Can you imagine running 61 miles over 47 of Wales' toughest mountains and then turning around and running back again? That's just what 51-year-old beef farmer, Nicky Spinks, did last weekend. The run completes a trilogy: the breast cancer survivor is the first person to have completed double rounds of all three of the British 24-hour mountain running challenges: she ran a double Charlie Ramsay Round in July 2018 and a double Bob Graham in 2016.
Nicky's latest jog involved 56,000ft (17069 m) of height gain. To put that in perspective, Mount Everest is 29,029 ft (8,848 m) high. She completed the double route in about 57hrs 27mins (the exact time will be confirmed), beginning at Capel Curig on Friday, May 17th and running the first lap anticlockwise before turning around and running the second one clockwise.
Nicky is the first person to have ever run a Double Paddy Buckley Round and it is a route that is close to her heart (read why below). However, the route also broke new ground and required some thought.
Last year, following her Double Ramsay Round, Nicky told us:
"I did think I would spend a couple of years looking at the Paddy Buckley anti-clockwise before deciding whether to do it. No-one has ever attempted an anti-clockwise Paddy Buckley as far as I know and so it's a whole new ball game really."
In 2016, Nicky set a new record time for a Double Bob Graham Round (England) and two years later become the first person to run a Double Charlie Ramsay Round (Scotland). Her treble of double rounds is one of the most remarkable British sporting stories of the last few years. Nicky compares the three rounds for us below.
Ahead of her latest challenge, Nicky commented on the Inov-8 blog:
“I’ve always wanted to complete the trilogy of the doubles and, for me, I have left the most important one until last. The Paddy Buckley Round is where it all really started."
WATCH: Nicky's Bob Graham Round on BMC TV
Paddy Buckey is where it all started, says Nicky
In 2005, a little-known runner called Nicky Spinks completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours. Buoyed by that success, Nicky looked at the Paddy Buckley - a rockier and harder challenge - and attempted it in 2006. She staggered to the finish in 25hrs 45mins and one month later was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2007, still recovering from the cancer, she managed to complete the round in just under 24 hours (23hrs 55mins).
Last week, Nicky wrote on the inov-8 blog:
“Going back to train in Wales over recent months has really brought back a lot of memories for me. I think back to 2006 when I was nowhere near fit or fast enough for a Paddy Buckley Round and had to put my body through the hardest of times in foul conditions, to ultimately finish well outside 24 hours.
"Then being told I had breast cancer a month later and feeling desperate to get off my hospital bed and back to Wales. During that time I felt tired and heavy-legged, but I kept going back to Wales with friends, determined to get fit and not let the cancer stop me. Eventually on that 2017 attempt I got it done in under 24 hours.
“From there I upped my game considerably, doing speed and hill work, much longer and harder mountainous days, and learnt how to be efficient at road stops. I needed every advantage I could get. That incredible journey led me to breaking the women’s Paddy Buckley Round record in 2013, as well as the women’s Bob Graham Round and Charlie Ramsay Round records (Jasmin Paris has since beaten those three times).
“I feel that the Paddy Buckley Round is where I really started my running career and, for me, it’s in these mountains that I want to finish the trilogy of double rounds on a high note.”
As she did for her other double rounds, Nicky called on the same group of experienced friends, including her dog Wisp and good friend Charmian Heaton, to provide support both on and off the mountain.
Some of Nicky's kit for the Double Paddy Buckley. Photo: Nicky Spinks
Why does she do it?
Through her running, Nicky has so far raised over £18,000 for cancer charity, Odyssey, (donate below). Last year she was awarded a British Empire Medal for outstanding services to sport and charity.
Nicky also enjoys brutally long-distance races. A couple of months ago, she was the joint-last woman standing at the Barkley Marathons – a brutal ultra-distance race which no runner, male or female, managed to finish for the second successive year.
Nicky recently told us, while emptying her running kitbag for a Summit magazine article (in the next issue):
"I like the feeling of setting off on a long race where I know the race doesn’t really start until half-way. Getting there is just the warm up and I have to look after myself for this. I love feeling part of the mountains."
Nicky compares the three big British fell running challenges for us
All the rounds are about the same length and have the same height gain.
The Bob Graham has 42 tops and is the most popular round. It's easily accessible and a lot of people know the route and the logistics. The terrain is a mixture of rocks and heather grass and nowadays about 90% of it is on a path of some kind.
Nicky on Esk Pike during her Double Bob Graham Round in 2016. Photo Lee Proctor / Inov-8
The Paddy Buckley has 47 tops but some of these are quite small. It is lesser-known although there are more and more paths appearing. It is far harder navigationally than the other two rounds because if you stray off the hardly-distinguishable paths you usually end up in horrid boulders with heather or on some nasty slippery rocks. Paddy Buckley has always been very relaxed about the start/finish location, meaning you can start wherever you like, which adds a different dimension to it. I love the Paddy Buckley because of the quarries and the history you run through and also the diversity of the route. You can spend hours on the route and not see anyone until you reach Snowdon.
The Charlie Ramsay Round has 24 tops (23 Munros and one mountain that was demoted from being a Munro). It really consists of three long legs rather than five shorter legs (which the other two have). Both the Mamores and the Grey Corries are rocky, technical ridges while Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg are huge mountains covered in rocks. Then there are five Munros that are covered in heather and total devoid of paths. It is rare to see many walkers at all except on Ben Nevis and this makes you feel like you're very remote and special in even being there. The panorama on a good day is just mountains stretching as far as the eye can see. As a challenge both the contender and the supporters have to be very fit and used to being in big mountains for full days.
Check out Nicky's tracking map from her Double Paddy Buckley Round
Through her running challenges, Nicky has raised more than £18,000 for cancer charity Odyssey. She hopes to raise that total up to £20,000. You can donate via her JustGiving page.
Read: The write-up. of Nicky's run on the Inov-8 blog
Read our interview with Nicky last year: Nicky Spinks becomes the first person to run a double Ramsay Round
It has been a busy week in Snowdonia. Read: Finlay Wild Breaks Records for Welsh 3000ers and Snowdon Horseshoe
Look out for Nicky emptying her running bag for us in the next issue of Summit magazine
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