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Arc of Attrition interview with winning female Nicky Spinks

Written by Fiona

February 01 2022

Nicky Spinks triumphed in the 100-mile Arc of Attrition at the weekend. The 54-year-old was first woman and ninth overall in a time of 25hrs 35mins. She was just outside Anna Troup‘s record time.

Nicky, who is in the process of moving from Yorkshire to Dumfries & Galloway, said: “I am very, very pleased with my first place, including the time gap that I gained on second female and my overall position. 

“It was odd because for much of the race I was running past men, then after St Ives I was on my own. I was very surprised to be in the top 10.”

Nicky added: “I think if I trained specifically for the Arc, I think I could go faster but I don’t have the focus to do that. The eight miles of tarmac through Penzance is still too vivid in my mind.”

Nicky Spinks runs to victory in Arc of Attrition 2022.

Arc of Attrition 2022

Dubbed “South West England’s toughest foot race”, the Arc of Attrition is a point-to-point winter endurance event held along the coastline of Cornwall.

The race this year was won by Mark Darbyshire in 19:12, followed by Tristan Stephenson in 20:01 and Dave Phillips in third place in 22:45.

Mark’s time was a new course record by more than 90 minutes.

Nicky was followed by Jodie Gauld in 27:53 in the women’s race and third female was Una Miles in 28:33.

It’s a new race for Nicky who has many ultra running successes to her name since recovering from breast cancer in 2006. 

The Arc was also her first race of 2022 and in a year when she has decided to run all the deferred races she had entered, but which had been cancelled during the Covid pandemic. 

She said: “I will race as and when the events come up. Who knows what’s going to happen next with the pandemic, so I’m keen to make the most of everything.

“The Arc of Attrition was in my plan for 2021 but it was cancelled at the last minute. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for a 100-miler in January last year, but I felt a lot better prepared this year.”

The weather on the day of the race was warm – 10C – but with a strong wind most of the time, plus drizzle on and off. Nicky said: “Underfoot it was very good and the rocks even dried out at times.”

Nicky Spinks runs to victory in Arc of Attrition 2022.
Nicky was delighted to be first female in the Arc of Attrition 2022.

Nicky’s winning Arc race

The farmer and running coach had three schedules planned for the Arc Arc of Attrition: Sub 26 hours, sub 28 hours and sub 30 hours. 

She said: “Going from previous results, the times early on in the race were all similar and then the gaps appeared in the second half. I calculated that it was key to look after the legs in first half to be able to maintain pace in the second half, especially over the rougher ground. 

“My worry was that I’ve never run a marathon and so I don’t know how to pace a long running race, nor what effect that has on my legs.” 

Nicky enjoyed the sections of technical terrain and the stretch from Mousehole to St Ives.

She said: “After that, the harder and flatter running was very tiring and my legs developed odd knots and pains, especially in my calf and inside thighs. 

“Maybe a massage would have helped but by then I just wanted to maintain my position and finish so I persuaded my legs to run to the finish.”

Nicky was supported by another ultra runner Damian Hall, who told Nicky that she was inside a sub 24 hour finish at times during the race. 

However, Nicky said: “I ran on feel and although Damian said I was inside the record at times I didn’t want to completely trash my legs and get cramp, or a permanent injury, trying to run faster.”

Nicky found the constant flat sections, or stretches of slightly uphill running, the toughest. She said: “I have got used to running this type of terrain more in the last year when I was in training for the Lakes 24-hour record, but then in other races, such as the Tor des Geants, I can walk all the climbs. 

[Read about Nicky’s third place in the Tor des Geants.]

“There are few long walking climbs on the Arc. I was running a lot with men who ran more than me in the first half and it was tough not knowing whether I should be pushing my legs so early in the race or not. 

“I just thought in a different way. I got through the Arc by thinking I was doing all the flatter bits of the Tor, without the massive hills, so sometimes that was the pace that I would do. And it seemed to be ok, as I didn’t lose places.”

The Inov-8 ambassador reveals that changing into ParkClaws made a big difference. She said: “I felt like a road runner then and the cushioning was lovely.”

More positives came when following the men runners and through Penzance, when Nicky ran behind and with Sebastien Betouret [26:20 finish time]. She said: “We helped each other with the nav and also took it in turns to run, as he was good on trails and I was better on technical ground.”

Arc of Attrition highlights for Nicky Spinks

Getting to Mousehole was highlight for Nicky. She said: “I had recced this section and I liked being on the rougher terrain with my legs feeling good. 

“I remembered all the places I’d visited with my dogs at Christmas although I also missed them.”

Nicky felt her pacing was “good”. She said: “I didn’t get carried away racing or by the easy terrain early in the race. I ate very well early on. Then I maintained that and got myself through the hard times.

Nicky Spinks runs to victory in Arc of Attrition 2022.
“There was a lot of harder, flatter running,” says Nicky Spinks. Credit: Damian Hall
Nicky Spinks runs to victory in Arc of Attrition 2022.

Tough times for Nicky in the Arc of Attrition

She said: “The hardest part was being bored with the running and missing some proper walking hills – and then being sick. 

“I was only sick once and I felt much better straight away so ate a Tunnock’s bar.

“However, the last 10 miles were pretty dire especially as my watch seemed to be  counting down the kilometres painfully slowly. I banned myself from looking in the end – and instead I looked ahead at the next bay hoping that it would be the finish.”

Nicky is adamant she won’t be doing the race again. She said: “But if I did I would recce it more. I would also do more flat, long runs and possibly a half marathon or a full marathon as practice. 

“My legs were battered and sore and I couldn’t instil life into them towards the finish like I usually can. I would find out why this happened and what I can do to stop it.”

Damian had pledged to help Nicky in the race. Nicky said: “I was very grateful to Damian. He met me at all the places I wanted him to. There were far too many and I didn’t need him everywhere. 

“Towards the end though I asked him to come to all of them to give me a few mouthfuls of food and drink.”

Nicky’s next race is the Cheviot Goat in March.

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