Over the weekend of May 14-15, the inspirational Nicky Spinks made fell running history by becoming the fastest person to run a Double Bob Graham Round. The 49-year-old cancer-survivor marked 10 years post-diagnosis by running the 132-mile Lake District route, which included around 54,000ft of ascent, in a time of 45 hours and 30 minutes. She took over an hour off the previous record set in 1979 by Roger Baumeister, who was there in person to support Nicky during her attempt.
Starting and finishing in Keswick, a standard Bob Graham Round involves a 66-mile circuit of 42 summits including 27,000ft of elevation gain, to be completed in less than 24 hours. Nicky, a farmer from Yorkshire, did all that twice, and became only the second person after Roger – and first woman – to go sub-48 hours.
We caught up with Nicky on Monday morning to get her initial thoughts on setting a new Double Bob Graham Round record.
She said: “It’s hard to sum up, really. I went into it knowing it would be unchartered territory for me as the longest I had run for previously was 36 hours. I wondered how my body would cope with running for up to 48 hours and with little, if any, sleep. Thankfully it all worked out okay. My legs are a bit stiff today but to be honest I can’t really believe how good they feel. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t carry on running but they actually feel quite good.
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“During the attempt I had a lot of aches and pains. I started to get a really sore knee on leg 3 (Dunmail to Wasdale). I’d had a similar pain in the build up to the weekend and had got some massage on it. I was really worried when the pain returned. I decided to do some self massage, rubbing my finger into my knee as we went up the hills. I was so worried that if this is how it felt on leg 3, how on earth was I going to get around 10 legs…. I feared I was done for. I think a lot of it is physiological and so I tried to block it out. Eventually the pain eased and went away. Thankfully it never really came back.
“When I had completed the ‘first half’ I met the support team at Portinscale (just outside Keswick) and tried to get a quick bit of sleep. I think I managed about five minutes! It was a real low point returning to Moot Hall (Keswick) from where I had started and knowing that instead of that being the end I still had another 15-16 hours to run. I started welling up. I made it to Portinscale and got inside the van. I was very emotional and was in tears. I thought ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do another 15/16 hours.’ I think having a little cry probably helped. I got back out of the van more focused, determined and positive.
“I’d also had some stomach problems on the two legs before that, firstly across the Helvellyn range and then on Blencathra. I stopped eating as well as I had been doing on the previous legs. Adam Perry, who was one of those supporting me on Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw, was a bit of a saviour. He was a bully…. he bullied me into eating, but it’s what I needed at that time. I kept thinking ‘Oh, go away Adam’ but he was there, hounding me, watching me eat every mouthful and then putting more food in my hand.
“My main aim was always to get around in under 48 hours. I set a 47-hour schedule and knew that if I was to beat Roger’s record (46:34) that I would only need to be around half-an-hour up on the schedule. I thought I had a chance of the record if things went well but I never count my chickens as so much can happen out on the hills, especially when you’re out there for so long!
“What helped me was all the fantastic support – and of course the food I was able to eat. The fish, chips and curry sauce at Dunmail after a long first day of running were fantastic. The sharpness of the curry sauce was just great. Then after that, when I got to Portinscale, I had fried egg and beans! It’s the type of fuel I love.
“When I reached the finish I couldn’t believe I was there and that I had done it. This morning I looked up at the hills and thought, ‘I can’t believe I ran over all of those…. and back’. It’s starting to sink in a bit now. To see so many people there at Moot Hall when I finished was unbelievable. The hills had been fairly quiet – and I’d had minimal support on each leg which was what I wanted – so it was nice to come back into Keswick for a final time and see all those people there cheering. I kind of stood there at the end and didn’t know what to do next. I think someone jokingly suggested a third lap! No chance, I wanted chips, curry sauce, a beer and my comfy pillow!
“I’m totally overwhelmed by all the support I’ve received and would like to say a massive thank you to everyone. I’ve had so many touching messages, including some from people with cancer saying that I have inspired them. That’s one of the main reasons why I did the Double Bob Graham Round. It was a celebration of my 10 years post-diagnosis. I wanted to give hope to others and show people what can be achieved.
“I’m now looking forward to a bit of a rest, although I am entered to run the Jura Fell Race in a couple of weeks’ time so we’ll see!”
* Donate to Nicky’s chosen cancer charity on her JustGiving page.