Endurance runner Nicky Spinks wrote herself into the record books 10 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
On 15 May 2016, a silver-haired farmer from the Peak District ran up to the steps of Moot Hall in Keswick, touched her hand on its green door and made history. Nicky Spinks, then 49, had just completed a double Bob Graham Round.
For those unfamiliar with the race – which is almost everyone – the Bob Graham Round is a fiendishly difficult course in the Lake District. Nicky had just run it twice, covering 132 miles and 54,000ft in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes. No woman or man had ever run it quicker.
Ten years earlier, Nicky faced a different challenge. ‘It was my husband who found the lump,’ she says. ‘Initially, it was quite hard to tell if it was a proper lump or just normal milk tubes, but my husband made me go straight to the doctors. I was then sent to one of those one-stop clinics.’ Nicky learnt there was a good chance the lump she felt was breast cancer.
‘I can’t hide it’
Nicky’s fears were confirmed a week later. Initially, she says, she found it hard to speak about having cancer. ‘I felt like I was being the bearer of bad news. But then I thought, “I can’t hide it; I’d rather I talked about it.”
‘Some people don’t know how to react when you tell them. But those who have come across cancer before know that you have quite a high chance of recovering from it, particularly from breast cancer, so they were great to talk to. That’s why I think it’s so important for people with cancer to speak with other people who have experienced it.’
Having been told about the treatment options, Nicky decided to have a mastectomy. ‘Because the lump wasn’t too big – less than 2cm – they didn’t think I’d need radiotherapy if I had a full mastectomy so I decided that was the better option.’
Return to running
After the operation Nicky was careful not to return to running too quickly. ‘Initially, my legs felt really heavy, so I started with a four-mile run, which is very short for me. Then I went up to six miles and built slowly from there. Although I love to run, I didn’t want to set back my recovery.’
While Nicky took a while to return to her full physical capacity, having gone through cancer treatment gave her a new appreciation for her sport.
‘I don’t have bad runs anymore,’ she says. ‘No run is a bad run because I’m just grateful I can run. I appreciate my running a lot more now. Even if I’m feeling tired or slow, I’ll look around and try to take in the view or the fact my dogs are running with me.’
Still, don’t expect to see Nicky taking on the Bob Graham Round again any time soon. ‘I love running in the hills, and I love the Bob Graham, but I think I’m done with that particular event for the time being!’
Nicky is an inov-8 athlete. Watch the film of her double Bob Graham Round.
Interview by Rick Pearson