by the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr, from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Ray covered only eight miles after running 55 hours in the woods. Cantrell thought he could do at least 100 miles and the Barkley Marathons was born. Cantrell named the race for his longtime neighbour and running companion, Barry Barkley. It was first run in 1986.

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