In mid May, Nicky Spinks completed a double lap of North Wales' Paddy Buckley Round to become the first person to complete a double round of each of the three classic British 24-hour hill routes, which also include the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District, and the Ramsay Round in the Scottish Highlands.
Arguably Britain's greatest ever long distance hill runner, she is also the first person to complete a Double Paddy. Here we discover the highs, lows, challenges and motivation of the extraordinary hill and mountain runner.
Nicky's double achievements
It was in 2016, and to mark 10 years of surviving breast cancer, that 52-year-old Nicky broke the record for the Double Bob Graham. She ran 112 miles over 84 peaks and including 54,000ft of ascent in 45 hours 30 minutes. The achievement was captured in the UKC/UKH film Run Forever:
In 2018, she then became the first person to complete a Double Charlie Ramsay Round, finishing the 116 miles over 48 peaks and including 57,000ft of ascent, in 55 hours 56 minutes.
Most recently, the Yorkshire farmer and Inov-8 ambassador completed the Double Paddy Buckley Round. Again, she is the first person to achieve this feat and in doing so she ran 122 miles over 94 peaks, including 56,000ft of ascent, in a time of 57 hours 25 minutes.
She says: "I had never done anything as far or spent as much time on my feet before the Double Bob Graham but when that went well and I completed in less than 48 hours, I thought it might be possible to do a Double Ramsay Round in under 48 hours, too.
"I was very pleased to achieve that and to be the first person to do so.
"The Double Paddy seemed like the next logical challenge to try. I like the idea of going slower yet further, rather than trying to do quicker single rounds. I think this suits me better.
"I was also aware that if I was successful I would be the first person to complete the three rounds as doubles and that would mean I had the record for all three.
"I guess, as well, I really like big challenges."
I would like my three rounds and my three double rounds to be a way of encouraging other women to think that maybe they could do this sort of thing, too
What is the Paddy Buckley Round?
Known as the Welsh Classical Round, the route was devised by the eponymous Paddy Buckley. It includes many well-known mountain ranges such as Snowdon, the Glyderau and the Carneddau, as well as lesser-visited areas such as Moel Siabod, the Moelwynion, Moel Hebog and the Nantlle Ridge.
The Paddy Round was first completed in 1982 by Wendy Dodds, while the fastest time to date was set in July 2009 in 17 hours 42 minutes.
The current women's record was achieved in 2016 by Jasmin Paris in 18 hours 33 minutes, which beat Nicky's previous women's record in 2013 of 19 hours and two minutes.
Nicky, is the only person to have completed a Double Paddy.
The Paddy is widely claimed to be the toughest of the UK's Big Three Rounds. It is also the longest and includes the most summits.
Nicky's Double Paddy Round
The Paddy Round is Nicky's favourite, yet she also recognises it is the toughest. She says: "I love Wales because I like the landscape and how remote it feels.
"This round has also been significant for me over the years."
Nicky first did a Paddy Round just a few weeks after breast reconstruction following her cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2006. She completed a sub-24 hour Paddy Round a year later. In addition, Nicky set a women's record in 2013.
Having completed all three rounds as doubles, Nicky is sure the Paddy is the most difficult. She explains: "While there is almost the same total ascent as the Ramsay, the Paddy has longer climbs that really take it out of you mentally and physically.
"The route is far less well-trodden compared to the Bob Graham and the Ramsay and it can be a lot more difficult to navigate.
"It is rougher, rockier in places and, in terms of support, it is harder to find people who know the route as well as the other two and this means there is a lot more than can potentially go wrong."
Nicky decided to complete the Double Paddy Round by heading anti-clockwise for the first circuit, and then turning clockwise fir the second lap.
She says: "I think that mentally it's better to follow the route in two directions although each has its challenges. The last leg on the anti-clockwise section is quite difficult and there are two horrible climbs, Tryfan and Snowdon. But I wanted to do it in both directions as part of the double."
The weather also created difficulties. Nicky says: "The low pressure over Wales at the time, from May 17 to 19, made the temperature just right for me as I like it to be quite cold but it did cause low cloud and clag."
"I usually like to do my big challenges in May because the weather is more favourable but at times on the Double Paddy we could hardly see ahead of us at all.
"That made navigation even harder than normal at times. For example, on Snowdon on the first circuit I kept losing the path. I didn't expect that because the route path is usually easy to follow although it always feels so long.
"I lost a lot of time on the first round and I knew by the end of that I would not make the double round in under 48 hours. That was very hard to take."
Tough times during the Double Paddy
In each of her Double Rounds, Nicky has had low points when she wanted to stop. This happened on the Double Paddy close to finishing the first circuit.
