British fell runner extraordinaire meets her match at the extraordinary event in Tennessee
British ultra runner Nicky Spinks says she is glad she made the “right decision” to drop out of the Barkley Marathons last weekend when encountering extreme cold in a race which has been called the world’s toughest.
Spinks, who has set records for the Double Bob Graham and Double Ramsay Round, is no quitter and is not used to being beaten but, like all the competitors in the event for a second year in succession, she found herself unable to continue to the end.
Only 15 runners in the history of the quirky but legendary event have succeeded in the five 20-mile-plus laps in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, within the 12-hour time limit. This year only five runners covered three loops within the 36-hour cut-off to earn the right to go onto a fourth but, before that was over, they too became DNFs.
Spinks was won of the last two surviving women on the course as, running with Canadian Stephanie Case, she ran the first loop just inside the 12-hour deadline. However, in unexpectedly cold weather, they took the decision to call it a day midway through the second lap.
The difficult-to-enter event, in which applicants need to write an essay to its organiser Lazarus Lake explaining why they should be allowed to run and has en entry fee of $1.60, is well known for peculiarities such as runners needing to rip pages out of hidden books along the routes. Completing the course is even tougher, thanks in part to the elevation change which means would-be finishers will have to do the equivalent of climbing and descending Mount Everest twice.
Inov-8 sponsored Spinks said: “Lap one took us about 11-and-a-half hours, which was longer than I had hoped, but the temperatures, the difficult terrain and the time spent trying to find the well-hidden books all played a part.”
She added: “The weather forecast didn’t really detail just how cold it was going to be in the mountains and none of us had extreme winter kit in our race packs. It turned out to be incredibly cold and wet which, together with the darkness and fog, made for slow-going.
“When we realised we had no chance of completing lap two inside the time limit, we took an escape route back down a valley to the camp… I’m not one to give up on anything, but I’m glad we made the decision we did. It was the right decision. Even coming back down the valley, away from the higher ground, we were still struggling with the cold. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that cold.”
Spinks, who wore the new graphene-enhanced MUDCLAW G 260, may not be planning to return to Tennessee in a hurry, but perhaps it’s not an impossibility. She said: “I think that to complete the full five laps is, well… I can see now why only 15 people have done that in 33 years. Laz makes the race harder and harder, changes the course so even the Barkley veterans don’t know where the books are, and this year I think he added in even more uphill climbs! That’s all part of what makes Barkley Marathons the race it is.
“I do think that to finish Barkley Marathons, you need to go back a second or third time to do so. I talked to Stephanie about this as we hiked back to camp in the cold and I said I was unsure about returning. She said words to the effect of ‘see you next year!’”