Friday 5: fell, mountain and ultra runner Nicky Spinks

nicky spinks in double Paddy Buckley Round
Nicky Spinks during her Double Paddy Buckley Round in 2019 (Image credit: Tim Ripper)

Veteran fell runner Nicky Spinks has claimed many titles and records across a wide range of races and challenges, especially in the UK. Her forte is long-distance hill and mountain challenges and the 56-year-old breast cancer survivor has a growing list of accolades, including winning the Arc of Attrition, setting a record for the most mountains run in 24 hours in the Lake District, taking third place in the famously tough Tors des Geants and setting a new record for the Bob Graham Round. She was the first person to complete doubles of all three of the UK’s 24-hour "Big Rounds", the Bob Graham Round, Ramsay Round and Paddy Buckley Round.

This month, she became the organiser of a relaunched hill challenge in southern Scotland, the Bruce's Crown Race. It was actually the event, in 2004, that ignited her passion for longer hill running races and after a break of 18 years, the 46-mile challenge has returned to the Galloway hills. The next Bruce's Crown takes place on April 4, 2025.

See Nicky Spinks.

Nicky Spinks and Helen Elmore at the Fell Running Relays 2022

Nicky Spinks and Helen Elmore at the Fell Running Relays 2022 (Image credit: Stephen Wilson)

If you could only keep one item out of all your outdoor gear, which would you keep and why?

My inov-8 Mudtalons as I figure I could run in pretty much any clothes – although I might look a bit odd! – however, I need good comfy shoes with grip on the bottom.

nicky spinks in double Paddy Buckley round

Leg 9 of Nicky's historic double Paddy Buckley Round (Image credit: Mark Harvey)

What's your pet peeve in the outdoors/adventure space?

Wind turbines. Having moved to Scotland I think there are enough of them and they are the smaller than 150-metre tall turbines. The ones the energy companies now favour are between 200 metres and 250 metres tall. I think these are too big and too industrial to be putting within 3km of people's homes and on top of hillsides and open space. I also feel that they are detrimental to the tourist industry.

Nicky with team at bruce's crown

Nicky raced in an all-female team that came second in the relaunched Bruce's Crown (Image credit: Nicky Spinks)

If you could be instantly transported to the start of any adventure, what would it be, where and why?

South America, for example, Colombia at the start of the El Cocuy trek, or in northern Argentina climbing Nevado de Cachi. I never did summit the highest peak at 6,380m and I'd like to go back.

My husband Steve likes interesting countries to holiday in and the trade off is that I get to invent a trek or follow a route up a mountain and, if at all possible, without guides. I get more satisfaction from summiting or completing a trek if I've done all the homework and planning myself. I would love to be at the start of one of those treks right now.

Nicky Spinks

Nicky is an inov-8 athlete (Image credit: Hannah Shaw)

We're sitting round a campfire. Tell us a funny or entertaining story about one of your adventures

This isn't really a funny nor entertaining story but it's something I would want to talk about when with friends. It's about the incredibly encouraging female presence at hill and mountain races these days. 

When I did the Heart of Granite race as part of the 2004 Bruce's Crown, I was the only female runner. Actually, I did win a funny prize, a book entitled, the Cannibal Family of Sawney Bean. 

The relaunched Bruce's Crown race this month – and 20 years later –  had more female runners than male runners. The top two winning teams were also all female.

It is not that unusual any more to see women as the outright winners in longer-distance running races. I think this is so inspiring and I hope the number of women in races continues to grow. 

Is there any gear that's on your shopping list at the moment?

Steve is now more of a walker than a runner and I am on the look out for a waterproof hiking jacket that is long enough so I don't get a cold, wet bottom when I'm hiking in the hills with him.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.