She did it! The inspirational Nicky Spinks celebrated her 50th birthday by setting a new fastest women’s time (11 hours 02 minutes) for the Joss Naylor Challenge, eclipsing the previous best by over an hour. Ultra runner and cancer survivor Nicky, who last year set a new record time of 45 hours 30 minutes for the 132-mile Double Bob Graham Round, said of her latest feat: “It was an unforgettable day – a fantastic way to spend my 50th birthday.”
The Joss Naylor Challenge covers a distance of around 48-50 miles, traversing 30 summits with a total ascent of around 17,000ft. It starts at Pooley Bridge in the NE Lake District (UK) and finishes at Greendale Bridge, next to Joss’s house. The inaugural run was made by fell running legend Joss in 1990, at the age of 54. In very bad weather he clocked a time of 11 hours 30 minutes.
The challenge is open to runners over 50 to complete inside the times set for their respective age groups. It is done with support from other runners/pacers and money is raised for charity (donate on Nicky’s JustGiving page). The maximum time allowance for men aged 50-54 is 12 hours. The ladies’ time for the same age category is a maximum of 14 hours. The older the age category, the more time is allowed to complete the challenge (more explained here). Joss likes to meet finishers at Greendale Bridge.
Nicky: “The time came as a surprise”
Nicky was determined to complete the challenge in under 12 hours and set a schedule which would potentially see her finish in 11 hours 59 minutes. On the day, however, she ran much quicker than that and clocked a remarkable 11 hours 02 minutes, accompanied every step of the way by her five-year-old dog Wisp. The previous fastest time for women was 12 hours 17 minutes, recorded by Jane Meeks in June 2011. The quickest time recorded by a man is 10 hours 20 minutes, set by Stephen Pyke in October 2015.
Nicky said: “The time came as a surprise. Leg 1 (Pooley Bridge to Kirkstone Pass) seemed fast on the schedule but once I got into it and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise, I started to feel that sub 12 hours was possible. I was very strict with what I ate too, and I think that really helped. Even though I didn’t feel like eating, I had my spicy pasta when we met the support team/changed pacers, and I also ate a lot of rice pudding and fruit salad on the run. The day was too hot for dry foods like cereal bars. Eating early – and eating well – really helped me as the day went on.
“I was worried about Leg 3 (Dunmail to Styhead Tarn) as unfortunately one of my pacers had to drop out the night before and I was a little nervous on some of the navigation (especially the bit between High Raise and Angle Tarn). Once I was through that section, I felt a lot happier and I just thought, ‘let’s go for it’. We sped up and when we got to Styhead Tarn, I remember pacers saying to each other, ‘this is fast!’ Great Gable, Kirkfell and Pillar were tough – big, steep rocky climbs. My stomach started to play up as well at this point – thankfully a friend had some black coffee waiting for me on the top of Pillar and this seemed to help a lot.
“Over the final few summits there was talk that I might go sub 11 hours. I just tried to run as fast as I could but to make sure I enjoyed myself all the time too. The pace was of course faster than the Double Bob Graham and so I felt tired a lot earlier into the challenge. I was running a lot more of the climbs, where as on the Double Bob Graham I did more walking. There was definitely, as expected, a big difference in pace.
“Another big difference was almost all of it was done in daylight – except the very start at 5am when I used a head torch for a short period. It was nice to get six hours into this run and think, ‘I’m potentially halfway’ – not like on the Double Bob Graham, when after six hours I was only really getting started. As it turned out, I was done by just after 4pm, which was great because it meant more time to spend in the pub afterwards!
“Joss was there to meet us at the finish – though his wife was cross with him because he nearly missed us. He’d been elsewhere in the Lake District that day watching the Anniversary Waltz Fell Race and just made it back in time for me finishing. It was brilliant to see him there. He’s been a fell running hero of mine for many, many years. So when he gave me a card in which he’d written that I was his hero, I was totally shocked.
“To have my dog Wisp by my side the whole way round was fantastic”
“I always secretly wanted to do it in under the men’s 12 hour limit (for 50-54 year olds). I’m not saying all women should aim to go sub-12, not at all, and part of the beauty of the Joss Naylor Challenge is that the time limit gets extended as you get older, but I was really pleased to show (just as Jasmin Paris has done in the world of really fast ladies) that women can compete with the men and run similar times. The big thing though was to enjoy it – and that’s exactly what I did. My support team pulled everything out of the bag and more to create a birthday I’ll never forget. To have my dog Wisp by my side the whole way round was fantastic too. She got very hot towards the end and was diving in every stream we came across. I’d stop and give her time to fully immerse herself. Thinking about it, maybe I could have gone sub 11 hours! I’m only joking. Too have her with me the whole way was better than pushing for any time.
“I ran the whole route in the same pair of the MUDCLAW 300 shoes. I got a new pair on Thursday. I ran only 2 miles in them before the challenge – so they were effectively straight from the box, and I ran 11 hours in them. They were comfortable, as the MUDCLAW 300 always are, and gave me the grippy confidence to run to the best of my ability on the ups, downs and flatter sections.”
