Nicky Spinks on Her Record Ramsay Round

© Various

On 31st May leading fell runner Nicky Spinks broke the female record for the Ramsay Round, taking 45 minutes from the previous women's best time and logging the second fastest ever time on the route into the bargain. One of the UK's big three sub-24-hour fell running challenges, along with the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley, the route covers 24 Lochaber Munros in a 60-mile circuit around Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries, the Easains, the Loch Treig Munros and the whole Mamores ridge. With her incredible time of 19 hours 39 minutes Nicky is now the only person to have completed all three rounds in under 20 hours apiece. She wrote an account of the run on her blog; we've published an abridged version here.

After successfully taking the Bob Graham record in 2012 (18 hours 12 minutes) and then the Paddy Buckley Record in 2013 (19 hours and 2 minutes) I obviously couldn't let the third record sit there unchallenged. So during the summer and autumn of 2013 I made many trips to Scotland reccying before the snows came.

Aonach Beag from the Mamores  © Various
Aonach Beag from the Mamores
© Various

While reccying I was collating schedules and reports and timing splits to work out how to knock over two hours off my 2008 time of 22.32 in order to beat the record of 20.24 held by Helene Whittaker. For instance I managed to knock a whopping 40 minutes off the valley stage from Beinn na Lap to Sgurr Eilde Mor, reducing it from 3.45 hours to 3.05 hours. I knew that eating was going to be hard and wanted more support points so planned for this by having extra pacers meet me at various points.

So armed with a schedule, and after much help from Jon Gay, plus an army of supporters from Yorkshire and Scotland, I set the date of 31st May 2014. Weather was the next problem. And then snow, of which there was a lot; but a final recce at the end of April of Legs 2 and 3 in which everything was passable reassured me that I could get across or round any snow issues on the day.

Setting off at 2am the weather was perfect; clear skies, no wind and cool. I tried to keep calm but it was hard so I chatted to [supporters] Mark and Alex. The Ben seemed to go very quickly and as it's not a mountain I like I was pleased to reach the top. It was getting light but I was careful to find the path off through the rocks as I hate the unstable rocks on the descent to Carn Mor Dearg arete. The rocks though were dry and sticky - nice I thought! Finding the "chicken run" to the right of the arete was nice and I skipped along there eating whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it. Another top over and across to the Aonachs we went. We descended too far right and at the top of Aonach Mor I had lost 2 minutes, so that was a wake up call that no more navigation errors were allowed. The sunrise was incredible and everyone was enjoying the views. It was stunning to be there at 5am; a real privilege.

In the Mamores
© Various

Heading down towards the Grey Corries and off at the cairn for Spinks Ridge - so nick-named after my 2008 descent of it when snow had filled the usual way down. To my pleasure it has become known as that ever since. Across the Grey Corries we jumped onto snow ramps and they were lovely and cool, plus soft underfoot. Really a lot of fun. The cloud lifted and I told Spyke where we were heading on my well reccied line up Stob Coire Easain. I like Easain but it still dragged a little and I had run out of fruit salads and bananas, and didn't fancy a rice pud. I didn't want to arrive at Fersit too hungry. The descent was pleasant and quick and we soon arrived at Fersit, surprising the support there.

Custard and Berries tasted lovely and I got a lot down. Just a cap and sun screen, lovingly applied - it felt good to have a leg massage too - and I was ready for the off. I struggled to climb with a full tummy but the support soon sorted out a system and we settled down into climbing. We took a great line. I wasn't going fast enough but the legs would not go any faster. My breathing was laboured and I was too hot. I worried that I was slipping on the schedule and when we reached the top 5 minutes were lost. I pushed on over the tops trying to get my legs to work; tripping up over small rocks and wanting to walk at the slightest incline up Chno Dearg, though I'd wanted to jog. At the plateau I sprinted to the summit just to get there bang on schedule. I knew the next split had a little slack in it, but was it enough? Running off I tried to get my head round what might be going wrong. Off the end we ran down into the valley, the many reccies paying off as I found grass and more grass. Then the nice ridge and sheep trod to the river. Splashing through the coolness was lovely and I filled my hat to splash it over my head.

