You know, we see some pretty impressive achievements at The Allrounder. All sorts of amazing races and events where people do things that would look, to most of us, to be pretty damn near impossible. And when you get to meet those people and speak to them, you realise they’re often just nice, down to earth people who have accomplished something pretty ridiculous.
Nicky is one of those people. A lovely, friendly farmer from West Yorkshire with a passion for long distance running. Although, when we say passion we also means she’s ridiculously good at it. Starting relatively late on at the age of 32, Nicky’s running career has seen her set a new women’s record of 64 for the number of Lakeland peaks climbed in 24 hours, as well as setting records for multiple British mountain races including the Bob Graham Round in 2012, the Paddy Buckley Round in 2013 and the Ramsay Round in 2014, as well as her latest achievement, the record for the double Bob Graham round. Yeah, she’s pretty amazing.
Unfortunately, Nicky was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. But ten years later, after receiving treatment, she decided the best way to celebrate would be to take on one of Britain’s toughest challenges. Twice in fact.
For her attempt at the double Bob Graham Round, which would see her cover a 66-mile circuit of 42 summits of the Lake District in less than 24 hours, with an elevation gain of 27,000 ft, Nicky decided to make a film entitled Run Forever with sponsors inov-8. It’s seriously good in fact and you can watch it for free (just scroll down to the bottom of this post).
Luckily for us we were invited over to a screening of the new film at London running shop/cafe The Running Works, where we had a chance to ask Nicky a few questions.
You’ve ran quite a few challenges over the years. Can you remember when it was that you decided to take on the Bob Graham Round double?
Well I don’t think there was one particular point, the idea has been worming its way into my head for the last five years. When I actually decided that this was the thing I was going to do in 2016, it was probably about July 2015. I’d just done the Bob Graham record, then I gave it about two or three months before I started looking at what’s next, then it came up as an idea and just got lodged there.
After doing the Bob Graham Round, why did you decide to do the double?
Because I thought that I could do it. Doing doing laps of anything is very hard mentally, as well as being a physical challenge. I could have gone 132 miles in a straight line, but I think doing laps and going past a point that you’re starting again makes it harder.
People have different ways of dealing with the mental and physical effects of endurance events. How do you deal with it?
Well, if you can mentally overcome any doubts that you can do it. I’ve never actually had my body pack up and say “you’re not doing this”, which is maybe what I want to get to, maybe I keep pushing myself until my body wins the argument with my brain. The pain is making your brain say stop and your brain has got to go “actually this pain isn’t that bad and it’s going to get better”.
An endurance event such as this isn’t a usual celebration for someone who’s gone through a fight with cancer. Why did you decide to do it?
I think it was the challenge of pushing myself, but also, I like being on the hills all weekend. Usually I’d sleep in between Saturday and Sunday, but this was sort of an excuse to spend all weekend doing something that I like and challenging myself at the same time.
What were the low points of the event?
Well, I started at midnight, so having gone through the full day and then going into that second night. As I was running across and it was getting to seven o’clock in the evening and I could see it getting dark, I was just wondering how on earth I was going to get through the next night. That was more just having to get stronger to get through the night, and then during that night, probably about two o’clock in the morning. So now I’ve gone through two nights, going through the second night without sleep, I started to feel quite sick as well. And it was quite cold, so it was just easier to withdraw into myself, ignore all my supporters, not eat and just stumble along. Also in the dark you tend to have a head torch beam in front of you. So you have nothing to look at, nothing to take your mind off the fact that it’s all hurting. Maybe I should have had a power nap a bit earlier than when I did.
What were the high points of the event?
Meeting Joss Naylor (legendary fell runner) because I didn’t know that he was going to come out. He’s a very iconic person of mine and he wouldn’t just turn out for anybody if he didn’t respect the person. So I think it’s the fact that I realised he respected what I was doing and he told me that I could do it, which was a big thing for him to say to me. I kept that at the back of my mind.
Was there anything that happened during that made you think that you may not finish it?
I got a lot of little pains. A pain in my knee which I’d had a couple of months beforehand which I just started self massaging as I was going up the hill. I’m not often one to give up if something started hurting though, I just try to find a way of getting rid of it.
Was this the hardest physical challenge you’ve ever decided to do?
This wasn’t the hardest thing that I’ve actually got through. There have been a couple of times when I’d totally overtrained, I did the Grand Raid des Pyrénées. As soon as I set off, within two hours I knew that it was going to be a very long day and I’d just have to get to each checkpoint as they came along. So mentally that was hard but physically was probably harder because I was dragging myself round as I was too tired.
You took up running quite late in life, how do you feel that has affected your achievements?
I partly think that we’ve all only got so many miles in our legs, so if you start when you’re 20 you’re going to be beaten by the time your 30, and you need to be very careful with yourself. Also, as you’re older, you are more careful with what you’re doing, you listen to yourself a bit more. So being older does help, but then I do regret that maybe I could be as fast as Jasmin [Paris], if I was her age.
Do you have any advice for people think of taking up long distance endurance events?
I think it’s not all about the running. As soon as you run over an hour you need to eat, so if you run over two hours you need to eat twice as much. It’s a lot more about what you’re wearing on your feet, your clothes, what you’re eating, and then mentally about how strong you can be; about how you can switch your brain off and enjoy the hours rather than enjoy the miles.
What was it like to be part of a team making a film about you?
The guys that made the film were just very good, because I said to them “look, I’m doing this challenge, I’d like you to make a film, but I can’t stop and have interviews, so don’t get in my way”.They were brilliant because they didn’t really know how I was going to approach the hills, what mood I would be in, what I’d do when I got there, whether I’d stop, and then I got ahead of schedule as well, so they had to get into place quickly.
It’s been very enlightening really, how their brains work, because I’ve got my plan as to how my day’s going to go and then they’ve got their plan, and they just have to rock along.
Well I’m 50 this year and there’s a challenge called the Joss Naylor challenge in the Lake District which you can only do after your 50th. It’s an old fell runners challenge. So I’m going to do that one this year.
Are there any races around the world that you’d really like to do?
Probably the Barkley marathon. It sounds sort of off the wall. I don’t know if I’d go to complete it, maybe just take part in it. No woman has actually completed it.
And here’s the full video in all it’s glory. So sit back on the sofa, grab a glass of Malbec and see the amazing Nicky in action as she makes her way up and down the hills of the Lake District.
Vicky is sponsored by inov-8. To find out more about the inov-8 range, have a look at the website here.
Picture and video credits: inov-8