Runner Nicky Spinks has added a third place in the very challenging endurance race, the Tor des Geants, to her already impressive list of achievements. The inov-8 ambassador was third female in the 330km race with more than 24,000m of ascent in the Italian Alps.
Silvia Trigueros (Spain) was first female the race, which is regarded as one of the world’s toughest ultra-distance running events, this month. It was a third consecutive win for the course record holder and she finished in 89:57.
Melissa Paganelli (Italy) finished second in 93:35, while Nicky, who is 54, was third in 101:16.
The top three men:
- Franco Collé (Italy) – 66:43.
- Jonas Russi (Switzerland) – 69:03.
- Petter Restorp (Sweden, lives in France) – 76:36.
Paul Tierney, also an inov-8 ambassador, finished 12th male in 88:05. It was his third time in the race.
What is the Tor des Geants?
The TOR330 starts and finishes at Courmayeur. It is the first and only race to combine long distance with the individual style of runners. There are no compulsory stages and the winner is the runner who completes the race in the shortest time, making their own decisions on when and how long to stop for rest and food.
The Tor des Géants takes runners along an entire region in the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps.
Nicky’s podium surprise and delight
Nicky, a coach, athlete and farmer from Yorkshire, said: “I am very surprised with my third place.
“I never expected to be on the podium. I had hoped that I could better my time from 2019 and maybe get a vet category prize but with everything that had gone on, to even get to the race, I would have been very happy to complete.
“It was amazing to be third and also to receive all the praise from the Italians and other runners. They really appreciate how hard the race is and so they understand how hard it is to do well, too.”
She reveals there were a few possible reasons her success and the faster time. Nicky’s time looks to be the fastest of any British female runner. Jenn Gaskell ran 114 hours in 2014.
Nicky, a member of the Dark Peak Fell Runners, said: “I found the hills easier to begin with on the TdG so I think I could have been fitter.
“Having done the Lakes 24 in August I thought I would either be tired, or that I would benefit from that training.
“I also knew the course and what to expect, so there were fewer unpleasant surprises this time. I think you have to have done the race or the route at least before you can do well in it. There is so much more to it than simply following flags as fast as you can.”
Tor des Geants training
As a coach, Nicky is skilled at knowing how to train for endurance events. Her strategy comes from great experience and knowing what works for her.
She said: “I focus specifically on what I am doing. I train hard when training – and rest when I need to rest. Between the Lakes 24 hour and the Tor des Geants, I ran maybe 20 times in four weeks.
“It was mentally hard not to train but I knew that it would be pointless and it would be better to arrive at the race as fresh as I could be.
“I had no expectations and my goal was to get to Tuesday feeling better than I did in 2019. My whole race plan was to look after my eating, my feet and my breathing.”
Nicky’s Tor des Geants race strategy
Nicky missed the first night’s sleep and then took one to two hours on subsequent nights.
She said: “This year, my rest was more for my feet than my head. Wednesday night was hard though because the Life Base was too noisy and I couldn’t sleep.
“After that I felt slow and at 6am I had a 10-minutes lie down on the floor of a CP and that was brilliant.”
Nicky aimed to eat as much as she could. She said: “For fuelling, I ate more early on this time and I tried to maintain this.
“I was always eat the pasta soup and I also had four Expedition food meals – two vegetable tikka with rice, one macaroni cheese and one berries and custard. This worked very well although I had to get them made up with tea because the CPs had no hot water.”
There were other vital components for success. She said: “I looked after my feet and tried not to get cold. I also had two fully charged head torches.”
Tor des Geants: A very tough race
Nicky describes the challenges of the Tor des Geants. She said: “It’s harder than, for example, some supported mountain rounds that I’ve done because I had no support and you have to run through many nights, so sleep deprivation plays a big part in how good your decisions are.
“There is also the altitude. My plan had been to go out in July and acclimatise because the race goes to about 2500 metres quite a few times and with three cols being 3200 metres.
“Along with the sleep, the darkness, the terrain and the altitude, the race is very hard overall.
“You do get one drop bag that follows you round and you have access to this at ‘Life Bases’, which are about 10 to 14 hours apart. Other than that there are CPs with pasta soup, cheese, salami, bread and some other food. So eating is hard, too.”
There were further tough times for Nicky. She said: “The first couple of days were hot. And Monday was very hot and we climbed to 3200 metres.
“On the climb, I could feel my legs swelling up, or so it felt, and they were really heavy. This worried me but I had to keep telling myself it was the heat and I’d feel better when it got dark or on Tuesday when showers were forecast.
“My eating also suffers when I’m too hot and I was trying to eat but I didn’t eat enough especially as the halls and tents were really hot inside as well.”
High points on the Tor des Geants
Nicky has good memories of the race, too. She said: “Climbing felt easy throughout the race. Obviously as I got tired it was harder, but my legs felt strong.
“There were some stunning views throughout especially with the cloud inversions.
“It was nice remembering 2019 and realising that I felt better than I did then. I also remembered funny things that happened in that race.”
Finding out she was in third place was another good moment. Nicky said: “It was a high point to be told I was third but I also knew I had to start trying a lot harder then.”
Nicky’s hopes for the women
Nicky hopes that more women will do this race. Read about Debbie Martin Consani’s Tor des Geants in 2017.
Nicky said: “I don’t think there have been many British women doing the Tor des Geants The interest in the longer races is just starting to filter down to the women and hopefully more will attempt these very long races.”
While Nicky is 54, the female in seventh place was 57 and the winning lady was 45. Nicky said: “This does say a lot for the older women competing in these races.”
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