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An Interview with Nicky Spinks

Our software needs to be reliable: it’s trusted to perform a vital role for organisations who cannot afford failure. And similarly, amongst our staff we have someone who also seems never to falter, whether at work or when running in the High Peak, Scotland, the Lake District or the mountains of Wales.

Nicky Spinks is not involved directly in our core data migration work, but rather is part of our business support team. She’s more widely known, though, as a renowned fell runner with countless wins and records to her name. On Friday, May 17, 2019, she will be taking part in the Paddy Buckley event…and, not content with what is already an unimaginable challenge for mere mortals, will be attempting a “Double Paddy” – doing the whole thing twice! I spoke to her about it.

Why fell running, Nicky?

I suppose it’s because it’s linked to farming; I started on the road as usual, like a lot of people do when they’re running, and then I just went off the roads and onto the footpaths straight away, really, and then onto the hills that I can see from my farm window. Then it developed into going onto hills that are further away.

You’ve had a lot of wins, and held several records. What would you say has been your most satisfying performance?

One of them is the Paddy Buckley record that I set in 2013, because the ladies’ record was already very hard. I had to knock off about five hours from my previous best to beat it. I was ecstatic when I completed it in nineteen hours and two minutes, and not only with how the day went but how I actually performed myself. I really didn’t know that I was capable of running that far, for that long.

Do you think the biggest challenge in fell running is competing against others or is it actually more about the personal challenge?

I think competing against myself. I like to do a one hundred mile race each year; it’s completely different trying to contain your competitiveness when you’re up against other people. When you’re running against yourself, you’ve still got to contain it, but you’ve got no one alongside you, no one to pace yourself against. I stopped doing the “rounds” for a bit, but missed doing them, missed all the organisation, all the recceing.

A number of years ago you were quite seriously ill; did that make you consider quitting?

I think it briefly went through my head. I got the cancer straight after I’d done the Paddy Buckley the first time. Other people asked me, “Do you think you got the cancer because you do the long-distance running?” That wasn’t helpful, really, but it did make me question why I got the cancer. But I came to the conclusion that it was healthy, that I was doing something I enjoy, and that the chances of it causing the cancer were marginal to zero. I carried on with my running: in fact, the running got me out of my hospital bed to Wales. I didn’t want to lie in bed and to vegetate; I wanted to get fit again. When I was in hospital I was the only one who got up for breakfast; I think because I’m used to training, because I’m strict with myself – you want to go for a run, but it’s raining, but you say to yourself I’m going for a run anyway – it’s the same. It’s breakfast time, and I don’t eat my breakfast in bed when I’m at home, so I’m not going to do it when I’m in hospital. If I got really tired afterwards, I allowed myself an hour back in bed! I think, being a runner, that I was able to be disciplined in my recovery. Sometimes maybe I should have rested more, but on the other hand the nurses were impressed at what I was doing.

How do you think that running fits with your work at Datalynx?

Because I work remotely from home, I can go running when I need to and do extra work for Datalynx at other times, including at weekends and during the evenings, for example. It fits perfectly.

Tell me about the “Double Paddy” that you’re planning, then. You’re doing it twice?

Twice, yes! The Paddy Buckley is forty-seven “tops”, sixty miles, and has nearly thirty thousand feet of ascent… and I’ll be doing them all twice. I first attempted a Double Bob Graham in 2016 and got round that reasonably comfortably. There were a few patches where I felt pretty rough generally. I managed to keep going for forty-five-and-a-half hours. When I realised that it was doable – probably about ten hours from the finish – I thought, this is actually going to happen (unless I break a leg or some disaster happens!) if I just keeping plodding along and eating reasonably well. It made the last ten hours very pleasant. I think it’s all relative: if you do a 10km, people will get to 8km and if they’re feeling strong, they’ll enjoy those final 2km. I just put stuff into hours, instead!

Then I did the Charlie Ramsay last summer, which was just really, really hot. I maybe enjoyed about four hours of it – out of the fifty-five hours, fifty-four minutes I was out there! It was just way too hot, and it wasn’t going right: I got a lot of blisters. I still carried on. I think I started enjoying it when I gave up on the idea of finishing inside forty-eight hours, and just went for the finish. The whole point is that one “round” should take less than twenty-four hours, so obviously, the challenge to myself is that I do it in less than forty-eight hours.

How do you prepare for such an incredible endurance activity, Nicky?

I’ve been going to Wales quite a lot last year and this year. The weather’s been reasonably kind; I’ve only had to cancel a couple of trips. I also attempted the Barkley Marathon. Although I only did a loop-and-a-half, that still equated to about forty miles and nineteen thousand feet of climbing. It was pretty good training for the Double Paddy in the end. That’s as much as you can do; if you do more than that, you’re just going to wear yourself out for the actual attempt. It’s quite a mind game to try to convince yourself that you are actually ready; you don’t actually feel like you’ve done enough. I can’t do any more now, because it’s Monday, and the event starts on Friday!

So how long does it take to recover from an event like that?

Probably six to eight weeks. I tend to bounce back quite quickly; I might be racing within a couple of weeks, but then I tend to have a bit of a “low” between four and five weeks.

You’re also a farmer: how does it feel going out to tend to the cattle the morning after an event?

Ha, ha! When we’re haymaking straight after, that’s not very pleasant! Especially if it’s hot. My husband is very understanding! We have a few “easy” days.

You’re raising money for a charity. Can you tell me more about that?

I always raise money for Odyssey, because they help people who have been diagnosed with cancer, or who are trying to recover from cancer. They give them a lovely break in the countryside, where they can meet other people with cancer and have a holiday. It just frees the mind up, as much as being recovery for your body. Your mind also needs some relaxation once you’ve been told you’ve got cancer. That’s why I always support them.

Datalynx will be supporting Nicky’s forthcoming attempt at the Double Paddy. We wish her every luck with both the run, and with her fundraising for Odyssey. You’ll be able to track her from Friday at 10:30am by following this link.

If you wish to support Nicky’s fundraising for Odyssey, please visit her JustGiving page.

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