She says: "I was coming back sown to Capel at the end of the first anti-clockwise circuit. I was going to go under the 24 hours but I knew then that a double in under 48 hours wasn't going to be possible.
"I felt very low at that point. I thought about stopping and giving up. It was really hard to deal with such a negative emotion and I knew how far I still had to go to finish. It seemed overwhelming at the time.
"I am always disappointed with myself when I fall into a negative stupor."
Nicky knew she needed a rest before going on. She couldn't sleep but lay down for 10 minutes of quiet. She changed her clothes, washed her feet and then felt sick. Nicky says: "I vomited, which wasn't good because I brought up a lot of food, but I felt a bit better after that. I knew I needed to get up and get on with the second circuit."
The low continued, however. Nicky says: "I couldn't eat because my stomach felt horrible and I couldn't see any point.
"I think I was aware that I was in energy deficit and I needed to eat to feel better again but I just couldn't face eating. I told my support that I would need to slow down and everyone said that was fine so this made me feel a bit better. You can feel like you are letting people down when you are not going as fast as you want to.
"Once I knew that I wasn't going to make under 48 hours, but I was still going to finish, my head felt a bit better – and then I was able to start eating small amounts again. I just ate noodles during that time as that was all I could stomach.
"Usually I am very strict about eating regularly and I'll eat a range of different things including cereal bars, beans, whatever I feel I fancy at the time. But when I was feeling at my worst in the Double Paddy, it was only noodles that I wanted."
Good times on the Double Paddy
Nicky enjoys the remote landscape on the Paddy Round. She says: "It's a great feeling to be out in the hills and mountains in Wales. They feel far less walked than England and Scotland. I really love being there.
"I felt quite recovered after my attempt of the Barkley Marathons and I enjoyed feeling strong again. I don't throw myself down the descents; I remained sensible and it felt good to be in control of the challenge at the outset.
"Also, although I knew from halfway that I wasn't going to do a sub-48 hour I was able to enjoy it in the end."
Nicky did finally get about 10 minutes of sleep at Pont du Gors at the end of leg seven. "I then felt so much better," she says. "After that I found I could enjoy the Paddy again and the final three sections were much better. I started to enjoy the challenge again then."
Nicky completed the anti-clockwise circuit in in 23 hours 21 minutes and the clockwise round in 34 hours and four minutes.
Thanks to the support crew
Nicky is very grateful for her supporters. She says: "It would be impossible to conceive doing the rounds or double rounds without a great support team. They give up their time to help and I am always so grateful.
"I like to support other people with their challenges as well and when I am doing that I'll be very focused on helping them to have the best support possible.
'A feeling of contentment'
Nicky has described a new-found sense of happiness and contentment after competing the Double Paddy.
She says: "In the Double Paddy and also in the Double Ramsay I had very low times. They lasted quite a long time as well.
"Coming out of the lows and feeling better again has shown me that I can keep going and achieve bigger things than I previously thought possible.
"I am really pleased to have become the first person to have done all three classic double rounds."
Leading the way for women runners
Nicky hopes that her achievements will encourage other women to take up bigger challenges.
"I started late with running in my thirties" she says, "and I had to build up from being a beginner. I had no background in running. I also work full-time and I don't consider myself to be a superhuman. I am an ordinary woman."
"But I think women can achieve amazing things. We are good at endurance challenges because we prepare better. I think we prepare better because we have less confidence in the first place and so we place greater emphasis on the training. I know I work hard in training."
"I think, we are also more sensible than the guys. We don't go mad at the start of events and I think that many women are very good at pacing themselves. We are better organised and stricter with our own plans.
"In addition, women can put up with more discomfort than many men. We don't whinge!
"We are not as strong physically on average but we have other strengths that help us to achieve. I would like my three rounds and my three double rounds to be a way of encouraging other women to think that maybe they could do this sort of thing, too."
Raising funds for Odyssey
Through many of Nicky's challenges, she raises awareness and funds for Odyssey, a charity that helps adults who have had cancer to rebuild their lives and confidence.
Nicky writes: "I can relate to this because back in 2006 after I was officially discharged after having breast cancer it was hard to know how to resume normal life.
"You can't go back to your old life because you are no longer the person you were. Your values have changed and you still have the niggling doubts: 'Why me? What if?'
"I know that people trying to adjust to their 'new' life will benefit from the support and encouragement that Odyssey provide."
- Nicky is just £1000 short of her current £20,000 target. Donate here.
- See further details of Nicky's Paddy Buckley Double Round on her website.
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