Prior to the challenge, Nicky wrote the following blog post:
Since the Double Bob Graham in May 2016 I have felt immense satisfaction and still enjoy reliving that glorious weekend whenever I see the Run Forever film or give a talk to audiences. I’m certainly not ready to file those memories away just yet! In August 2016 I did the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) for the second time and that race went well for me. I’m now ready to move on from the UTMB, as although I think it’s a race to experience maybe once or twice (when as in my case I was not happy with the first occasion) I also believe there are more interesting and challenging races out there still to do. With this in mind I hope to do the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (UTMR) – a 105 mile race with around 36,000ft of ascent through The Alps – in September 2017.
Celebrating the birthday milestones my mum never got to see
After the Double Bob Graham and setting the new record time (45 hours 30 minutes) for that Lake District route (132 miles over 84 summits) came the inevitable question…. ‘What next?’ I always said I was going to give myself a year off so that I could enjoy my running without the pressures of reccying for and organising another big challenge. However, on Saturday April 22 this year I turn 50 years old and that has got to be a worthy of big celebration! Not only am I 50, but 10 years ago I turned 40, the year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and so for me my 40th was a personal celebration of reaching that milestone birthday. Not only had I survived breast cancer but I had also lived 10 years longer than my mother did. She died when she was only 30 years old and I was aged 10. I often wonder what she would have been like as a 40 or 50 year old. Now as I approach my 50th year I want to celebrate these birthdays for her because she never got to see them.
And so onto Joss Naylor, who has always been a fell running hero of mine ever since I started coming to the Lake District in 2005 and reccying sections of the Bob Graham Round. In 2007 I plucked up the courage to enter the Wasdale Fell Race (a 21-miler including 9,000ft of ascent over the Lake District’s highest peaks). I was so nervous on the start line but determined to get my pacing right and reach that finish line. I set off steadily up the first hill and was still feeling good when I approached Greendale Bridge, close to Joss’s home. I was really happy to see Joss there handing out water to runners, but less happy when he asked me if I was last. ‘I am not last, I’m just pacing it,’ I replied indignantly. I finished in 6 hours 12 minutes and have done the race nearly every year since then. One year when it was particularly wet I asked Joss to sign a copy of his book I’d bought so I could give it to my father for his birthday. We sat in his car while he carefully inscribed a personal message to my father inside the front cover. Since that day we have always engaged in short conversations – usually about bracken, sheep or the weather – when I pass him at Greendale Bridge. He never asks me if I’m last. He doesn’t get the chance. I always pre-empt him with ‘I’m just warming up!’
If Joss thinks I can do it, I must be able to do it
It was my friend Charmian Heaton that told Joss in advance that I was doing the Double Bob Graham last year. I didn’t have courage to do so, nor enough conviction in my potential chances of success. Instead I kept the whole thing relatively quiet, until very near the time. So, when I ran down off the summit of Yewbarrow (31 summits into the attempt) I was genuinely surprised to see Joss down in the bottom at the car park in Wasdale. You can see that look of surprise in the film too. I was so pleased that he turned out for me (I think the photo at the top of this blog post of our embrace shows just how happy I was). His wonderful words of encouragement propelled me up Scafell with renewed confidence in myself. I remember thinking, ‘If Joss thinks I can do it, then I must be able to do it.’
For years I have thought that the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge would be a lovely running challenge to undertake. It’s a nice 48-50 mile distance traversing 30 summits with a total ascent of around 17,000ft. It starts at Pooley Bridge in the NE Lake District and finishes at Greendale Bridge, near Joss’s house (the same place I see him on the Wasdale race each year). The inaugural run was made by Joss in 1990, at the age of 54. In very bad weather he clocked a time of 11 hours 30 minutes. The challenge is open to fell runners over 50 to complete inside the times set for their respective age groups. It is done with support from other runners/pacers and money is raised for charity. The maximum time allowance for men aged 50-54 is 12 hours. This is no easy task to complete it in less than 12 hours! However, the ladies’ time for the 50-54 age category is a maximum of 14 hours. The older the age category, the more time is allowed to complete the challenge (more explained here). Joss likes to meet finishers at Greendale Bridge.
Lacing up Mudclaw running shoes and raising money for charity
As soon as I realised my 50th birthday fell on a Saturday, I knew how I was going to celebrate! The only thing that can scupper my plans is bad weather. It looks, fingers crossed, like there will be a period of high pressure, so I’m hopeful for good conditions. The reccies have been done, the schedule tweaked, the hill and roadside support lined up….. all I need now is a pair of Joss’s iron legs to see me round!
* Nicky is raising money for Odyssey, a charity which enhances the quality of life for people with cancer through imaginative programmes of outdoor activities. You can donate via Nicky’s JustGiving page.