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Nicky Spinks: what's the secret of her success?

by kirsty
Tuesday 25th October 2016
Tags  Nicky Spinks   |   Bob Graham Round   |   inov-8
A record double Bob Graham, records for the Bob Graham, Ramsay and Paddy Buckley rounds, a multitude of race wins and great performances in some of the most difficult races in the world. What’s the secret of Nicky Spinks’s success? Having just been on her ’24 Hour Round and Ultra Race’ course I feel like I can now answer this question. 
1. Nicky is bloody hard. 
2. Nicky prepares meticulously for every challenge she takes on.
3. Heinz baked beans are her secret weapon.
4. She has the ultimate super crew member called Charmian.
I went on Nicky’s course at the Woodhead Mountain Rescue HQ in Holmfirth, West Yorks, to learn more about aspects like training, preparing for races, navigation, mental strategies and useful kit. I’ll take my points above in order to give you a taste of what you can learn on Nicky’s course. 
1. Nicky is bloody hard.
While we can’t all be as hard as Nicky, we can learn a lot from her attitude and the strategies she uses if we want to be successful at ultra running and attempting rounds. I was really surprised to learn that Nicky used to be crippled by nerves at the start of races, feeling like she wasn’t capable of doing it and she hadn’t trained enough. I think we can all relate to that. She has a mantra that she repeats to herself at the start of every race, telling herself that she can do it. 
Nicky talked about how she’s dragged herself to the finish of races when she’s been feeling terrible (and she told a tale about having her feet injected with local anaesthetic in a race when they were in a particularly bad state) and the need to just get food down you, no matter how terrible you feel. DNFing isn’t something that’s Nicky’s had much experience of, apart from once when she needed to go to hospital and be operated on! 
On Nicky’s course you will hear a lot about her experiences in races, what she’s learned and how she’s adapted her training/nutrition/mindset accordingly, and you will pick up some great tips. What you won’t hear on Nicky’s course is ‘how I ran the world’s toughest race’ with a lot of self-aggrandising tales about how brutal it was (there are plenty of these talks/books/films available elsewhere, but not in Yorkshire). Nicky is modest and down-to-earth and the course is focussed on how to get the most out of your running. For instance, the training plans that Nicky suggests for people aren’t built on crazy mileage with 10 runs per week. They’re tailored to people’s busy lives and how they can get the most out of the runs they’re able to fit in. 

NS course 1
A bit of navigation training got us out of the classroom and under those typical Yorkshire blue skies

2. Nicky prepares meticulously for every challenge she takes on.
The more I listened to Nicky talk, the more I felt that this was a real key to her success (and the more I cringed at how little preparation I’ve done for some races). Nicky recces everything she does and if it’s overseas and she can’t actually get out onto the course she gets all the maps, pieces them together, works out all the elevations and distances between checkpoints. She writes detailed schedules for her pace, works out which sections will be done in the dark, works out what to have in her drop bag or what her crew need to give her where, finds out what will be at the aid stations. Essentially Nicky controls all of the controllable aspects of her races and rounds, giving herself the best possible chance of success. 
While this seems pretty obvious stuff, how many of us can honestly say that we do this properly? How many times have we struggled in races because we set off too fast, we underestimated the terrain, we didn’t eat/drink enough, we didn’t realise we wouldn’t see another aid station for 4 hours? I have to hold my hand up there. This was my key takeaway point for the day: prepare better! 

NS course 3
'So it's just these 42 peaks, twice?'

3. Heinz baked beans are her secret weapon. 
Nicky is sponsored by inov-8 (and she showed us lots of their great kit through the day) but I’ve no idea why Heinz haven’t snapped her up too. Beans appeared in many photos (and they made an appearance, then a pretty unpleasant reappearance in the film about her Bob Graham record) and they seem to be one of the secrets of her success, along with Tunnocks wafers, yoghurts, crisps etc. It was interesting listening to Nicky talk about nutrition as her strategy has come about through years of trial and error. Nicky is definitely of the school of thought that you should get down whatever you can, and force yourself to do it or you’ll pay for it later. For instance, she often eats yoghurts, which obviously don’t have a lot of calories but they’re easy to get down when you can’t face anything more substantial and they just help keep you topped up and more able to eat later on. 

NS course 2
Some pole technique advice and informal classroom-based learning (with cake)

4. She has the ultimate super crew member called Charmian. 
From listening to Nicky talk it’s obvious that her records and big races are very much team efforts. For the rounds she has pacers who are carefully chosen for points where she might need ‘gentle encouragement’ and other points where she might need ‘sergeant major style ordering about’. Nicky has supported many runners on their own rounds (and she suggested this as a great way to recce sections) and she has a great group of people who support her. Chief amongst Nicky’s crew is a fantastic woman called Charmian, who was also helping out at the course. She has supported Nicky on many races and rounds, driving round to the road crossings to meet her, laying out all the food and kit she might conceivably need, changing her socks and shoes (while she shovels in baked beans), gently cajoling and subtly ‘encouraging’ Nicky to make sensible choices! Another big takeaway point from Nicky’s course was that your choice of crew members is really important. You need to know each other well enough to know what each needs from the other, whether that’s beans, to tell them to run more quickly or even to make them stop. And you can’t assume that what’s obvious to you (eg I want a cup of tea at mile 25 but coffee at mile 48) is going to be obvious to them.
I can’t recommend Nicky’s course highly enough. I guarantee that any runner of any level will go home with a number of great new ideas for training, races, kit or nutrition. The next course is on Saturday 26th November at the Woodhead Mountain Rescue HQ in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Find out more here
(I paid for and went on this course for me, it wasn’t a free place so I’d write about it, but I wanted to write a review as I found it so helpful)
Here’s a clip of Nicky’s forthcoming film on her double Bob Graham, Run Forever. The full film will be launched at the Kendal Mountain Festival in November. 

About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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