To celebrate reaching her 10-year cancer-free milestone, in May 2016 fell runner Nicky Spinks decided to head for the hills and take on the infamous Bob Graham Round.
Not unfamiliar with the territory, Spinks completed the challenge twice before, setting a woman’s record for the distance on two separate occasions. But not content with being the fastest woman over Britain's highest peaks, the 49-year-old farmer decided to up the ante and take on the infamous 66-mile circuit twice in a row.
The first women ever to attempt this epic twofold running challenge, to achieve her double Bob Graham Round goal Spinks had to cover 132-miles in under 46-hours and 34 minutes, a record set by fell runner Roger Baumeister that stood unbroken since 1979.
Starting and finishing in the town of Keswick, with two sets of 42 summits and 54,000ft of elevation gain to contend with, Spinks had a serious battle on her hands. But not one to shy away from a challenge, she beat Baumeister’s record by over an hour, finishing in an incredible 45 hours and 30 minutes.
On the release of Run Forever, the documentary following Spinks’ journey into the hills, The Running Bug chatted to the inspirational farmer about the highs and lows of the fells and where her remarkable journey began.
Spinks didn’t discover her love for the hills until the age of 35. ‘In 2001 I got into fell running through The Trunce, which is a little four mile fell race run on footpaths around Penistone,’ she told The Running Bug. ‘That was my first fell race; I just loved being off road more than being on road.’
Sponsored by all-terrain running specialists Inov-8, Spinks wasn’t always a natural runner. ‘I was brought up on a farm in Glossop,’ she says. ‘I was good at running at school but it wasn’t encouraged. When I got in an office job, I got up to about 10 and a half stone, so I started running three times a week, doing some swimming and cycling just to get the weight down, but I tried one 10K and hated it. People could walk faster than I could run!’
After meeting her husband and moving to their farm in Yorkshire, a love of the hills slowly developed. ‘Fell running is always great,’ she explains. ‘If it’s sunny it’s enjoyable so you can see what you’re doing. When it’s horrible, it’s satisfying as you’ve beaten the elements. You appreciate the fact that you’re there.’
The 10-year milestone
In 2007, four years after she started fell running, Spinks developed breast cancer. ‘Running actually helped as it made me better to operate on,’ she explains. ‘The next morning after my operation I was asking when is it breakfast and everyone else would feel crap. Our recovery is a lot quicker. We are doing this to our body all the time. We are working it hard and letting it recover.’
Due in part to her healthy lifestyle, Spinks responded well to the treatment. ‘That was 10 years ago now, so I have had the all-clear for a decade,’ she says.
Reaching this important milestone was one of the main reasons she decided to take on the Double Bob Graham Round. ‘I heard about the challenge years ago,’ says Spinks. ‘It felt like a mad idea and then I wondered if I could do it. I thought yeah, let’s go for it. To celebrate 10 years all-clear, I wanted to do something that was completely one off.’
Spinks continues to push herself to extremes. ‘I’m physically capable and things like the Bob Graham Round are a good challenge. When we are running, it is a constant brain against body battle. I want to see where I can get to and how far I can take this battle.’
The gender gap
Spinks is modest about her achievements, but believes women are only just starting out and the tide is set to change. ‘When you get into the ultras, women are closer to men due to mental strength and looking after themselves better,’ she explains. ‘Women tend to be a bit more modest.’
But she hasn’t met with too much resistance from her male rivals. ‘Some men are very competitive and like to beat women in a race,’ she says. ‘But on the other hand, some men are very encouraging and will say “oh I knew you would catch me” and wish me luck.
‘I know with Jasmin Paris, she’s coming third in races and a minute behind the leading man, so it’s only a matter of time. Women haven’t always been allowed to run, but the gap is narrowing. It is changing and levelling up, even in the last five years. Running clubs are changing as well with a lot more women now.’
After watching Spinks’ record breaking run in action, it's safe to say the playing field has officially levelled off. To see for yourself, watch Forever Run below.
Nicky continues to raise money for cancer charity Odyssey and had raised over £13,000 so far. To make a donation click here