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A Double Ramsay Round for Nicky Spinks

Thursday, 16 August 2018

It’s been a seriously hot summer for fell-running this season. In early July two notable achievements hit the national press: Kilian Jornet’s blistering record-breaking run around the Lake District’s Bob Graham (read Steve Birkinshaw's blog about it here) and Nicky Spinks’ historic Double Ramsay’s Round in the Lochaber Hills of the Scottish Highlands.

Heather Dawe caught up (just!) with Nicky to seek some insight into her training mindset and reflects on what drives these athletes to keep on running.

Nicky Spinks
Nicky Spinks at the end of her Double Ramsay

Originally conceived as being twenty-four Munros in twenty-four hours, Ramsay’s Round traverses the mountains that encircle Glen Nevis. Linking together the Ben Nevis, Aanochs, Grey Corries, Easains, the Loch Trieg Munros and Mamore ranges, it is a big day out at around fifty-six miles. You might be fooled into thinking that the run sounds marginally easier than the epic sixty-five-mile Bob Graham until you take into account the far greater height gain and consistently rougher ground. Ramsay’s Round covers 28,500 feet of ascent and descent; Nicky Spinks’ double Ramsey took in 57,000 feet of climbing (17,380 metres) and covered an impressive 112 miles (188 kilometres) of highland fell.

Understandably, Nicky Spinks is no stranger to being exceptional For the last eight years she has consistently set record times for the three fell-running rounds (Bob Graham, Ramsay’s Round, and the Paddy Buckley in Snowdonia), as well as extending their challenge. In 2011, she set the Lake District twenty-four-hour record and in 2016 she hit the headlines again by completing a double Bob Graham within forty-eight hours.

I’ve just got back home from a trip up to the Highlands to recce the Ramsay. With my friend Andrea Priestly, I ran most of the Tranter’s Round (the original Scottish twenty-four-hour fell-running challenge before Charlie Ramsay set his), which goes over the Lochaber Hills following the natural line of the Glen Nevis Horseshoe. I say ‘most’, as my wheels fell off as we climbed up into the Mamores and we missed out three of the later tops. After a spell away from long mountain runs, I am getting back to fitness and slowly but surely it seems to be returning. Hopefully I’ll be in a place where I can have a crack at the Ramsay next summer and the Paddy Buckley sometime after that.

Ramsay’s Round is a beautiful route, wilder than the Bob Graham and rougher underfoot too. We had a good day for our recce – cooler than the heatwave conditions of late June that Spinks experienced. The visibility was fantastic too, which both made navigation more straightforward and enabled us to appreciate the stunning beauty of the Glen Nevis Horseshoe all day long. Sunrise on the summit of Ben Nevis, looking out to the mountains of Glencoe and beyond, was quite something; the air was misty, with pink and orange hints setting off the morning light on the hills.

Running over and between some of its mountains made me appreciate the sheer scale and challenge of Spinks’ recent performance even more. To do them all once during the same run is pretty tough by most people’s standards; to do them twice is to accomplish something extraordinary. I got in touch with Nicky after my recent run and she was kind enough to answer some questions and offer me an insight into her training.

HD: How do you physically train for such long and hard challenges like the double Bob Graham and Ramsay?

NS: I haven't really changed my training since doing the rounds just once. I still keep my mileage around thirty-five to forty-five miles per week but concentrate on quality rather than quantity so I don't tend to have an easy run, although I do coach juniors and that's often easy unless I have to sprint with them! What I do like to do more of is the long days in the mountains where I'll try and do two back-to-back days of twenty miles and about twelve hours with as much climb as possible. I always like to recce the route well and so that makes for a good weekend.

For the Ramsay I used the Ultra Tour Snowdonia 50 as a ‘training race’, which was hard as I couldn't race properly as I was going to Scotland two days later to do two full days of recceing. I think it teaches me discipline and how to run without putting undue stress on my body. It's also very good for mental strength as obviously I found Scotland very hard.

HD: Do you consciously train yourself for the mind games you (must surely) experience when you undertake these challenges? How to you cope with any particularly low points?

NS: As above – I do train when tired. I will often do a long weekend then race on the Monday where I have to persuade my mind and body that I'm not rubbish and just to keep going. Over the course of all the rounds that I've done I have learnt to quickly get over any setbacks that happen while racing or attempting and to move on, finding a solution to the problem.

HD: Which foods do you find works best for you after eighteen (or so) hours in?

NS: On all my rounds I have the same food in all my support bags. On both the Bob Graham and the Ramsay I started off on cereal bars such as Tunnocks and Brunch. Then I tend to go on to rice puddings, fruit salads, baked beans. I usually go off one or more of them but have always managed to stick to one. On the Bob Graham it was beans and fruit salads and on the Ramsay it was rice puddings. I also try to eat a packet of crisps per leg. On the Ramsay I introduced noodles – just Aldi ones which cooked quickly and could be put in a Pour-and-Store bag if I wanted them on the hills too. This worked very well indeed.

After forty-five hours I was very bored of eating the same food, however I could have eaten any of it. The nice thing about going slower is that I seem to have got rid of the sickness that I always experienced when I was trying to go fast doing the records.

HD: I think it’s widely acknowledged that the Bob Graham is the easiest of the three big rounds. Assuming similar weather conditions on the day, which do you think is harder, the Ramsay or Paddy Buckley?

NS: I don't think I can answer that accurately. They are both hard in different ways.

The Ramsay is remote, there are only really three eight-hour legs so you cannot change your mind about the food or clothes etc that you want. There are less paths and lots of heather and rock. There is a also a two-hour valley section on which you can lose a lot of time if not running along well.

The Paddy is navigationally difficult as there are many sections where you are on a small indistinct path through rocks and if you lose the path you are left floundering on very treacherous rocks. The Welsh rock is lethal when it's wet too. 

HD: I don’t want to be presumptuous but I assume next on the cards is a double Paddy Buckley? Do you have any idea what the following challenge for you will be after that?

I don't know yet what I might be doing next year. It's too early for me yet as I haven't recovered from the Ramsay yet and I like to give my body and my mind time to rest. I have the Ultra Tour Monta Rosa at the beginning of September which I'm looking forward to, as it's a low-key race with fantastic scenery.


Check out Heather's biography Adventures in Mind, and her forthcoming co-edited anthology Waymaking for more stories of adventurous women.


Adventures in Mind by Heather Dawe    Waymaking edited by Helen Mort, Heather Dawe, Claire Carter and Camilla Barnard

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