Setting off up Beinn na Lap I said the name should mean "mountain of many false summits"! However the legs were working again; we got there eventually and up on schedule with 5 minutes gained back. Now the awful bit; 3 hours before the next summit; so much to go wrong and no indication of how up or down you are. And to cap it off, in a windless hot valley. Oh well; lets go. I knew the descent well to the bridge, where more food would be waiting. It was a lovely run down. Dave Lund; new to all this said "These are the best view I've ever seen in real life". I felt so pleased to have introduced him to the really lovely mountains of Scotland.

Coffee stop quite some time after Beinn na Lap  © Charlie Ramsay
Coffee stop quite some time after Beinn na Lap
© Charlie Ramsay

The split is hard and the clock is ticking. I ran what I could, ate when I could but then opposite Staoineag Bothy, after eating a fruit salad, I was violently sick. Crossing the river was easy as the water was so low but we couldn't find any tracks to cut the corner on. It didn't matter, the ground was dry. Reaching the ruin I saw [Ramsay Round originator] Charlie Ramsay leaping about all excited with his camera. That made me smile. Of course I forget that I'm still up on schedule and that everyone thinks it's in the bag, except for me.

When Charlie's photo of me drinking coffee came though on Monday morning it made me cry. I want to hug that lady with all those thoughts going round her head. She looks like she could cry. And then again she looks so angry. Maybe she's disappointed but then again she looks so determined. So that was me.

"How many hours to go?" I thought. "8 on schedule". "Right, I can do that". I got some Custard and Apple down, finished my coffee and stood up.

We climbed Sgurr Eilde Mor in relative silence and at the top I was encouraged that I was up on schedule. We discussed the way off. I decided to bin my original route and go with the usual walker's path. It wasn't too bad and led us to the stream. I was so conscious that I could not let time slip so I jogged what I could across to the Binneins. Setting off up Binnein Beag it was now a job to be done. We reached the top; up again on schedule. That cheered me no end and I managed a proper smile. Lots of memories of my 2008 round came back. I had found Binnein Mor hard. This time it seemed to drag on but the route we took was great as it popped us out at the top, a fantastic surprise.

Off across the Mamores we went. No snow to contend with and good dry conditions underfoot. We met more supporters who had come up to run with me; they were cheery and one had a video camera which was fun. Across to An Gearanach we all went, traversing some unpleasant snow. I realised that we had missed some contour paths on the outward leg and so went ahead and found them on the return; I hadn't put any slack in the schedule for missing them. I was counting down the hours. Checking both watches they seemed to be between 6pm and 7pm for ages.

The team at Glen Nevis YHA  © Various
The team at Glen Nevis YHA
© Various

So at 7pm I said to Mary Gillie and Jon Gay "Right, I'm just having gels and water now". Mary was fantastic; she was always there, by my side, handing me water or a gel. She scoured the support for gels and always had one to hand. Sometimes I thought she must be running in thin air for the ridges are so narrow and I was on the path. Simon Rippon was my lovely motivator, giving me a thumbs up and a smile with a floppy haired nod of head. Jon ran around finding all the lines, checking his schedule and taking it very seriously. Ali and Stevie floated, the camera a welcome distraction. But I haven't seen the footage yet so I might have been grimacing when I thought I was smiling.

Yiannis was given the responsibility deciding on me doing the traverse to Stob Ban or not. I trust his decision. And he decided we were. I followed him down after Gavin Williams, who made funny comments about the "paths" that Yiannis found, that were of course no wider than a ruler. Even the deer had chosen another route higher than us - but they were a sight to see, floating effortlessly across the ground. We soon reached the path to Stob Ban and I climbed well. Making time on the summit again. Now I knew, barring a fall, that it was going to happen. Sub 20 hours even. Checking and rechecking my watches as we ran across to the last summit Mullach nan Coirean. In 2008 I had celebratory photos here so it was fitting that the camera was out again. I went to kiss the cairn but then thought ... "I'm not that sentimental" and so touched it with my head.

Running off the summit the eyes weren't working so well, I could spot the stones but I couldn't assess their stability so took my time. There was just the track to go. I had had great plans of running it all but walking was better. I didn't want to collapse at the finish. How embarrassing is that? Being carted off when you should be having celebratory photos! So we took it easy. Lots of smiling, feeling happy and being contented.

Running down the road I spotted the finish at Glen Nevis YHA and being spurred on by my support I lifted my legs and went for it. Charlie Ramsay had a tape for me to run through, and so I did. "Arms up" says Charlie. What a star.

Thanks to all my support!

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Nicky Spinks is a British long distance runner, specialising in fell running, who set women's records for the major fell running challenges...

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